Ongoing Series { Investigating Hawaii's rising school bus costs.

Taken for a Ride: Breakdown of Hawaii's Runaway School Bus Costs

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

Editor's note: This article is part of a series on Hawaii's runaway school bus costs. Read other articles on the topic published today.

To understand what was happening with Hawaii's school bus costs and why, Civil Beat used bid summaries obtained from the Hawaii Department of Education to build a database spanning 11 years, from 2001 through 2011.

The tables below summarize what we found. They show the average prices for routes that were awarded when there were competitive bids, and the average prices for routes when there was just one bidder.

Typically, a single contract contains more than one route. The state's roughly 700 routes are bundled into about 100 contracts of varying size. One contract could have anywhere from one route to 40 routes. That makes analyzing costs on a route-by-route basis the most accurate comparison.

Just like route comparisons are better than contract comparisons, daily route prices are better than annual route prices. That's because the length of the school year changed from 184 to 180 school days during the period covered by our investigation.

We provide both in separate tables below.

It should be noted that a year-by-year comparison of prices is more fair than rolling up the total for all years. That's because contracts awarded in later years would tend to be more expensive than those in earlier years due to inflation. The last four years, all the contracts were noncompetitive.

Between 10 and 20 of the district's contracts typically end in a given year. They then come up for another bid. For each of the last 11 years, we compared the cost involved when the route had more than one bidder with the cost when there was only a single bidder.

What We Found

  • Overall, we found the average price of all noncompetitive routes was more than twice as high as that for competitively bid routes. The tables below contain year-by-year analysis.
  • In 2001 through 2004, 306 of 352 awarded routes (87 percent) went through a competitive bid process.
  • In 2005 through 2007, that ratio dropped to 124 of 253 (49 percent).
  • And in 2008 through 2011, none of 235 routes was competitively bid. No contract was contested for four years. And prices skyrocketed, from a statewide average of $283 per route per day in 2007 (the last year with any competitive bids) to $478 the next year. That's an increase of nearly 70 percent — far too high to be explained simply by inflation.
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