Lack of information covered overlapping bus routes, poor training, wasted time

Program soon to be expanded to Oahu, Aiea-Pearl City area

 UPDATED 6:34 AM HST May 23, 2013
School bus
HONOLULU -

It was hair-pulling, ear-steaming news last year, when the state's school transportation system, hemorrhaging money, ended up cutting more than 100 bus routes, impacting more than 2,000 students at 51 schools statewide.

"We are going to have to rely more on parents and people getting together to carpool," said parent Rosa Young.

But last June, the Department of Education launched a small pilot program in Kona on the Big Island, testing just how well GPS tracking systems, with real-time data, would streamline bus service. And it worked beautifully.

"We can track the path of each of the buses, where they pick up their kids, the times, the speed, and even the idle time," said Iosepa Transportation operations manager David Oasay.

"I'm relieved that it's bearing fruit," said DOE assistant superintendent Ray L'Heureux.

In August, the pilot program expands to Oahu in the Aiea-Pearl City area.

"If you don't have that accurate tracking data, you don't know how many buses to service for that particular area," he said.

And conditions are ripe for change.

Contracts are up for 71 percent of the bus companies in that area.

The DOE will not only press for tracking devices on all buses, but will be using a new model to negotiate bus contracts based not on routes, but on the best package of services.

"We're changing the system fundamentally and philosophically. This was a complete new way to provide transportation and better contracting for transportation. First of all, it's got to be safe, it's got to be effective, and it's got to be efficient," said L'Heureux.

He said the pilot program will be fully implemented by 2014.

That's when all bus companies must be equipped with student and routing tracking systems.

He's optimistic they can start restoring routes by then too.

He said they're also stretching out the bidding process from three months to a year, to give mainland companies a real chance at a contract.

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