Council seeks
ways to cover
bus shortfall

As the City Council tries to craft a plan to increase bus fares, it is grappling with issues such as ridership numbers, abuse of transfers, maintaining monthly and annual passes, and keeping costs down for seniors and the needy.

Earlier this week, Council Chairman Gary Okino said that the Council was committed to hiking fares to raise the $6.8 million needed to offset a bus operating budget shortfall and to avoid service cuts and driver layoffs.

There is no shortage of ideas on the Council of how to raise that amount. A draft of the latest fare proposal is expected in the next few days.

The new proposal is aimed at addressing several concerns, including whether ridership will decline as a result of raising fares.

"I think we're going to lose ridership over the strike itself. I think we certainly, therefore, need to be super-cautious that we don't lose additional vast numbers of riders by what we do with the fare structure," Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said.

City transportation officials have said previously that ridership did not fall following the last fare hike two years ago.

It was not until two months later, following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that bus ridership dropped off, mainly because of the economic slump from the tourism decline.

That is why some councilmembers are trying to come up with ways to avoid having to hike fares too much.

"I want to make sure that we don't price the people off of riding the bus," said Councilman Mike Gabbard, who is among several councilmembers who has expressed concern over the effect of a bus fare increase on seniors.

Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz has said that he wants to make sure low- or fixed-income residents are not burdened.

Marshall said, "My own proposal sort of spreads the load a bit, and I'm obviously very concerned about people who need to get the bus to get to work, so I'm not in favor of anything that eliminates monthly passes or annual passes."

Some councilmembers have also been proposing alternatives to raising fares.

"If the Council made that commitment to raise revenues so that we can restore service, I think we have to look at other ways of raising revenues other than fare increases and tax increases," Dela Cruz said.

He is pushing his bill that allows advertising on the exterior of the city buses. Dela Cruz said places like Dallas and San Francisco have raised millions of dollars by allowing advertising on the outside of public transit buses. In Honolulu the city has raised about $125,000 from advertising inside the buses.

Dela Cruz's proposal has received a cool reception from many, especially the Outdoor Circle.

Gabbard mentioned earlier this week the possibility of hiking the fuel tax to raise more revenue, an idea he acknowledges is not going to be moving.

"I brought it up because, like Donovan, I think that you need to look at everything, and that's what we're supposed to do as policy-makers, so my whole thing is, let's put everything on the table and see what works," he said.

Another way to come up with the money is with the strike itself.

"We were at $6.8 million when we started the strike. By all estimates, and they vary radically, we are saving anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 a day for every day they're on strike," Marshall said. "If the strike continues very long, we're not looking at $6.8 million anymore to restore service, which is all we ever intended to do."

Marshall said that at some point those savings could help offset the bus budget shortfall.

"So, if the strike continues and we save money every day from the strike, then certainly we need to give those moneys back to the bus riders, who are the ones who are suffering the most from the strike," she said.

Marshall has a proposal to do away with the transfer system and the abuse that some have reported.

"My suspicion is growing that we're losing millions of dollars by abuse of the system," she said.


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