WAILUKU - Beginning July 1, disabled residents in Central, South and West Maui will see a change in transportation services provided by the Maui Bus and Maui Economic Opportunity Inc.'s Ala Hou program.
For five years, those residents have been served by both Maui Bus and MEO's Ala Hou program, but next month the Ala Hou program won't be serving about 260 people, most of whom live in Central Maui and have been able to choose either transportation option.
Department of Transportation Director Don Medeiros said that the county's tight budget won't allow the duplication of services to continue.
Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. photo
Driver Eric Amaral assists client Elizabeth Kan Hai on Wednesday.
"Budget constraints have led the county to offer one service only," he said. "Federal mandates require that the county provide such a service in conjunction with scheduled Maui Bus routes."
Rides, which are now free, will cost $1. Disabled riders living Upcountry and on Molokai will continue receiving service from Ala Hou, Medeiros said.
MEO Chief Executive Officer Sandy Baz said that the county has cut $340,000 from the nonprofit's Ala Hou program. That will lead to the loss of 11 jobs as of June 30: four bus drivers, four bus aides, a dispatcher and two administrative positions, he said.
"It's incredibly tough," Baz said. "It hurts to lose our family members, our employees."
Baz also questioned whether all the disabled residents who qualify for rides on Ala Hou will also qualify for transportation on the Maui Bus.
He pointed out that disabled passengers will need to register with the county's Department of Transportation, even if they are already registered with MEO.
"We here at MEO hope that these changes have as little adverse impact in the lives of our passengers as possible," Baz said. "These changes were beyond our control, and . . . we had no desire to give up a significant portion of our Ala Hou program."
Medeiros said that the county bus system, contracted through Roberts Hawaii, has received more than $5 million in federal funding to purchase buses in the last six years. The federal funding requires the county to provide transportation services to people with disabilities and to increasing numbers of those passengers choosing to ride the Maui Bus, he said.
"The counts for MEO's disabled passengers in the Central, South and West Maui areas have been steadily declining this past years as those needing paratransit services have begun to use the Maui Bus' . . . service more and more," he said.
Baz disagreed that the Maui Bus and MEO's program serve the same customers.
The two programs have different eligibility requirements, and "our door-to-door service is for anybody with a disability," he said. If some riders are not "independent enough" to ride the Maui Bus, they "won't be transported."
Medeiros, who formerly worked with MEO, said he understands both the Ala Hou and Maui Bus systems and the requirements for rider eligibility. Both meet the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.
"I do not see that there are any great differences," he said.
Baz said that disabled riders will need to live within a certain distance of established Maui Bus routes to get rides. The MEO service picks up people from any area, he added.
Medeiros acknowledged that some areas, such as parts of Waihee in Central Maui, for example, would fall outside the Maui Bus service area. But he hoped MEO would provide transportation under one of its other programs.
Baz said disabled passengers in Central, South and West Maui may be able to use other MEO-operated transportation services. MEO services that remain unaffected are the rural shuttles, those for dialysis patients, youth and seniors, he added.
Medeiros said disabled residents who want to qualify for Maui Bus transit services first need to call 270-7511, describe their disability and provide certification from a doctor or other medical personnel. Once qualified, a rider can make an appointment with Roberts Hawaii by calling 871-4838 up to 3 p.m. the day before a ride is needed. The reservation line is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
For more information on the Maui Bus services, call the county Department of Transportation at 270-7511 from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday or visit www.mauicounty.gov/bus.
For more information on MEO's transportation services, call 877-7651 or go online to meoinc.charityfinders.org/transportation.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.