WAILUKU - Maui County's public transit system is straining to meet the growing demand of bus riders. On occasion, some people have been unable to get aboard buses because there simply isn't enough room.
"We're currently operating at a huge disadvantage," county Department of Transportation Director Jo Anne Winer told Maui County Council members Tuesday as she described how large-capacity buses have been out of service and were being replaced by buses with fewer seats.
"It really makes for a lot of complaints," she said. "And we have been getting complaints recently from our riders, stating that they're being left at stops."
People wait to board buses funded by Maui County and operated by Roberts Hawaii on Tuesday afternoon at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Winer's comments came as she asked council members to expedite approval of a resolution accepting the donation of three 1994 Gillig buses donated by the City and County of Honolulu. Each of those buses is valued at $5,000. And, Young Brothers donated the shipping cost of the buses, which was about $8,500 total.
Honolulu retired the 18-year-old buses from its TheBus fleet last month. Each bus can carry 45 seated passengers and another 20 standing.
Winer said the former Honolulu buses would be used as spares when Maui's buses aren't available.
The buses from Honolulu "have been checked out mechanically," she said. "The mileage that is on these Gillig buses is certainly well within the useful life" of the buses.
Council Chairman Danny Mateo and Council Member Gladys Baisa said they initially had concerns about taking used buses from Honolulu.
"Before we put our people on the buses, we've got to be sure that it's verifiably, certifiably safe for all of our people," Mateo said.
But he said he was satisfied with assurances from Winer's department that the buses had been thoroughly checked out mechanically.
Baisa said she knows the Honolulu buses are heavily used. "They're in constant motion," she said.
However, the donated buses are critically needed to augment Maui's public transit system, she said.
"We're in a crisis. We really need these buses," she said.
Councilors unanimously approved the bus and shipping donations.
Winer said that the county has only 14 of its 18 buses available for its 12 bus routes.
"We should get a couple back on line shortly," she said, explaining how one was severely damaged in a rear-end collision in early October and another bus had its front windshield shattered "in another mishap."
Both of those buses carry more than 40 seated passengers, she said, and the county has been forced to replace them on routes with 25-passenger buses as a stopgap measure.
Two other buses are out of service for mechanical reasons.
Robert's Hawaii has used some of its vehicles to supplement the Maui County fleet, Winer said.
After Tuesday morning's council meeting, Winer said the rear-ended bus sustained about $100,000 in damage and was undergoing repairs.
"We didn't think we'd be able to salvage it," she said.
The bus is awaiting parts for repairs at Yoshizawa's Collision & Refinishing Specialists in Wailuku.
The mishap with the bus that had its window shattered happened about a month ago at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, Winer said. Parts have been ordered to repair that bus.
The accident happened when a driver failed to properly set a parking brake, and, when a door closed, the bus lurched forward and hit a building, she said. No one was hurt, but a driver was terminated following the incident, she said.
Winer acknowledged the problem of bus riders being unable to board full buses.
However, "it's not a daily occurrence," she said. Federal safety standards limit the number of people who can squeeze on board a bus.
The incidents of people being left curbside depends on the number of buses currently out of service and the size of those buses, Winer said. The situation is aggravated when cruise ship passengers visit Maui, and their need for bus rides is added to the already high demand from island residents.
"On cruise ship days, every bus could be operating, and it still would not be enough," she said.
Winer said bus drivers can't deny rides to visitors, but some residents needing to get to work on time have politely asked visitors to wait for a later bus.
"Our visitors are really trying to be sensitive," she said. "They do have more time."
The busiest bus routes are to West and South Maui, she said. And, on days when cruise ships are in port, bus routes in Kahului are among the island's most heavily used.
Winer said her department expects annual public transit ridership by the end of this fiscal year, June 30, to surpass 2.7 million people. That's up from 2.3 million in fiscal 2010-11 and up from 2 million in fiscal 2009-10, she said.
The growth in ridership is being driven by high gas prices and the decision of some people to conserve costs on insurance and wear-and-tear on their vehicles, Winer said.
"Some people have totally gotten rid of their vehicles," she said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.