By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The Hoppa-on, Hoppa-off bus was hoppin’ along for a few days last week until the lack of a pesky permit put the brakes on the operation.
The colorfully painted shuttle bus is off the street, likely until January, while its owners apply for a new “tariff” to operate from the state Public Utilities Commission.
The Hoppa-on, Hoppa-off bus is reminiscent of the Hilo sampan days, when jitney-style vehicles drove locals and visitors alike around Hilo. The popular sampans plied Hilo’s streets daily until the mid-1970s, then were revived temporarily, though not successfully, in the mid-1990s.
But the new Hoppa-on version will only operate on cruise ship days in Hilo, picking up passengers at the port and offering a $15 one-day pass for the continuously running “Hilo Loop,” with stops at locations such as Richardson Ocean Park, Big Island Candies, the King Kamehameha statue, Liliuokalani Park, Lyman Museum and others. Passengers can get on and off all day at any location with the pass.
But not until the new permit is approved.
In October, parent company Keikana Enterprises, which owns a copy shop on Kinoole Street called Ink 4 Less, and a wedding business called Intimate Hawaiian Nuptials, applied for a PUC license to take their wedding parties to Volcano by bus because so many of their clients want to be married next to glowing, red-hot lava, said Jan Trombley, co-owner of company with her husband Jay.
But after getting the permit, the Trombleys were dining at Cronies when a frantic cruise ship passenger couldn’t find a way back to his ship. “That’s when we came up with the Hilo loop idea,” she said. The seasoned travelers had seen such buses in operation before in Europe and Southeast Asia, and thought, “Why not Hilo?”
“It’s a much-needed concept downtown,” Jan said.
And in their recent experience, hundreds of people, many of them seniors, get off the cruise ship at the port and mill around on the dock “not knowing what to do.”
“Let’s try this,” she said. So the Trombleys launched the Hoppa-on, Hoppa-off bus on Nov. 25, picking up cruise ship passengers for a loop around Hilo town in their 25-passenger, 1997 Chevrolet bus. Jan’s brother, Mike Yellen, has a commercial license and does the driving.
“The first day we rolled up, we filled the bus and rolled out,” she said.
The only problem is that the permit they received for the Volcano trips doesn’t cover what they wanted to do with cruise ship passengers. On Nov. 30, they took the 25-passenger bus out of service while applying for their new PUC permit. The company posted a notice on its website saying that the bus service has stopped temporarily due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
“Anticipated start date is the beginning of the year,” the online notice said.
The Trombleys’ initial PUC application included recommendations from the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association and deputy Prosecutor Mitch Roth, who was sworn in as the county’s elected prosecutor on Monday.
Roth told the PUC he has patronized the Trombleys’ copy shop and has worked with the Trombleys for several years “to help improve the quality of life in the downtown Hilo area. (I) know them to be upstanding citizens.”
DIA Director Alice Moon said she’s known the Trombleys for two years and that Keikana Enterprises “has been a highly respected business in the downtown Hilo area … and they have built a strong customer base because of their quality services and attention to detail.”
Aside from some “stink eye” from other tour operators at the dock, the Hoppa-on bus was “very well received,” Jan said. “We felt some resistance, but we were walking people over to the volcano tour operators. We want everyone to be successful.”
Jay Trombley said the closing will create an opportunity to make some adjustments to the operation. “We need to do something to keep the rain from coming in the windows,” he said. And they are planning to add a second bus for the Hilo Loop, and a van for the wedding passengers.
But until the new permit is approved, Jan said, “we’re on hold.”
For more information on the Hoppa-on Hoppa-off Trolley Bus, visit http://www.hop-onhop-offhilobus.com/.
Email Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.