WAILUKU, Maui (AP) — A shortage of bus drivers on Maui has forced state officials to suspend bus rides for students at three schools and limit rides for students at one school.

Rides are suspended for students at Lahainaluna High School, Baldwin High School and Iao Intermediate schools. Officials are offering students at these schools a free monthly Maui Bus youth pass.

Some routes for Maui High School will be temporarily consolidated, meaning longer wait times for students. Students will be given free school bus passes to start the year.

Officials hope to have all the Maui school bus lines operating soon. 

The changes will affect nearly 400 students starting on the first day of school Monday and will remain in place until more drivers are hired. The state is offering increased pay and bonuses to potential drivers.

Bus routes for special education students at all schools will not change.

Hawaii Department of Education in a letter to parents called the situation an “unexpected crisis” stemming from the island’s new school bus vendor struggling to find credentialed drivers.

Honolulu-based Ground Transport Inc. was awarded three of Maui’s four bus contracts covering Wailuku, Kahului, Kihei and Lahaina for seven years starting July 1 through mid-2024. It needs about 10 more drivers to staff the schools’ routes as usual.

“We’ve tried everything possible to get drivers prior to the start of the school year, and we are still actively recruiting,” said Ground Transport owner Louis Gomes. “Obviously, I don’t like being in this situation where we can’t service routes.”

State Sen. Kalani English, a Democrat who represents Maui, said communication between the Department of Education and bus contractors needs to improve.

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