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Home » Hawaii’s HART troubles in Honolulu
Honolulu, Hawaii – BIf you get on a public bus in a major city on the mainland, you might name it something fancy like “Metro.” But on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, home to more than two-thirds of the state’s population, it’s just TheBus.
The line was renamed in 1971 after the city of Honolulu acquired three strike-prone private bus lines, which were heavily funded by the federal government and combined into one agency.
STIMULUS UPDATE 2022: $300 DIRECT ONE-TIME PAYMENTS WILL BE SHIPPED IN HAWAII
Management of TheBus was turned over to Oahu Transit Services in the early 1990s. OTS is a private company, but relies heavily on government funding to stay in business. The City of Honolulu grant to OTS to operate TheBus for fiscal year 2023 is $176 million, according to the city.
The challenges facing TheBus raise broader questions about the effectiveness and future of some public transit systems as it has seen a sluggish recovery in ridership after more than two years of pandemic-related obstacles.
Fares for TheBus were recently raised to $3 per driver per trip, but that probably won’t boost fare revenue significantly. TheBus has seen a significant decline in ridership over the past 20 years. Hawaii’s relatively strict COVID-19 lockdown and the decline in Japanese tourism to the island haven’t helped matters.
As of June 2002, total trips on TheBus totaled more than 5.3 million trips. As of June 2022, the same line served over 2.8 million trips, according to figures from the American Public Transportation Association — a 48% drop in ridership over 20 years.
That’s far worse than the national public transit trend over the same 20-year period, according to a St. Louis Fed breakdown. Nationally, trips fell from 772 million in June 2002 to 521.3 million in June 2022 – a 32% decrease.
On January 10th, the
Washington Examiner Ubered downtown from Waikiki to speak with several experts from Hawaii’s only free market think tank, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, about TheBus and various other public transit issues on the island.
Experts at the Grassroot Institute said TheBus appears competent, albeit expensive, to manage. Buses usually run on time. However, some are practically empty, and the longer buses tend not to fill up. Management hasn’t balanced reduced passenger traffic with a reduction in vehicle size to save money.
The think tanks couldn’t get too excited about it, however, because one of the reasons for TheBus’ demise was the rise of light rail, with all the delays and massive cost overruns that seem to plague such projects.
The problems with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) are well known to mainland transportation experts.
For example, Arizona State University research professor Steven Polzin told the
Washington Examiner“Honolulu has struggled for many years in its efforts to complete its railroad system with multiple management changes etc.”
Locally, Honolulu’s HART troubles are viewed more as a running joke and a pain in the wallet.
Originally projected to cost in the region of $1.5-1.7 billion with a 2020 completion date, the current estimate for HART construction is over $12 billion with a doubtful 2031 completion date. By some estimates, it’s the nation’s most expensive light rail project when we look at it on a per capita basis.
Experts from the Grassroot Institute explained that because the island has poured so much money into the light rail system, it has also pushed TheBus to work to make it a success by breaking down some of its routes into “feeder routes” that serve the Pushing passengers onto the rail. That has worsened commute times for some islanders and threatens to complicate things when trains start operating.
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The first leg of this long-delayed railroad project could come as early as this year, although HART CEO Lori Kahikina admitted to Hawaii News Now that “there were some issues with the communications software that arose during the dry-run testing phase.”
She added that the contractor, Hitachi, “have brought in specialists to hopefully solve this problem and keep us on track.”