The Hawai'i County Mass Transit Agency announced that Hele-On service will continue to be fare-free through December 31, 2023.
Free ridership is possible after the Hawaiʻi County Department of Mass Transit received $4,500,00 in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and $1,879,773 in American Rescue Plan Act from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
The funds are 100% federal with no local match necessary and are provided to help transit systems sustain their operations during the pandemic. Upon receipt of the American Rescue Plan Act funds, the fare-free initiative should extend another year to December 31, 2024.
“We are extremely excited to offer this improved, efficient, and critical resource to our community at no cost,” said Mitch Roth, Hawaiʻi County mayor. “There are a myriad of issues contributing to a growing cost of living, so it is our hope that providing free transportation services to our residents will help alleviate some of that burden. We understand that Hele-On has had a bad rap in the past but would like to encourage our residents to try it out; they may be pleasantly surprised.”
Hele-On is also using the funds to cover the implementation of the new transit service network as planned in the 2018 Transit & MultiModal Transportation Master Plan, which increased public transit access in the Hilo, KailuaKona, Waimea, Puna, and Ka’u areas of the Island with later service, more frequent service and added Sunday and holiday services.
In addition, underserved communities such as Pahoa now have transit access with seven days a week transit service, paratransit service, and additional small bus service within the many subdivisions along Highways 11 and 130.
“Higher ridership translates into increased federal and state formula funding and creates a positive feedback loop for Hele-On to improve and grow the island’s mobility network,” said John Andoh, Mass Transit administrator/GM.
According to the news release, the goal of implementing fare-free transit is to rebuild ridership lost over the past 10 years due to reliability issues of the transit system.