The city's Department of Transportation Services is requesting $500,000 as part of its operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year to study how the $5.3 billion rail system will integrate with The Bus.
DTS director Michael Formby said the study will examine which agency should be charged with operating both systems, or if a separation of powers is a better fit.
"We're going to use a consultant study to inform us so that we can make our policy decisions," Formby told KITV4. "Some cities have combined bus and rail and it has ended up being problematic, they haven't done a very good job."
Meanwhile, the city is determining which of the 101 routes currently operated by The Bus will be dropped or scaled back as the first 10-mile section of the rail line from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium opens to the public in 2017. A working group formed during a joint meeting of the HART and Oahu Transit Services boards last April is examining the issue route by route.
"The rail will be the spine of the transit system and to the extent that we can feed transit riders into the system in shorter routes with more frequency, we'll do that," said Formby.
The city's evolving transit plan means bus riders accustomed to catching certain routes into town and back home may be forced onto the rail system instead. Places like the H1 Freeway corridor, Kamehameha Highway through Pearl City and Dillingham Boulevard could experience the greatest change since all will also be serviced by rail.
For example, the Country Express bus route from Makaha to the Ala Moana Shopping Center could be cut short and end up at the rail station at Kualakai Parkway in East Kapolei, where riders would continue into town.
City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine believes her constituents wouldn't mind tweaking bus routes like the Country Express as long as it results in a positive change. Currently, the Country Express is supposed to get from Makaha to the Ala Moana Shopping Center in an hour-and-a-half. HART says riding rail from East Kapolei to the shopping center will take 42 minutes.
"I don't think that the public would mind it very much if it increases their enjoyment of their ride as well as shortened it," said Pine. "We would have to see the whole plan and how it integrates with the (rail) system."
The city is also spending $700,000 to study new fare box technologies to make bus and rail transfers seamless through a computerized card. Right now bus riders are allowed two transfers, but it's not known how that would work with rail.
"Those decisions haven't been made," said Formby, "but the technology, the kind of equipment that we'll on The Bus and in the rail stations, we're making those decisions right now."
Mayor Kirk Caldwell's administration has little choice but to scale back bus service as rail becomes a reality. Operating The Bus and HandiVan costs the city $223.84 million, and that cost is expected to increase by 3.5 percent to $231.75 million in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
According to the rail project's environmental impact statement, it will cost $117 million to operate and maintain the elevated train by FY-2030, or 26 percent of the total O&M costs for Oahu's public transportation system.
"At the end of the day, it's about what's in the best interest of the taxpayers." said Formby. "So, to the extent we can control the yearly escalation of the transit system costs, we want to do that."
The entire 20-mile rail route is expected to open in March, 2019.
Formby said the Federal Transportation Administration is keeping close watch to make sure the city doesn't sacrifice bus service in favor of rail. The Bus currently features 101 routes and averages 229,00 passenger trips every weekday.