This holiday season, Kula residents will have their very own bus route.
Starting Jan. 1, the Maui Bus will extend its Upcountry route from Pukalani to Rice Park.
"We're excited about having a bus for the Kula community," said Dick Mayer, a board member of the Kula Community Association. "There's a lot of potential here, but it's still just potential. We'll see how it goes, but there's definitely a demand."
Mayer said the proposal for a bus route in Kula has existed for a few years and received support from previous county Department of Transportation Director Don Medeiros, when members of the community association and county officials timed bus schedules and created tentative routes.
"The desire for a Kula bus route came from one of our single-mother members," Mayer said. "Her son wanted to go down and play sports, so she was constantly driving him back and forth. But we found this true with a lot of parents; they couldn't keep driving their kids downtown and picking them up later."
Mayer said the outcry also extended to the elderly and people with disabilities.
"One after another, we were finding reasons for why we should have a bus service in Kula," Mayer said.
Transportation Director Jo Anne Johnson Winer said the county approved the Kula bus project's $600,000 budget at the last budget meeting in July, and is open to renewing it in next year's budget.
Winer said the county would examine the initial route in the same fashion as it did with the Napili extension in West Maui. The county will give the Kula route at least six months before making any dramatic changes to bus times and stop locations.
"We use that time to establish ridership," said Winer. "We evaluate those riders and their expectations in times and schedules."
The Upcountry bus route runs from Queen Ka'ahumanu Center to Makawao and Haliimaile. The new Kula extension will transfer at the Pukalani stop and make seven more stops before reaching Rice Park.
Among the stop locations are the Kula Community Center and the Longs in Kulamalu. The 25-passenger bus will run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with standard bus rates.
Winer will give a presentation on the new bus route at the community association's meeting at 7 p.m. today at the Kula Community Center.
At the meeting, Winer will pass out brief surveys that ask members if they are current riders or new riders, and what hours/locations that they prefer. Winer said she hopes it will help the county produce the most efficient bus lines for Kula residents.
"Most of our information comes from community associations, as well as driver and rider input," Winer said. "Receiving these surveys helps us further understand what the community wants."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.