School bus passes
set to roll out
The flat-fee program is designed
to provide students convenience
The state Department of Education will introduce school bus passes in the 2005-06 school year as a convenience to students and to tighten control over the money collected as bus fares.
It also plans to re-introduce DOE-operated buses in the Kona area to address service problems with private transportation vendors there, said DOE Student Transportation Services Manager Blanche Fountain.
Fountain said the bus passes to be offered statewide will be available as monthly, quarterly and annual passes. The annual option will carry a 5-percent discount.
Students currently pay 35 cents each way on DOE-contracted buses, all of which are operated by outside vendors. The price of the new passes will reflect the 35-cent-per-trip fare.
Fountain said the passes are partly in response to complaints from parents about having to come up with exact bus fare twice daily. The DOE's contracted transportation providers do not make change.
About 40,000 students per day use DOE-contracted transportation, which is available throughout the state, except for the Metro Honolulu area.
She said the annual passes also would improve financial accountability since the DOE presently has no system for ensuring the accuracy of the fare proceeds delivered by its transportation vendors.
"We get calls on all the islands, asking, 'Why don't you offer a flat fee?'" she said.
To implement the Kona bus service, the DOE plans to lease 14 buses and will soon begin recruiting part-time drivers for the morning and afternoon work. Private vendors would continue to serve some routes.
Bus breakdowns and driver shortages have been recurring problems, exacerbated by the distances students must travel, said Kealakehe High School Principal Wilfred Murakami.
"It certainly would help if (the DOE) could alleviate some of the load borne by the contractors," he said.
The DOE operated its own buses in Kona as recently as three years ago but abandoned that when there was no money available to replace its aging vehicles.
After receiving sky-high bids from prospective vendors, Fountain said the DOE decided it could service bus routes cheaper on its own.
"All of this to improve services to students and make sure they have safe and timely transportation," she said.
Depending on the success of the Kona operation, state-operated busing may be considered in other "problematic" areas, generally rural districts, she said.