Riders argue that
the city should honor
existing bus passes
A group of senior citizens and disabled bus riders argued in federal court yesterday that the city should honor existing bus passes until they expire rather than require riders to buy more expensive, new passes.
"I don't think that what the city did is right, and it doesn't even look legal," said Charles Luce, 67, of Waikiki.
Luce is one of five people who filed suit against the city last week, arguing that it was unconstitutional for the City Council to cancel unexpired passes and require seniors to buy new ones. The existing passes are good until Nov. 15.
U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gilmor postponed yesterday a decision on whether to grant a restraining order to prevent the cancellation of unexpired passes. Gilmor rescheduled a hearing for 11 a.m. Nov. 7.
In the wake of the Teamsters strike that stopped TheBus from Aug. 26 until Sept. 29, the Council raised bus fares to help pay for the new contract. Senior citizens and the disabled saw fares increase to $30 for a one-year pass from $25 for a two-year pass.
The fare increase affected about 50,000 senior citizens and disabled riders, according to Gregory Swartz, the deputy corporation counsel who represents the city in the suit.
In court yesterday, Rorey Toomey, an attorney representing the bus riders, said the bus passes are a contract the city canceled without giving bus riders due process.
"It would be wiser for the city to extend the passes to the expiration date," Toomey said. "The city has done that in the past when it raised fares. Why not this time? It would be the better part of valor and the better part of economics."
But Swartz said the city needs the revenue from selling the new passes "to support the bus system, and if we don't get it, we will have another budget shortfall that could" cause cutbacks in bus service.
Swartz said the city estimates that changing about 50,000 riders to the new rate will mean about $1.3 million in revenue.
To date, about 25,000 of those riders have bought the new passes. In buying the new passes, they waive the right to sue, said Toomey.
Swartz said the city would be harmed if a restraining order stopped the cancellation and conversion of the remaining 25,000 passes, which represents about $650,000 in revenue.
In court, Toomey said: "The city can't find $650,000? Either they are as incompetent as we dream they are, or they are lying. I think it's a little of both."
The city has offered to compensate riders for the unexpired portion of their passes.
Also yesterday, the Hawaii Disability Rights Center tried to join the suit, arguing that the issue affects a class far broader than the five people in the lawsuit. The court is still deciding how the nonprofit advocacy group might participate.
Doris Char, 73, and her husband, Charles, 73, of Pawaa, are not part of the suit, but showed up in court with about 30 other bus riders to watch the proceedings.
"We're very interested in what happens. I think the city is wrong and should abide by what they gave us," said Char, waving her bus pass, which was issued to expire in May 2005.
Her husband said: "We bought our passes in good faith, so why should we have to drop everything, stand in line and pay double for a new pass? That's not right. It's like the Gestapo. It's unconstitutional."