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View Point

By James E. Cowen

Saturday, September 23, 2000

Handi-Van service
is improving

NORMALLY, we respond privately to complaints that individuals make about TheBus or TheHandi-Van. With more than 1,000 TheBus and TheHandi-Van operators carrying about 240,000 passengers per day, we do make our share of mistakes.

However, after reading the Sept. 9 View Point by Shirley E. Curek ,"Handi-Van isn't so handy for disabled," we felt a public response was necessary.

TheHandi-Van's main mission is to provide public transit service to eligible individuals who cannot use TheBus.

There are many reasons why an individual might not be able to use a regular bus. Although TheBus has an island-wide network, some people can't get to a bus stop due to physical reasons.

If they can, they might not be able to board a regular bus because, at this point, only 60 percent have lifts or ramps and are accessible to people using wheelchairs. Others have a developmental disability or cannot navigate regular bus routes.

Some individuals take TheHandi-Van because they prefer the curb-to-curb service. We encourage those who currently use TheHandi-Van but who could use TheBus to make a transition, and offer special training to anyone interested in trying out regular bus service.

We've had many successes in transitioning people from TheHandi-Van to TheBus. Often, they prefer TheBus because of the ability to make spontaneous trips and because it provides more direct service than shared-ride Handi-Vans.

From the taxpayer's point of view, a bus trip is also less than one-tenth the cost of a Handi-Van trip. And from the point of view of the disabled community, it's important that our limited Handi-Van resources be used by those who truly need the service.

We reviewed Curek's travel in August. She made 28 Handi-Van trips, generally round trip from Kaneohe to Moanalua. Overall, 24 of the 28 trips were "on time" (which, in accordance with national standards, means within a 30-minute "window"), while four were not.

One of the morning trips and three of the afternoon trips were late. On average, her August trips arrived within 16 minutes of the scheduled time; her on-board travel time averaged 59 minutes. An equivalent trip by TheBus would have involved three buses and would have taken up to two hours.

Where we can, we do schedule morning and afternoon trips with regular groups. However, if trip origins and destinations lack a lot of passengers, this is impossible.

IT is true that after we moved from Pearl City to Kalihi in April, we did run later than usual in the afternoon, as we wrestled with the need to fuel in the mid-day period rather than overnight. However, through fine-tuning of our driver work schedules, we are now back to normal.

Overall, our records indicate TheHandi-Van is on time 87 percent of the time. We are working diligently to improve.

The city is constantly improving TheHandi-Van service by adding more service hours and other features. This month, we begin an experiment in which drivers can call their next pickups on a cell phone to say if they are going to be early or late. Next month, we anticipate implementation of a new GPS vehicle location system so dispatchers will know where vans are at all times.

Can we do better? You bet, but it will involve more service, money and hard work in the years ahead. It will not be inexpensive but, as Hawaii continues to age and the number of people with disabilities grows, it's a task we all must commit to.

James E. Cowen is president and general manager
of Oahu Transit Services Inc., the private company that runs
TheBus and TheHandi-Van for the city.

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