By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii County’s Mass Transit Agency is reminding the public that Hele-On bus drivers will begin collecting an extra dollar from riders next week.
The new, increased bus fares were scheduled to go into effect earlier this week, but the MTA decided to provide a grace period, said Tiffany Kai, the transit department’s administrator.
“We didn’t want to leave anybody behind because they weren’t aware of the increased fares,” she said. “We wanted to make sure they could come on the bus, and that they’ll be ready by July 8.”
On Monday, Hele-On drivers will begin asking riders for $2 for general fares. Currently, general fares are $1. Students, senior citizens and disabled riders with valid identification will pay a discounted $1 fare, while children under 5 will ride for free. Prepaid bus tickets in sheets of 10 will sell for $15, while monthly passes will cost $60. Discounted tickets for students, senior citizens and disabled riders will cost $7.50, while passes will cost $45.
The grace period caused a bit of confusion for some riders this week, with some expressing concern over the pending increases.
“I only make $298 a month. It’s kind of hard for me,” said Wilda Schmeissner, who uses a disability pass that allows her to ride the bus for free. “Paying $1 will be difficult.”
Schmeissner makes multiple trips to Waimea each month for doctor appointments, and also relies on the bus to visit Walmart to do her food shopping. Paying $1 each time will eat into what little money she has to spend, she said.
Hawaii County Council members voted last month to double bus fares and care registration and vehicle weight taxes. The bus fare hikes are expected to raise an additional $617,500, while the vehicle registration and weight fees will raise about $2.8 million annually.
Kai reported to council members last month that it costs $5.87 per passenger to run the county public transportation system. That number was expected to spike to about $7 per passenger in the budget that began Monday because of added costs to run the bus system, she said.
The measure, Bill 86, passed the council 7-1, with South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford voting no and Pahoa Councilman Zendo Kern absent.
For more information on the transit system, visit www.heleonbus.org.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.