Moderate increases in bus fares are being proposed and will be the subject of Honolulu Rate Commission public hearings early next month.
The same rates would apply to riders of the city’s $9.2 billion rail line when it becomes reality under an integrated fare structure the commission also agreed on. Rail’s initial segment from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium is scheduled to open by the end of the year.
While the commission’s proposal calls for riders to pay more, it is projected to bring in less revenue than a recommended fare box recovery ratio policy of 25% to 30% of costs. So taxpayers would still be paying for more than 75% of TheBus operations.
Seniors 65 and older, passengers with disabilities and riders holding Medicare cards would see the higher increases on a percentage basis. But commissioners pointed out that in reality, those in the newly clumped category would be paying a maximum of $60 annually, an increase of $25.
While not a baby step, “going from $35 to $60 is not that big of a step — it’s a, you know, teenage step,” said Rate Commissioner James Burke.
The commission voted 6-1 Tuesday to give a tentative OK to the plan. Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Soon said the commission could still make further changes based on the feedback it receives in the coming weeks.
“We may still tweak it one way or another,” she said.
Public meetings are scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 3 at Kapolei Hale, March 5 at Kailua District Park Community Room and March 10 at the Mission
Memorial Building next to Honolulu Hale. Written testimony will be accepted through March 10 by emailing email@example.com.
Broadly speaking, the plan calls for all single rides to go up 25 cents.
Another key component of the proposal is that it requires regular transit riders who want to receive discounts for their frequent travel to pay with recently introduced Holo cards, the reloadable electronic cards that work like prepaid debit cards. If using a Holo card, the plan proposes that a passenger be “capped,” or not charged, for more than 2.5 rides a day or 27 rides a month.
Under the latest draft, seniors, those with disabilities and those with Medicare cards would see a single ride move to $1.25, up from $1. A new $3 daily cap, which would use the new electronic Holo card to keep tally and then stop how much a passenger pays during a given day, would
replace the existing $2 one-day pass program that allows passengers to catch as many rides as possible each day. That equates to a 50% increase.
Seniors, those with disabilities and those with Medicare cards who ride TheBus frequently could take advantage of what would be a $20 monthly cap, which would replace the
existing monthly pass that now costs $6. That’s an increase of 233%. There would also be the $60 annual cap, which is a 71% increase over the current annual pass amount of $35.
The senior rate category is a point of contention each year. As the most heavily subsidized group, there’s been a big push in recent years to have those riders pay a greater share of actual cost.
But they’ve butted up against those who lobby for the elderly and disadvantaged who’ve argued successfully that even the slightest increase could have severe impacts on an elderly or disabled person on a fixed income.
The basic adult single fare, for those 18 to 64, would rise to $3 from the current $2.75, about a 9% increase. A new $7.50 daily cap, which also would use the new electronic Holo card, would replace the existing $5.50 one-day pass program. That’s a 36% increase.
The proposal calls for an $80 monthly cap, a 14% increase over the current monthly pass rate of $70. Annual passes for adults, which now costs $770, would be eliminated entirely.
The single ride rate for youths (ages 5 to 17) would be $1.50, up 25 cents, or 20%, from the existing fare. The daily cap of $3.75 would replace the existing $2.50 daily pass, amounting to an increase of 50%.
The youth monthly pass would rise to $40, up 14% from the current $35. Annual passes, which now cost $385, would also be eliminated.
The commission is also proposing a new low income program that would be eligible for those making up to 30% of area median
income. The program, however, would be limited to 2,000 riders under a program to be administered by the Department of Community Services. Those in the program would pay $1 for a single ride, a daily cap of $2.50, a monthly cap of $20 and an annual cap of $60.
A similar program now exists but is little known and is used by fewer than 50 passengers.
Armentrout testified against the plan, pointing out that seniors and youths will again raise objections and warning that the increases could ultimately lead to a loss in passengers.
“We’re going to be losing riders again,” she said.
Commissioner Burke originally liked the idea of dropping rates in order to gain riders, but when that idea failed to win support among his colleagues, he said he’s OK with the majority plan.
Commissioner Ann Bouslog said she agrees that the panel needs to be mindful of keeping ridership stable or increasing it.
“One of the biggest problems the system’s been having is decreased ridership,” she said. “I think one of the best ways we can set rail up for success would be to have robust ridership and increased ridership.”
The Department of Transportation Services, which oversees the city’s transit operations, did not submit any fare recommendations to the commission but has been providing staff analysis as the panel requests.
Deputy DTS Director Jon Nouchi announced in a statement that the agency “awaits the final recommendations and fare proposals from the Rate Commission and thanks them for their mana‘o, hard work, and
service to our transit
The commission offers a rate proposal to the City Council, which makes the final decision on what rates to charge. Soon said her hope is the city could implement the changes by the end of the year.
This year’s panel has a larger spotlight on it because last year, after several twists and turns, the Council failed to take action on any rate plan. The commission submitted one proposal and DTS offered a different plan for the Council to consider. After much debate, the Council failed to adopt two different bills last year that would have raised rates.