Hawaii’s popular Freeway Service Patrol celebrates a belated first birthday today with an announcement that it will expand to other parts of Oahu at no additional taxpayer cost and no reduction in service.
In its first year, the free Freeway Service Patrol helped more than 9,000 stranded Oahu drivers, most with flat tires.
Since February, the 12 full-time and six backup drivers and the six trucks that make up the patrol have quietly been expanding into Leeward and Central Oahu.
The majority of cases are still handled in less than 10 minutes, and nearly 94 percent of drivers helped by the freeway patrol rated the service as "excellent." Another 5 percent rated the service as "good."
The two-year pilot program began on June 17, 2009, and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona will celebrate the first anniversary today by announcing the new parameters of the patrol area.
Yesterday, project manager Harvey Heaton stood in the Freeway Service Patrol’s headquarters in Mapunapuna reviewing two video screens—one monitoring dozens of incidents; the other tracking his drivers over a larger area than their original coverage zone, which was from the H-1/H-2 interchange to the Vineyard Street offramp.
Since February, the Freeway Service Patrol drivers have shown they can range over more of Oahu with no additional cost or increased delays to stranded drivers.
"It works," Heaton said.
And that was welcome news to drivers such as Malisi Maluia of Aiea, who was driving his mother’s Mercury SUV westbound on the H-1 Freeway just past the Waiawa Road overpass when the front passenger tire suddenly blew yesterday afternoon, sending Maluia to the side of the freeway.
» Freeway Service Patrol: 841-4357 (841-HELP)
Before he could call his mother to see whether she had roadside assistance coverage, Armando Biacan pulled up in Freeway Service Patrol Truck No. 4, followed immediately by driver Kevin Kaawa in truck No. 3, who used his truck to shield Maluia’s crippled SUV from oncoming traffic.
Together, Biacan and Kaawa had the Mercury’s tattered tire off and Maluia back on his way in seven minutes.
"They’re lifesavers," Maluia said. "I was here less than five minutes when they showed up. Lucky they stop by."
Responses to flat tires like Maluia’s made up the largest category of cases—2,459—in the program’s first year.
Another 1,188 drivers saw their vehicles overheat. Dennis Oasay is a Coca-Cola service technician whose company van suddenly began spewing coolant yesterday, causing it to overheat on the eastbound H-1 just under the Kaonohi Street overpass.
"I just got off the phone with my supervisor when they pulled up," Oasay said as a steady throng of traffic whizzed past and three ambulances screamed by. "Amazing how fast they come."
Oasay spends much of his workday on the road and has seen plenty of Freeway Service Patrol trucks helping stranded drivers on the H-1 and Moanalua freeways.
"Now I get stuck," Oasay said. "They’re great."
The program costs $3.9 million, with $3.51 million from the federal government and another $390,000 from the state Department of Transportation.
Otherwise, the service is free to drivers, who get services such as tire changes, jump-starts for dead batteries, a gallon of gas or a top-off to their radiators.
The Freeway Service Patrol also tows disabled vehicles that can disrupt traffic for everyone else on the road. The disabled vehicles are taken to designated areas where drivers can arrange for their vehicles to be towed home or to a mechanic.
As Kaawa scanned both sides of the H-1 yesterday looking for drivers in distress, he thought back on a year that began with him unemployed and then found him in the inaugural class of Freeway Service Patrol drivers.
"We’re here when people think no one will help them," Kaawa said. "And I like helping people."
Kaawa and the other drivers have all been offered tips from drivers as gratitude, which they are required to refuse.
And they’ve all been thanked more times than they can count.
But Kaawa isn’t fooling himself in wondering why the program is so popular with drivers.
"It’s free," he said. "People can’t believe we do all of this for free."