BOE panel rejects rise in bus fares


POSTED: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A state Board of Education committee rejected a more than 100 percent increase in school bus fares yesterday, but Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said she will have to look elsewhere for the money that would have been raised, and “;that creates challenges.”;

“;It just makes it harder, especially when you're looking for money in these tight times,”; she said, although she noted that she understands the board's position.

Public school students will continue to pay 35 cents for one-way bus fare. The proposal to raise fares to 75 cents will not go to the entire board for consideration. (Maui County subsidizes fares by paying an extra 10 cents, so Maui students will continue to pay 25 cents.)

The hike would have meant an increase for each student of $105.40 a year (with the purchase of an annual pass) or $150.40 (if per-trip fare is paid).

The Committee on Administrative Services' vote was 4-4, killing the proposal. BOE member Carol Mon Lee said she changed her vote at the last minute, voting against the increase because the amount of the savings was probably only about $2 million, factoring in a projected 5 percent drop in ridership.

“;I was also concerned for families who fell in the gap group that could not qualify for free bus fare but would not have been able to afford the fare increase, especially if they have more than one child.”;

The Department of Education — and essentially Hawaii taxpayers — are subsidizing $72 million in transportation costs for public school students.

Committee Chairman John Penebacker, who voted against the fare increase, said, “;We have put too much burden on families with school-age children.”;

Parents are already dealing with increases in school fees and lunch prices, he said. He questioned whether the Department of Education could cut some of the $72 million in transportation costs rather than raise fares.

The proposed fare increase would have raised revenues from $2 million to $4 million. “;That's peanuts,”; Penebacker said. He suggested scrutinizing the school bus contracts.

“;We keep raising fees,”; he said, adding that increased fees for services have taken place at both city and state levels. He said middle-class families have reached “;the breaking point.”;

Students can still buy a quarterly bus pass for $31.50 or an annual pass for $119.60, rates that would have gone up to $60 and $225, respectively. That is still a big savings in contrast with students who live in urban Honolulu, who do not have school bus service. They have the option of buying a monthly student city bus pass for $25, which recently went up from $20, or about $250 for the 2009-10 school year.