Students on Hawaii island who have trouble getting to and from school due to a bus driver shortage will be able to use the Hele-On Bus, the mass transit agency for that island, at no additional cost, the bus company announced earlier this week.

The new partnership between the state Department of Education and Hele-On is open to middle and intermediate and high school students who can’t currently get a seat on their regular bus route due to lack of space, plus those who qualify for free DOE bus transportation as well as students with special needs or who are homeless.

Students who purchased the $72 quarterly bus pass through the DOE can redeem this pass for a Hele-On pass good for three months, which has a $135 value, the company said.

Honolulu Hawaii School Bus Kaimuki traffic . 13 jan 2017
The school bus driver shortage is impacting remote and rural regions of Hawaii island particularly hard. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The arrangement comes in the midst of a school bus driver shortage that is affecting rural and remote regions of Hawaii in particular. Fears of coronavirus, quarantine restrictions plus shifts in the labor force have caused school bus drivers to quit, an issue that is affecting other parts of the U.S. as well.

The DOE is also offering parents mileage transportation reimbursement in west Hawaii County.

Hele-On bus routes will not be changed to accommodate the students, like driving onto school property for drop-offs and pick-ups, the company noted, saying families “will be responsible for identifying appropriate routes, stop locations and times.”

The bus services the entire island but with limited routes and times.

Nine students, all located on the west side of the Big Island, have so far signed up to use the Hele-On bus, Emily Evans of the DOE said on Friday.

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