Honolulu Weekly Gets It Right About TheBus

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BY CLIFF SLATER – Honolulu Weekly gets it right about TheBus:

The last Honolulu Weekly, ran as its lead story Michael Kain’s, “Honolulu’s Big Bus Shibai,”with a subhed, “Cuts and re-routings have–surprise!–been met with backlash. Wait till the public learns how our bus money is being siphoned off for rail.”


The story starts with “Legend of the Shortfall,” and reviews the City’s talking points memo used to befuddle the public about their supposed reasons for cutting service, which as Kain tells us the City spins as, “optimize bus operations for even greater efficiencies.”

City Transportation Director Yoshioka tells us that it was either that, or increase City subsidies by $7 million. Yoshioka also says that the City is looking far into the future to 2019 for “real” relief with rail.

In discussing the use by the City of federal bus funds to build rail, Yoshioka makes it clear that this $214 million in federal bus funds may not be needed unless there are cost overruns, which most people seem to think are certain. However, the bus funds would certainly be used if the federal government does not approve the $1.55 billion the City has been counting on. In that case, the City would replace the $1.55 billion with the bus funds and an increase or extension, or both, of the GET surcharge.

Kain makes the point that the increased costs the City gives as their rationale for cutting bus service were all foreseeable and would be more credible if they had actually sought an increase in funds from the City Council, which they did not.

Our view is, as we have written here before, that the bus service cuts ARE due to rail. The following excerpts from a letter by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to the City make it clear that the City has to bring TheBus and HandiVan operating costs under control if it is ever to receive federal New Starts funding:

“Regarding the Financial Capacity Assessment, FTA notes that the financial plan HART [Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation] submitted is sufficient to advance the project into final design. However, it must be further strengthened before FTA will consider awarding an FFGA [Full Funding Grant Agreement].

“Specifically, the financial plan states that additional revenues may be obtained from an extension of the General Excise Tax or implementation of value capture mechanisms. “However, these revenue sources require actions by the State of Hawaii and/or the City that have not been taken and which are beyond HART’s ability to control. Prior to the Project’s consideration for an FFGA, HART should demonstrate the availability of additional revenue sources that could be tapped should unexpected events such as cost increases or funding shortfalls occur.

“Additionally, HART made assumptions in three areas that require further justification or amendment: (1) the containment of bus and HandiVan operating expenses; (2) the increasing share of the City’s annual budget required to fund the transit system; and (3) the diversion of Section 5307 [bus purchasing] funds from preventive maintenance to the Project. Prior to the Project’s consideration for an FFGA, HART should either provide further documentation justifying the reasonableness of these assumptions or consider revising these assumptions to more closely follow historical patterns.” (underline added).

Here’s the link to the full letter.