Heeding pleas of elderly and disabled riders of TheBus and TheHandi-Van, the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday rejected a measure to dramatically increase passenger fares.

Under the measure, the cost of an annual bus pass for seniors and people with disabilities would have gone up 215 percent from $35 to $110.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated an annual pass is available exclusively for TheHandi-Van.

And the $35 annual pass for TheBus available to people who ride TheHandi-Van, a ride service available to those who qualify under federal disability guidelines, would have increased to $66 under the proposal. The bill would have increased the fare for a single ride on TheHandi-Van from $2 to $2.50.

The measure also proposed modest fare increases for other adult and youth riders.

TheBus along Beretania Street.
A proposal by the city’s Department of Transportation Services would have increased the cost of an annual bus pass for seniors and people with disabilities. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The city Department of Transportation Services introduced the bill. The department based its proposed fares on recommendations from the city’s Rate Commission, an advisory board voters created through a 2016 charter amendment.

After a series of public meetings this year, the commission suggested the city increase the annual bus pass for seniors to $120 and add a subsidy for low-income seniors, among other suggested fare adjustments.

Council Chair Ernie Martin, who voted against the bill, said the department did not adequately consider the rate commission’s recommendations in crafting Bill 66.

For the rate commission’s recommendations not to have been abided by, it seems we have disregarded what the voters had asked for,” he said.

All five votes to kill the measure came from council members loyal to a faction, led by Martin, that often opposes initiatives by Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration.

Council members Brandon Elefante, Ikaika Anderson and Ron Menor, all part of  pro-Caldwell faction, voted to pass the measure, albeit with reservations. Councilman Joey Manahan was absent.

Revenue generated from riders, called farebox recovery, should cover at least 27 percent but less than 33 percent of TheBus system’s operating costs, under guidelines set by the council. Without a fare increase, farebox recovery is expected to dip below 27 percent by the end of the year, according to Roger Morton, president of Oahu Transit Services, the company that operates TheBus.

HART Board member Wes Frysztacki
DTS Director Wes Frysztacki said the city must consider cutting services if fares don’t increase. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The bus system has to be supported from someplace,” DTS Director Wes Frysztacki said. “It’s a matter of how much the user should be supporting it.”

Last year the department proposed a bill that would have phased in four fare hikes over two years. The council voted to keep the first fare increase, which took effect in January, but scrapped the last three.

TheBus and TheHandi-Van will continue to operate at current levels at least until June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. After that, if the council does not increase bus fares, DTS will have to either ask for more taxpayer dollars or cut services, Frysztacki said.

Farebox recovery covers just 4 percent of the cost to run TheHandi-Van. The national average is 10 percent, Frysztacki said.

Demand for TheHandi-Van is the highest per capita in the nation and the $2 fare per trip hasn’t increased in 17 years, Civil Beat reported in February. Officials say without fare increases, TheHandi-Van won’t be able to add more vans to its fleet to accommodate the demand.

Disability rights advocates and the AARP Hawaii feared the proposed fare increases would put undue strain on a population they say is already struggling to make ends meet.

“We’re not against reasonable and fair increases for bus fares but doubling the monthly bus pass and tripling the (annual) senior bus pass in one fell swoop, we’re opposed to that,” said Craig Gima, communications director for AARP Hawaii.

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