Bus riders abusing the system, city cracks down

The City and County of Honolulu is taking action to stop a growing problem of fraud when it comes to riding the public bus.

KHON2 has learned people are abusing bus transfers by counterfeiting them or giving them away to other riders when they are not supposed to. Transfers allow paying riders to catch another bus for free as long as they paid the initial fare. Officials with TheBus say the redeem about 6 million transfers or free trips a year.

How many trips are fraudulent? The City has no idea. Now the City has come up with a solution. But, for those long-time riders of the bus, they will recognize this new policy. It was in use up until about 12 years ago, but the city now says it is reverting back to the old transfer system, to save money and stop the abuse.

The busiest bus stop in the city is located at the corner of King and Punchbowl Streets. To give you an idea how many passengers transfer from one bus to another here, the driver of the Route #2 to Waikiki says he hands out two books of transfers each trip which is about 40 transfers. An adult pays a fare of $2.50, and if that passenger needs another bus to get to his or her final destination, the passenger can ask for a transfer, and that next ride is free.

But the city has come across people who are abusing the privilege. There are counterfeit transfers, or people are selling transfers or passing them off to others to use. That’s one problem. The other problem is that the city doesn’t really know how big of a problem it really is.

“You find people that have used passes improperly – it’s expired or they get it from a friend.” said Mike Formby, the Director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services. “We can’t quantify it, we just know that it’s a problem, and we should stop it.”

Under the current system, after riders pay a cash fare, riders can request a transfer, but riders are not obligated to give up that transfer, and that is where there is the potential for abuse. But under the new system, when riders board the bus for the first transfer, the rider is obligated to give the transfer slip to the driver. The driver will then tear off the coupon at the bottom, and the rider can take the rest of the transfer slip for a second transfer. At that second transfer, the rider has to give the entire slip to the driver. So, the rider is given the option of having two transfers, but only in one direction, and not for return or round trips. There is a stated time when that transfer is set to expire which is indicated at the top of the slip..

The penalty for misuse of the transfer is a fine of up to $2,000 or up to a year in prison.

“Rather than trying to fine people or imprison people when we catch them, we want to come up with a system that encourages people to comply by the rules,” said Formby.

The City is advising the public of the new transfer system at Neighborhood Board meetings at and public hearings that will be scheduled soon. It hopes to have the new system in place by July 1.

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