Council votes to remove bus funds from rail money plan

The Honolulu City Council is working to ensure millions of dollars used to maintain city buses and HandiVans will not go toward rail.

Concerned about the financial struggles of the rail project, council members are making a move to protect funds for other services.

On Wednesday, they voted to adopt a resolution telling the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to delete $210 million in federal money from its financial plan–money the city uses to maintain buses and HandiVans.

“If we lose that money for TheBus and HandiVan, which so many people depend on, we would really be doing a disservice to our taxpayers,” said Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi.

HART announced Wednesday it has completed the first two miles of rail on the Ewa plain and construction for the project continues.

It’s now about $700 million in the hole and deleting federal bus money from its plan would put the project in deeper, about $900 million.

So how will HART replace the $210 million that council members are telling it to remove?

“The first place that we should look for monies to replace the federal 5307 bus and HandiVan monies is the skim that the state takes, 10 percent off the top of the city’s general excise tax surcharge for rail,” said Honolulu City Council member Ikaika Anderson.

HART officials say they will work with the Honolulu City Council and the mayor to remove the bus money from their plan, and also told us, “We understand the importance of rail and bus operations working to complement each other to create an efficient and reliable public transportation system.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell agrees the bus funds should never be taken to pay for rail, but he also notes the federal government’s approval is needed to remove it from the plan. In order for that to happen, HART would need to find another source of funds.

Next week, four city council members will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Federal Transit Administration to talk about rail, bus funds and possible financial options.

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