City offering
free bus rides

Buses could be back on
the road Monday, and
bus rides would be free
until next Friday

The city is dangling free rides to lure back bus riders who found alternative forms of travel during the monthlong bus strike.

"We want them to come back to the bus, and we want to make it attractive for them to come back to the bus," Mayor Jeremy Harris said yesterday.

Buses are likely to be rolling again Monday morning if the members of Teamsters Local 996 ratify the tentative accord tomorrow. Harris said riders won't have to pay to catch the bus from Monday through next Friday.

Negotiators for the Teamsters and Oahu Transit Services Inc., the private company that runs TheBus for the city, reached a tentative agreement on a five-year contract early yesterday morning. It was the eighth negotiating session since the strike began Aug. 26. The strike forced commuters to improvise and also led the City Council to raise bus fares.

City and OTS officials have been worried about a drop in ridership due to the strike.

The free trips will be part of a campaign that includes television and radio advertisements over the weekend to get the word out that the bus is back, he said.

"The good news is no bus fares for next week so that they come back and we don't lose the kind of ridership that some other cities (with bus strikes) have lost," Harris said. "That's obviously critical to us and to the success and the future of the whole system."

The $3 million the city saved by not having to pay striking bus workers for the past month will help the city offset any loss in ridership -- and revenues -- as a result of the strike, he said.

"It appears as though the savings is about $3 million. ... (That) will cover about an 8 percent drop in ridership," Harris said. "We're hoping (ridership loss is) not more, but it very well could be, so we're going to really focus on getting our riders back. That's our primary objective right now."

Other cities have experienced higher loss in ridership following strikes, and there's also a fear that higher bus fares could prompt people to stop riding the bus.

"The traditional experience is it takes awhile to build your ridership back, and usually the ridership peaks out and plateaus somewhere below what it was before a strike," Harris said.

The five days of free rides will cost the city about $600,000 in lost revenue, but Harris said it is worth it.

"But the other side of that coin, if you don't provide free fares, you don't get the riders back," he said.

The City Council on Wednesday approved higher bus fares, which are projected to generate $6.8 million in additional revenue. The fares take effect Wednesday, but riders won't have to pay until the free ridership period is over. The free week is authorized under a measure passed by the Council.

The city also will continue its free van service today and free school bus service tomorrow.

City officials said the cost of providing the alternative service during the strike comes to $550,000 as of today.

Bus riders are being encouraged to buy October bus passes. They will receive a cash rebate to cover the free days. Today, the city is expected to announce how it plans to reimburse riders who purchased an August, September or annual bus pass.

"Anyone who purchased a September bus pass or an annual pass will have the option of either a cash rebate or rebate in a future bus pass," Harris said. "We will be announcing those details: how you apply for that and what the process is."

Harris said he was relieved the strike appears to be over because it was "disastrous" for the city.

"Hopefully, our mechanics will be working over the weekend to go through all of our 525 buses, but we will get service back in full on Monday morning," the mayor said.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --