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View Point

By Kerry A. Krenzke

Saturday, October 21, 2000

TheBus needs
a tune-up

If TheBus is truly the best bus system in the nation, why don't more people on Oahu ride it? Because, speaking as a daily rider, it's NOT all it's hyped to be. On the route I use most often, TheBus is scheduled every 33 minutes. Since January, I logged its performance and found that it runs late at least 10 minutes about 20 percent of the time. If you look at running just 5 minutes late, that happens more than 50 percent of the time. Is this acceptable performance?

A second problem: bad drivers. They drive as if jackrabbit starts and nose-diving stops are the norm; as if kneeling the bus for handicapped or elderly passengers is done only at whim; as if answering tourist questions about where to get off or transfer is an imposition.

My worst experience was riding with a driver talking on his cell phone. At a stoplight, he took both hands off the wheel, then turned around to put his phone into his pack. Meanwhile, the bus crept forward and to the right. Fortunately, he grabbed the wheel before the bus went over the curb.

Yes, the vast majority of drivers are careful and courteous, but there are too many "bad apples" that TheBus needs to evaluate, test, retrain or, if necessary, fire.

A third problem is apathetic management. I've heard riders grumble that TheBus doesn't respond to letters of complaint, and I empathize with that. I've emailed comments about poor service or bad drivers and gotten no response until I sent my complaints directly to the Mayor's Office and City Council. Only then did I get feedback.

Even then, I generally got excuses such as, "This driver has never gotten a complaint before," or that construction on Kapiolani slows/backs up traffic. Yet I find that construction only makes certain drivers late, usually the bad ones. How do the good ones manage to stay on time, while driving safely and courteously?

Even though our company subsidizes bus passes, I'm not surprised when co-workers refuse to ride TheBus. They invariably cite an inconvenient schedule, frequently late buses, and careless or rude drivers. So, how do we resolve this?

Bullet Mandate that all managers and employees of TheBus, as well as all public employees, ride the bus to work, no exceptions except for emergencies. This would quickly spur positive changes.

Bullet Put self-addressed (to the Mayor's Office), postage-paid postcards on every bus. Have spaces for date, time, bus number and route, plus plenty of room for comments, compliments and complaints. Anytime a complaint is received, it is responded to, investigated and corrected immediately.

Bullet Institute a system of mystery riders -- people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who daily pose as a variety of riders, white- and blue-collar workers, students, handicapped, tourists, etc. They would daily ride different buses at different times to evaluate drivers, routes, traffic, overall service, etc. They should be paid employees of the city who report directly to the Mayor's Office or Department of Customer Services, not to TheBus.

Bullet Rethink the entire bus system. For example, why run a bus only every 33 minutes through a residential valley and then onto a main route? Why not circulate a bus through a valley every 15-20 minutes, perhaps with even more stops, which feeds riders down to the main routes on King, Beretania and Kapiolani?

The bottom line is that we need incentives to encourage bus riding: on-time schedules, convenient pickup and dropoff points, and safe, comfortable and clean buses. We also need to look at creating disincentives to driving a car, such as "bus-only" lanes on major routes, especially in the crowded downtown corridor.

The potential for a truly world-class bus system is there, but at present it's "close but no cigar." We should expect more.

Kerry A. Krenzke is a Honolulu resident
and frequent writer of letters to the editor.

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