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West // West Oahu Coverstory
Christina O’Connor

DOE To Launch Bus Improvements

Neighborhoods in West Oahu will be the target for the state Department of Education’s “Get on Board” pilot project, the first phase of an initiative that aims to revamp the public school bus transportation system.

Get on Board kicks off next Monday (Aug. 5), the first day of school, and will serve students from 30 schools in the Aiea, Moanalua, Pearl City, Radford and Waipahu High complex areas.

According to the DOE, the pilot area is comprised of about 3,500 students and was selected based on large ridership numbers and its multiple routes.

The project follows last year’s route reduction as a result of budget cuts. In 2012, more than 100 bus routes were eliminated because of rising costs and a loss of funding. The cancellations affected more than 2,000 students.

Following the route reduction, the DOE brought in consultants to analyze the bus system.

“We found routes on top of routes. We found inefficient routes,” explained DOE assistant superintendent, office of school facilities and support services, Ray L’Heureux, who assumed his position shortly after the cuts. “We didn’t know who was getting on what bus, or when, or at what stops.

“Because of the efficiencies that we found we could use, we had the capacity to add service back,” he explained.

While funding still has not been restored, DOE was able to restore service levels by improving the existing model. The pilot reflects these changes – the number of routes and buses have been reduced, while increasing the number of students served.

“The price of a bus is never going to get cheaper,” L’Heureux said. “Labor gets more expensive. Insurance gets more expensive. Gas and oil get more expensive. But you have got to be able to keep your cost escalation at bay and within industry standards.”

One important aspect to the initiative is the use of technology – the system will include routing software and GPS tracking on buses to keep a record of both passengers and the bus route.

“That gives us actual real-time data with how many kids they have on the bus … (and) where that bus is going and how many stops it is making,” L’Heureux said.

Some routes that were cut in the area will be restored with the launching of the pilot. These include routes in Aiea Heights, Halawa Heights and Waikele.

“The Get on Board pilot of 2013-14 does not restore all routes. Thus, there are some areas that will go without bus service this year,” DOE communications specialist Dara Young said. “But one of the major reasons identified in the consultant’s study … was an outdated requirement and contracting system that led to exponentially higher costs.”

Two Senate bills recently signed into law by Gov. Abercrombie – SB 1082 and 1083 – will allow more flexibility in awarding bus contracts.

“By implementing the necessary changes, the goal of Get on Board is to deliver better value and service in the community,” Young said. “But more importantly, the DOE is now in the second year of a seven-year strategic plan, which focuses on preparing students for college, careers and citizenship. Bus transportation is a vital part of getting our students into their classrooms efficiently, safely and on a timely basis.”

The DOE anticipates that Get on Board will be adopted by all of Oahu for 2014-2015, followed by the entire state for the 2015-2016 school year.

For updates about Get on Board, visit hawaiipublicschools.org/BeyondTheClassroom/Transportation/Pages/home.aspx. DOE also has a Get on Board Call Center, which can be reached at 206-7936 or via email at getonboard@notes.k12.hi.us.

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