Taken For a Ride — Series on Hawaii's School Bus Costs
School bus transportation costs have more than doubled in recent years, in large part because bus companies abruptly stopped bidding against each other, a Civil Beat investigation has found.
State officials have scrambled to pay for bus service, often shifting millions of dollars from other programs and classroom needs.
Civil Beat digs into the issue of rising costs and their effect on parents, kids and taxpayers in the ongoing series, "Taken for a Ride."
Oct. 31, 2011
Taken for a Ride: Hawaii's Runaway School Bus Costs: In 2008, bus companies suddenly stopped bidding against each other. And the prices they began charging the state increased significantly overnight.
What It Took to Report 'Taken for a Ride': Civil Beat built a database using hundreds of records obtained from the Hawaii Department of Education to document cost increases and the reasons for them. The records cover more than 700 routes and 140 contracts over the past 11 years.
Taken for a Ride: Breakdown of Hawaii's Runaway School Bus Costs: On average, routes that are awarded when there is only a single bidder cost the state more than twice as much as those with multiple bids.
Taken for a Ride: Four Examples of Hawaii Runaway School Bus Contracts: We highlight four contracts that demonstrate how rates climb when a company rebids its own contract with no competition.
Taken for a Ride: Ka-Ching For Contractors Without Competition: The overnight increase from one contract to the next is the critical measure of whether school bus contractors have taken Hawaii taxpayers for a ride. Huge price hikes when there's no competition raise serious questions.
Nov. 1, 2011
- Taken for a Ride: State Did Little to Stop Runaway School Bus Costs: Rather than reject or negotiate bids to hold down costs, district officials shifted the burden to parents, kids and taxpayers.
Nov. 2, 2011
- Taken for a Ride: 'We Got That Message,' Ed Board Chairman Says: Board of Education Chairman Don Horner says it's unacceptable to take classroom money to fund school buses, board is working on encouraging competition among companies and lowering costs without reducing school bus service.
Nov. 3, 2011
- Hawaii Superintendent's Lesson — Keep Your Head in the Sand: Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi appears to be distancing herself from school bus contract oversight. If the head of the school district isn't watching out for kids, parents and taxpayers then who should be?
Nov. 4, 2011
Taken For A Ride: FBI Investigating Hawaii School Bus Companies: The FBI is investigating Hawaii school bus companies for possible collusion in setting prices, Civil Beat has learned.
Taken For A Ride: Why Didn't Audits Catch Lack of Competition?: Lack of competition among Hawaii school bus contractors had been put forward as a theory to explain runaway transportation costs. But neither the Hawaii Department of Education nor the State Auditor's Office nailed that down.
Taken For A Ride: Collusion in Hawaii School Bus Contracting?: At Civil Beat, we explain our work by using the phrase, "Change begins with a question.™" In the case of Hawaii's school bus contracts, we think it's clear that something's got to change. And the obvious question is whether what has to change is what may be happening out of sight of the public.
Nov. 7, 2011
- Taken For A Ride: Calling All Bidders: Hawaii school district officials will allow bus companies to continue using aging buses in an effort to spur competition and cut rising transportation costs.
Nov. 23, 2011
- Taken For A Ride: Mainland School Bus Company Considers Hawaii: The nation's second-largest school transportation company is considering getting into the Hawaii market because prices have climbed high enough to justify the expense.
Nov. 28, 2011
- Taken for A Ride: Hawaii Companies Say Rising Costs = Rising Prices: The Hawaii School Bus Association lobbyist provided documents he says justifies runaway school bus costs. But the numbers still don't add up.
Dec. 6, 2011
- Taken For A Ride: Fewer Players, Bigger Budgets: The mom-and-pop bus companies born on plantations in the 1940s have given away to conglomerates and a handful of big players.
Dec. 7, 2011
- Taken For a Ride: District Wants Even More Money For Buses Next Year: The state is asking for even more money for school bus costs even though the Legislature has said it wants the budget to come way down.
Dec. 15, 2011
- Taken For a Ride: Competition Returns For Hawaii School Bus Contracts: New bids for 2012 school bus contracts are still high. But bus companies have bid against each other again. And two new companies, one from the mainland, also entered the market.
Jan. 3, 2012
Taken For A Ride: Lessons Learned From New Competition: Mainland bus companies say Hawaii's bid process could be improved.
Taken For A Ride: Stopping Oahu School Bus Service Will Save Millions: School district report to Legislature recommends eliminating Oahu service to save money.
Jan. 4, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: Senate Education Chair Blasts School Bus Report: Sen. Jill Tokuda says the report should have addressed the lack of competition and what should be done about it.
Jan. 26, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: Roberts Hawaii's Very Own Race to the Top of School Bus Biz: Roberts Hawaii's lawsuit against a competitor 20 years ago changed the bus business on the islands and gave the company the opening it needed to dominate the industry.
Jan. 27, 2012
- Taken For a Ride: Lawmakers Disturbed By Lack Of Answers: Lawmakers weren't happy with school district officials who appeared before them at a hearing Friday when they had no recommendations on how to increase bus contract competitors. Lack of competition is linked to skyrocketing transportation costs.
Feb. 13, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: 17,000 Students Could Be Without School Buses Next Year: State school officials says they need the Legislature to give them $71 million — more even than the governor has requested — or they won't be able to provide bus service on Oahu. That means 17,000 kids would be looking for other ways to school and the city says it's likely city buses can't absorb that many new riders.
March 5, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: State Launches Audit of Student Transportation Program: The State Auditor has started looking into rising school bus costs, the kind of audit that hasn't been done since 1973.
March 6, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: State Learns A Lesson About Running School Buses: State education officials have been running their own buses on the Big Island for the past six years and found that it's not such an easy thing to do. Still, the state's experience doesn't explain rising charges by private companies.
March 13, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: Hawaii Lawmakers Still Plan To Cut School Bus Funding: A House budget committee says no to the Department of Education's request for millions of dollars more for school buses. Lawmakers want district officials to cut bus costs, not increase them.
March 23, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: Hawaii School Bus Program To Get Independent Review: The State Auditor has sent a letter to the Department of Education outlining the scope of her audit into the district's transportation program.
April 4, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: Will School Bus Cuts Lead to Higher Drop-Out Rates?: School district officials are warning of dire consequences like higher drop-out rates if the Legislature fails to fully fund bus transportation and the district is forced to cut services for thousands of kids.
April 20, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: Hawaii School Bus Cuts Imminent: The Legislature is continuing to hold fast against warnings by school officials that any budget reduction will mean thousands of kids will be without a ride to school. And other programs could suffer as well.
May 1, 2012
Taken For A Ride: Ed Board Considers How To Fill A $17M Hole: Now that the state budget is settled and includes only $25 million for school bus services, the Board of Education hopes to come up with a plan to keep the buses running.
Taken For A Ride: No Bus Cuts for Elementary Kids?: School board insists that transportation cuts don't affect elementary school children.
May 15, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: Bus Cuts Loom As Students Head For Summer Break: The Board of Education once again puts off making a decision on bus cuts.
June 5, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: School Board Still Can't Decide How To Cut Bus Costs: The Board of Education is struggling to come up with a plan to rein in costs and still provide bus services to as many kids as possible.
June 11, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: DOE Hoping Consultant Finds Answers to Bus Woes: Still unsure how to reduce bus costs, the state is hiring a consultant to come up with recommendations by December.
June 20, 2012
- Closer — But School District Still Can't Decide On School Bus Cuts: The school board is pushing Department of Education officials to use federal impact aid to plug a $17 million hole in the transportation budget.
June 30, 2012
- Hawaii Cuts 103 School Bus Routes: Oahu bears the brunt of route cuts that will affect nearly 2,400 students.
July 3, 2012
- Hawaii Rescues 29 School Bus Routes From Chopping Block: After public outcry, department announces fewer route cuts affecting 2,000 students.
Aug. 31, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: State Audit Slams School Bus Transportation Program: In a highly critical report, State Auditor finds the Department of Education's transportation program to be "out of control," raises concerns over lack of competitive bidding, safety and financial mismanagement.
Sept. 5, 2012
- Taken for a Ride: School Board Wants Answers to Auditor's Scathing Report: The state Board of Education wants school district officials to address the auditor's latest recommendations — sooner rather than later.
Oct. 16, 2012
- There's No Excuse For Hawaii Ed Department's Really Bad Management: Civil Beat editor boils down the scathing state audit. It points to lack of oversight from the top.
Oct. 19, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: We Finally Have The Answer, Hawaii Dept of Ed Says: A mainland consultant has given a preliminary report to district officials that they say identifies solutions to the problem of rising costs. But they're not revealing the details — yet.
Nov. 19, 2012
- Taken For A Ride: Hawaii School Bus Study Pau, But DOE Not Making It Public: The school district's consultant hands over the final report but DOE officials refuse to make it public for the time being.
March 27, 2013
- Taken for a Ride: Lawmakers Say School Bus Fiasco Finally Shaping Up: But it's still unclear exactly how the department is going to change its student transportation program.
April 17, 2013
- Taken for a Ride: Will Innovative School Bus Plan Really Bring Down Costs?: New Hawaii school bus contracts would be based on ride times versus routes.