Council passes bill to create fare-free bus program
The Maui County Council voted unanimously to approve the creation of a fare-free bus pass program, an initiative that Councilmember Gabe Johnson introduced during this year’s budget process.
Johnson said Bill 81, FD2 (2023) allows qualified individuals to access a bus pass at no cost. Qualification can be based on income, age, disability status, Medicare status or student status, he said.
“The high cost of living in this county is a struggle for many of our residents on limited and low-income wages,” said Johnson, who chairs the Agriculture, Diversification, Environment and Public Transportation Committee. “I see the fare-free bus pass program as a strong way to support our community by providing a safe and cost-free way to transport residents to work, educational spaces, medical appointments, social services, stores and more.”
Under the bill, eligibility for a fare-free bus pass is based on the following criteria:
- Having annual income at or less than 200% of Hawaiʻi’s poverty guidelines.
- Being at least 55 years or older.
- Being eligible for paratransit service or having physician-certified disability fixed route card.
- Having a Medicare card.
- Having a valid student identification card, if the student is 24 years old or younger.
The bill allows the county Department of Transportation to work with a third party to review applications and maintain an easy qualification process. Johnson said individuals can prove financial need simply by showing that they receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, providing a letter certifying need from a social-service organization or providing other reliable documentation.
The council set aside funding in the fiscal year 2024 budget to launch the initiative starting this coming January, according to Johnson. In the meantime, the Maui Bus service is being provided for free while the mayor’s emergency proclamation for Maui fires is in effect.
“I am grateful to the administration for making the Maui Bus free to all riders during the emergency proclamation and recognizing the critical needs of our people,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the bill will result in lowered transportation costs and reduced air pollution.
“Public transportation is not just an affordable critical service for our riders,” said Johnson. “When more people use public transportation, it reduces traffic, increases safety, lessens wear and tear on our roads and lowers local greenhouse gas emissions. It is time to put the public back into public transportation,” he said.