Hawaii school bus transportation in jeopardy

Lawmakers demand more answers over ballooning costs

 UPDATED 11:39 PM HST Jan 28, 2012
School Bus
HONOLULU -

"There is no single silver bullet. There's not an answer with a capital 'A'," said Randy Moore, the Department of Education's School Services Chief.

That answer has lawmakers grilling the Department of Education for ways to drastically cut the ballooning costs of school bus transportation.

They're so frustrated, that for the first time, lawmakers zeroed the education department's budget for school bus transportation.

"It certainly seemed like they were on a path to make no changes, essentially they said 'give us the money and if you don't provide the money then we can't operate.' That's clearly unsatisfactory," said Sen. David Ige.

Last month, education officials presented a report  that included, among other things, upping bus fees, eliminating free bus service, and making fewer stops.Next year, the department is planning to launch a pilot project to stagger the times

students are picked up.

"Have the elementary schools start earlier and have the high schools start later," said Moore.

But one of the biggest questions: why did competitive bidding for bus contracts stopped a few years ago, right around the time the cost of those contracts more than doubled?

Then, this year, for the first time in several years, the state received multiple bidders, for each contract.

As to why:   "The answer to that is not known, aside from asking the contractor, said Moore.   Moore says the department just formed a task force to open communication with bus companies.

And, they've decided to lift restrictions on the age limit on buses and no longer require standby buses.

In addition, the state may be able to help new contractors find the base yards they need to set up shop.

"If we can provide state land for base yards and establish a way so that the state actually takes the risk on purchase of buses, then we believe that will increase  competition, and competition will drive the cost down," said Ige.

Several bus companies were at the informational briefing at the capitol on Friday.      None of them wanted to comment.

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