LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council’s five-member Transportation Committee by a 4-1 vote approved a bulk rate for bus passes at an 80 percent discount for Kaua‘i Community College students. The entire student body will have to pay for the passes, which will be included in the tuition.
Bill 2446 now moves to second reading with a recommendation to the seven-member full council to approve it before sending it to Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. for his signature.
If the bill sticks to its current form at final reading, KCC students will be paying $20 for a four-month bus pass they could use to go anywhere on the island. A four-month bus pass would normally cost $100.
A recent pilot program by the county Transportation Agency allowed KCC students to ride the bus for free for 11 months, totaling more than 30,000 trips at an estimated cost of anywhere between $45,000 and $55,000, according to county Executive on Transportation Celia Mahioka.
Councilman Mel Rapozo was the lone dissenting committee member. He introduced an amendment, which would have given college students free bus passes, but the amendment failed by a 1-4 vote.
Committee Chair JoAnn Yukimura said the county bus cannot sustain a system that gives free bus passes.
One of Rapozo’s main points in opposing to the bill was that every college student would have to pay for bus passes, regardless of using the bus or not. A week prior to Wednesday’s decision, the president of KCC student body testified at the council meeting, saying only 50 of the approximately 1,500 students used the bus. Mahioka, however, said those numbers are only an estimate.
Yukimura said that on the flipside, those students who do take the bus and don’t use the parking lot are also paying for the cost of the parking lot, which is in included in the tuition.
And as far as financial hardship, there is a provision in the bill that allows the bulk rate fee to be waived, according to Yukimura.
But what really got Rapozo was that every Kaua‘i County employee has the right to ride the bus for free, at taxpayers’ expense — Carvalho included $14,000 in his budget submittal this year to foot this provision, according to Mahioka. She said there are about 6,000 boardings annually from county employees.
Some of those county employees are making tens of thousands of dollars, while college students struggle to make ends meet, Rapozo said. If the administration wants to start a bulk rate program, he said, it should start with county employees rather than college students.
Besides, KCC Chancellor Helen Cox told the council at a previous meeting that she doesn’t envision a parking lot situation for a long time, according to Rapozo.
Despite supporting the bill, council members KipuKai Kuali‘i and Nadine Nakamura agreed with Rapozo’s concerns with free rides to county employees at taxpayers’ expense.
“We need to model that and do some work in-house,” Nakamura said.
Mahioka said the administration is looking into that, hinting at assessing bulk rate for county employees in the near future.
Councilman Dickie Chang said the 80 percent discount is “very generous,” and at $5 per month, the bulk rate is “a really good deal” for everyone.
Rapozo, however, said the fee will move up if the bus fares go up.
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