Even though repeated requests have been made ever since the Maui News first reported on the proposed Maui Bus fare increases on May 14th, the Maui County Department of Transportation (MDOT) out-and-out refused to post notices on Maui Bus buses of the May 24th Maui County Council hearings which occurred immediately before the vote to DOUBLE bus fares for daily riders. One activist has reported that he was actively discouraged from informing other bus patrons of the budget hearings by both bus drivers and by County officials, and was even threatened after he exercised his free speech rights to do so.
Others were asked to leave the Maui Bus transit hub at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center when they started handing out leaflets informing Maui Bus riders of the proposed fare hike and their opportunity to be heard by the Maui County Council. They had first contacted MDOT to enlist the County's assistance in setting up an area for First Amendment activities, but their request was denied because they were told the transit hub "is on private property". My understanding is that if a facility is being used for public transit purposes, a citizen has a right to pass out hand-bills about public transit matters there, no matter who owns it.
At the May 24th hearings in Council Chambers, citizen after citizen testified that they had never been made aware of previous hearings and only found out about that day's hearings after the Maui News broke the story ten days earlier, and most of these only heard by word-of-mouth from activists and other bus passengers. No notices of any kind relating to the opportunity to give testimony were ever posted in any Maui Bus vehicle at any time. Yet the Council still chose to take action to DOUBLE bus fares for daily riders, even after hearing such overwhelming testimony that the vast majority of the ridership never received notice of the proposed fare increases or the opportunity to have their voices heard.
And, unbelievably, even after hearing all that testimony about the inadequacy of notice by newspaper publication, not a single notice of the public's opportunity to have their voices heard at the second and final reading of the budget bill on June 6th at 9 AM in Maui Council Chambers has been posted anywhere in any Maui Bus vehicle as of June 3rd!
The claim made by members of the Coincil at the May 24th session that there is no deliberate attempt to exclude bus riders from the fare-setting process is now simply not credible, as it nothing more than empty words until such notices appear. Maui residents deserve better and more open government, and have an inalienable right to be kept informed. Many thanks to Councilmembers Don Couch and Bob Carroll who had the courage to speak up for what is right, asking for proper public hearings before acting on bus fares.
Frankly, it is surprising and disturbing that it is even legal for County Council to act with so many citizens left unaware.
I urge you to roll back the fare increases immediately, post proper notices on buses, and hold special public hearings on bus fares and other transit matters on a Saturday, so regular working people can attend and get to and from the hearing by bus. I also echo Councilmember Gladys Baisa's long-ignored call for a complete audit of Maui Bus.
No one is asking for a free ride. We all know that fuel costs have gone up and Maui Bus riders are not opposed to a reasonable increase. But DOUBLE? Really? My income hasn't doubled this year!
The County Council needs to justify such a huge increase with an audit of Maui Bus operations BEFORE the people will believe this increase is anything but a new tax on the poor. You cannot avoid your responsibility to explain to the bus riding public why you are making the public come up with twice as much in daily fare payments,while failing to deliver corresponding improvements in either the frequency or hours of service.
And according to the information on the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration website (http://ftawebprod.fta.dot.gov/ContactUsTool/Public/FAQs.aspx?CategoryID=4 , item # 11), a federally subsidized transit provider MUST provide a discount to all valid Medicare holders - not just seniors, but all Medicare recipients - including the disabled: “Under 49 U.S.C. Section 5307(d)(1)(D) of the Federal Transit Act, federally subsidized transit providers may not charge more than half of the peak fare for fixed route transit during off-peak hours for seniors, people with disabilities, and Medicare cardholders.”
So why aren’t disability discounts included in the fare proposal passed by the County? Isn’t Maui Bus federally subsidized? Or is it that Maui Bus doesn’t get all the federal funds it is entitled to receive because the proper applications have never been filed, and the working poor are now being told to make up the shortfall, instead?
On May 24th the Council also received testimony that Roberts Hawaii, who operates Maui Bus service on behalf of the County of Maui, has not given their drivers a raise in the five years that they have been operating Maui Bus. Yet the County's arrangement with Roberts Hawaii has awarded the company a 5% increase year after year. What's up with that?
The citizens and bus riders of Maui County have a right to know, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to us all that Maui County Officials don't really want transparency nor do they want the public's participation in setting public policy.
What is being asked is that Maui County officials include bus riders in the fare-setting decision making process by posting notices in the buses to get the information out about any plans for major changes under consideration well BEFORE they make any changes to bus fares and policies so we understand the complete picture, and then follow this with public hearings to get information from the people who really understand the bus system - the ridership. Maui County officials have been asked many, many times to include bus riders in this process, but thave consistently refused to post any notices - even of regularly scheduled hearings - time and time again, and we won't stand for it any more. And, of course, we repeat once again Councilmember Gladys Baisa's call for a complete audit of the system, BEFORE fares go up, not after. This should include an audit to determine that Maui Bus has applied for all the grants and subsidies which it is qualified to receive.
No notices of our right to give testimony posted on the buses? Fares DOUBLING overnight? No disability discounts? No raises for bus drivers? No audit?
Perhaps everything is above-board, but the way this whole matter is being handled sure looks suspicious to many of us. If there's nothing to hide, then why does the Maui County still refuse to post notices of public hearings and other matters of interest to bus riders on Maui Bus buses? Why is there still no audit of Maui Bus even though it has been many months since Councilmember Baisa's request? And why is it that property taxes and motor vehicle weight taxes are important enough to warrant special public hearings, but this regressive tax on the low income families is not?
Do the right thing for the people of Maui: Roll back bus fare increases when you meet again on June 6th and start all over. Get it right this time, and invite bus riders to participate in the process from the beginning, instead of deliberately keeping information from us until the decisions you make behind our backs become a done deal.