Several key school bus routes on Maui have been restored after a driver shortage had disrupted the start of the school for hundreds of students, Hawaii education officials said Tuesday.

“We have put a plan in place,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told Board of Education members at their Tuesday meeting.

Ground Transport Inc., an Oahu-based company that was granted contracts last year for two-thirds of the island’s routes, has hired about nine drivers in the last couple of weeks. Louis Gomes, the company president, said Ground Transport still needs to recruit at least five more drivers. Their training could take up two and a half to three weeks, he said.

The suspended bus routes affected nearly 400 students.

 

About 400 students have been impacted by the school bus driver shortage on Maui.

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

Ground Transport Inc. was unable to recruit enough drivers on Maui for the start of the school year.

The driver shortage caused a public spat between the state Department of Education and Roberts Hawaii, a competing school bus vendor that lost three bus contracts on Maui to Ground Transport during a bidding process last year.

Ground Transport’s inability to find enough drivers caused the DOE to suspend some routes and consolidate others — which it announced shortly before the school year started. Now , three of the suspended routes — to Lahainaluna High School, Baldwin High School and Iao Intermediate School — have been restored or will be by next week, Ground Transport president Louis Gomes told Civil Beat.

“Even though we have all the drivers in place, we’re going to continue to recruit,” Gomes said.

 

Ground Transport is a new player in the Maui school bus market. The three contracts, which are for seven years, are worth a combined $38.5 million. Roberts Hawaii, which operates school and tour buses, unsuccessfully challenged the DOE’s decision last year to award the contracts to its competitor.

Roberts Hawaii recently urged parents in a newspaper ad to contact state legislators to complain about the Maui bus driver shortage, taking aim at the DOE.

In late July, when the driver shortage became known, the company rejected DOE’s offer for it to take over the Lahainaluna High route under a two-year contract for more than its initial bid.

It countered with a proposal for a seven-year contract at the same rate, which DOE rejected since it would have cost $5 million more than the existing contract, according to DOE officials.

Ground Transport’s bus contracts on Maui consist of 71 bus routes. One-third of those serve special education students, who were not impacted by the driver shortage, Kishimoto said.

“We’re new to Maui but we’re not new to the industry, so we’re moving forward,” Gomes said. “I feel this (driver shortage) could happen to anybody. I think we’ve been working very diligently with our employees on service.”

Gomes said he’s been recruiting drivers through online ads, job fairs and social media.

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