Officials await new buses; riders left waiting on route

The Maui Bus is facing a shortage of buses due to mechanical problems that has led to at least one Kahului route being missed, county officials said.

Of the approximately 30 buses run by Roberts Hawaii, only a portion of them are functional and that led to a Kahului route going unserviced Sunday, said Transportation Director Jo Anne Winer on Monday.

“We’re aware of the problem, and we are working with mechanics to make sure there are spare buses available,” Winer said. “In fact, we’re working on it right now (and) as far as I know, most have to do with the engine and transmission.”

Daily service that runs as far as Kapalua, Kula and Wailea has taken a toll on buses. Many require repairs due to heavy use and age, and that has left few available buses, she said.

In fact, Roberts Hawaii has resorted to using its own buses at times, which are not wheelchair accessible and lack bike racks, she said.

Roberts Hawaii, which manages the county service, has faced bus shortages in the past but was able to cover routes with buses from its paratransit service, she said. However, in June the county contract for that service was awarded to Maui Economic Opportunity, along with about 30 buses for the service.

“Before, it wasn’t as much of a problem when they had the paratransit contract, but because MEO now has those buses, they can’t just switch back and forth,” Winer said.

To compound matters, the Federal Transit Administration requires all buses to be serviced every 5,000 miles, which reduced Roberts Hawaii’s fleet of available buses, she said. Three Gillig buses, donated to Maui County by the City and County of Honolulu last year, have helped boost Roberts Hawaii’s fleet, but one of them – which was designated for the Kahului route – recently broke down.

“We were using that one and when that one went down you have to pull another one off and it becomes a domino effect,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll get that one back on the road soon.”

In response to the diminishing numbers of functional buses, the county has purchased 10 from California that are expected to arrive in December. The 32-passenger buses have two handicap seats and bike racks and will be the workhorses of the fleet, with most of the current buses used as spares, Winer said.

“We’re simply asking for the public’s patience and understanding while we get the remaining spares up and running,” she said. “Safety comes first, and we can’t send buses out when there may be problems that could occur on the roadway.

“I welcome people to attend the bus blessing, which will be by the beginning of the new year.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at