More delays for Hele-On contract

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today file photo A Hele-On bus sits at Kmart in Kailua-Kona.

Hawaii County Council members continue to have confidence in Mass Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira, despite a fumble in the department that forced the cancellation of a long-overdue contract award.

Department officials updated the council’s Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit on Tuesday. Carreira did not attend the briefing.

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The multi-million-dollar contract is being rebid and should go out in the next week or two, according to Malia Hall, the deputy corporation counsel assigned to the department. It probably won’t result in wheels on the ground until “Aprilish,” she said.

“The goal is, yeah, to get it completely right this time, to clean up the mess that we kind of created in the first place,” Hall told the committee.

The County Council on Oct. 2 approved a resolution giving Mass Transit the go-ahead for a three-year contract, combining the regular county routes with fill-in buses as needed. Roberts Tours and Transportation Inc. was declared the winning bidder Oct. 10 but the contract was later withdrawn.

The new request for proposals will be handled by the Finance Department instead of Mass Transit, and a new evaluation panel will be selected to evaluate the bids. None of the information on the original bids, including the prices, were disclosed, said Purchasing Specialist Steve Wilhelm in a Nov. 5 letter to bid respondents.

Wilhelm said a faulty spreadsheet, discovered by the Purchasing Department, was the culprit in the need to rebid.

“This spreadsheet contained several errors in rates and utilized assumptions that were not disclosed in the RFP,” Wilhelm said in the letter. “RFP 3712 was cancelled in the best interest of the county and to preserve the fairness and open competitiveness for the proposers.”

Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, the vice chairman of the committee, said he talked with Carreira the previous day and he plans to meet with her, along with Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, the chairwoman of the committee, to keep everybody on track.

“While we expect certain things from them, we also help them,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards said he continues to have confidence that Carreira, who’s been on the job about a year, can turn the embattled agency around. Still, he said, he wants to see improvements.

“We’re stumbling,” Richards said. “The problem is, we’re not instilling confidence in our ridership.”

Council Chairman Aaron Chung, who represents Hilo, was more blunt.

“Where’s the buck going to stop on this. … Who’s going to be the person that we talk to?” Chung said. “We had a process that we cannot even defend, and that’s why we had to cancel.”

The delay means the county will continue spending taxpayer money on an expensive alternative to a comprehensive contract.

Instead, Mass Transit will continue its current setup where Polynesian Adventure Tours provides drivers for the existing county buses and PolyAd and Roberts fill in for the shortage of county buses with buses and drivers at a more expensive daily rate. PolyAd’s annual contract expired June 30, 2018, but it has been extended periodically by the county.

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During the last fiscal year, the regular bus driver contract paid the privately owned PolyAd tour company $2.86 million, compared to $5.22 million more for the fill-in buses, according to the county Finance Department. Roberts was paid $1.36 million for fill-in buses during the same period, bringing total emergency fill-in bus contracts to $6.58 million.

In comparison, the entire Mass Transit budget that year was $15.7 million. New buses run from $300,000 to $600,000 each.

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