Updated: October 1, 2022
The Hawaiʻi State Department of Education is launching a pilot program with the four counties to expand subsidized county bus passes for all high schoolers in grades 9-12.
The pilot program — called EXPRESS, which stands for Expanding Ridership to Educate Students in Schools — aims to help mitigate the impacts of the national school bus driver shortage.
The HIDOE reports that expanding free bus transportation services to all high school students under the EXPRESS program stands to benefit more than 21,000 students — or 47% of high school students — who are currently ineligible because they live within the walk zone of their school campus.
The goal is to increase high school student ridership on county bus services so that underutilized school buses can be reassigned to restore canceled and consolidated routes.
“Like other school districts across the nation, Hawaiʻi is addressing a shortage of school bus drivers that has led to canceled routes, schedule delays and passenger waitlists, as our contractors work hard to maintain services with fewer drivers,” Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. “We started this school year down roughly 90 bus drivers, and every bus we can reassign will help us to prioritize impacted routes at our elementary and intermediate schools. We thank our county transportation partners and our high school students for being a part of the solution.”
Hayashi said that reliable bus transportation has been a challenge this school year. “We’ve had to suspend and consolidate routes on Kauaʻi, Maui, Hawaiʻi Island and here on Oʻahu,” said Hayashi during a press conference on Monday. He said the main issue is a shortage of qualified school bus drivers, and called the issue a nationwide challenge affecting school districts across the country.
“We want to emphasize that EXPRESS may not be for every family,” said Emily Evans, administrator of the Student Transportation Services branch. “We want to ask that you think about your student, and consider the following thoughts: do they have a way to communicate with you; if they get off at the wrong stop, could they course correct and find their way back to school or home; what is your student’s level of situational awareness, and do they take safety seriously.”
Interested students with an active HIDOE student ID number may sign up online beginning today, Sept. 12, 2022, at iportal.k12.hi.us/express.
“Approximately 6,000 high school students currently use school bus service to get to and from school statewide,” said Evans. “Students who choose to participate in EXPRESS gain access to a means of transportation that isn’t limited to school transportation; they are free to use their pass as needed.”
“The idea is, if we can get the majority of those 6,000 high school students on the County bus versus a school bus, we can reallocate those resources to elementary and middle schools,” said Evans.
According to Evans, the department is consolidating routes as best it can. Over the summer, there were 50 applicants from Oʻahu and Maui combined, but only six people were hired as bus drivers from that applicant pool. “Our bus contractors are offering hiring bonuses, paid training, benefits, (and) higher wages,” said Evans.
Approved student applicants for the new pilot bus pass program will receive a confirmation and their county bus pass directly through their school.
- Oʻahu recipients will receive one county pass that will be valid through July 2023. The City & County of Honolulu will be funding the cost of passes on Oʻahu for June and July 2023.
- Recipients on Kauaʻi, Maui and Hawai‘i Island will receive passes good for each month through July 2023. (Public transit on Hawai‘i County’s Hele-On Bus is already a free fare service that can be utilized at any time.)
“The City and County of Honolulu’s TheBus is proud to partner with the State Department of Education to deliver transit to Hawaiʻi’s high school students,” City Department of Transportation Services Deputy Director Jon Nouchi said. “These students will learn early the benefits and independence transit can offer them, and may use their rides on TheBus to reach destinations beyond their schools, in their community, and even the job market. Developing students into new transit riders is timely and provides an efficient way for our keiki to access education.”
“Since the beginning of the school year, we’ve seen an increase in student ridership on our Kaua‘i Bus routes islandwide,” Celia Mahikoa, executive for the County of Kaua‘i Transportation Agency said. “We thank the Hawai‘i Department of Education for providing these free bus passes as we know it will be a welcome help to our local families in need, and we look forward to our continued partnership as we work together to help our keiki get to school.”
Parents and guardians will be responsible for locating the nearest county bus route to and from their student’s school and for finding the safest walking routes to and from the nearest bus stops. Public transportation safety tips are available at bit.ly/HIDOE-EXPRESS.
Students who have already paid for a second quarter pass or bus coupons may request a refund after receiving their county bus pass at bit.ly/STSB-refund. School bus refund requests should be made only after receiving the county bus pass to avoid premature deactivation of the school bus pass.
ADA and Paratransit services are not included in this program. For more information, visit bit.ly/HIDOEstudent-transportation.
*Maui Now’s Wendy Osher contributed to this report.