Maui lawmaker demands action, claims school bus service isn’t meeting contract standards

A Maui lawmaker is weighing in and asking the governor to step in and solve a school bus service shortage on neighbor islands.

Always Investigating has been tracking the bus service issues from the beginning, and learned the Hawaii Department of Education is unlikely to budge despite strict minimum standards of service.

DOE bus contracts for all vendors have a very short fuse on paper for late and missed routes, but companies on Maui and Kauai are being given time to work out the kinks caused by a driver shortage.

Ground Transport has the most routes affected by suspensions and consolidations due to driver shortages.

We first reported that DOE asked competitor Roberts Hawaii in early July for short-term help. Roberts said it would do it if given seven-year contracts at the original bid price for two Maui clusters of routes, and a wage and bonus increase, now also telling us they’re willing to do without the differential.

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa tried to intervene last week but to no avail.

Now a West Maui lawmaker is calling on the governor to have the Board of Education either issue a supplemental contract or rescind the contract entirely.

“If the vendor couldn’t perform adequately, then that should have been disclosed to the Department of Education, and they should have at least had a community meeting to let the parents know as soon as possible that this is going to happen and we need to create other options,” said Rep. Angus McKelvey, D, West Maui, Maalaea, North Kihei. “This can’t continue the whole school year.”

Always Investigating dug into the contracts and learned service standards allow for no more than 2 percent of all bus routes each week to be delayed or missed, whether due to staffing or mechanical issues. All delays 15 minutes or more must be reported to the DOE, a “zero tolerance standard.”

Ground Transport has said DOE assigns the routes based on available staff, and the DOE tells us that “as long as the company is making an effort to correct issues, there are no grounds for breach” of contract.

Gov. David Ige’s office issued a statement thanking people on Maui for their patience as “DOE works with the contractor.”

The new superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, told us Wednesday evening she is meeting with Ground Transport on their action plan.

Ground Transport tells us it’s within weeks of getting newly hired drivers through all the required licensing and training to fully staff all routes.

This comes as all grades at Lahainaluna High School went back to school Wednesday.

Out of about 1,000 students, nearly one-fifth had their bus route suspended. Despite that, only four students were late to class on the first day.

Principal Lynn Kahoohalahala says the school worked hard to notify parents, set up extra parking, and had security and police on hand to keep the expected extra traffic flowing.

“It’s high school. (The students) could have been dillydallying to their classes or truly they were late, but I don’t know right now if they were bus riders,” she said. “We were very surprised. We wanted to be proactive instead of reactive and everybody stepped up to the plate.”

The DOE gave students on Maui County bus passes to compensate for canceled routes.

The county tells us its bus service handled about 30 public school students Wednesday.

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