Handi-Van's aging fleet brings complaints from riders

Handi-Van's aging fleet brings complaints from riders

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Handi-Van officials said Tuesday they have made improvements in maintenance but roughly 20 percent of the service's aging fleet is still down for repairs or maintenance every day.

Donald Sakamoto -- who's legally blind -- chairs a citizen's panel on para-transit.

He said Handi-Van service is so iffy that he had to catch a 6 a.m. van from his home in Kaneohe Tuesday morning to make sure that he would be at city hall for the start of the meeting he needed to run four hours later at 10 a.m.

"The vans are old.  They are from seven to ten years old or more and it's very hard for us to get the vans on the road to service the needs of the people," Sakamoto said.

There are 160 vans in the fleet.  Handi-Van officials said they've made improvements from last fall when an average 35 to 45 of the vans were down for maintenance or repairs every day.

"We have brought that number down to between about 25 to 32 on a daily basis.  That is a manageable number for us," said Robert Yu, deputy general manager of Oahu Transit Services, which oversees the Handi-Van.

Yu credits the maintenance improvements to the hiring of a new maintenance manager, Charles Lee, who started in September.

The man who has sold the city all of its Handi-Vans says that number of vehicles down for maintenance would never be acceptable in the private sector.

"It's just ridiculous.  It's just ridiculous that people can't write a bid spec,"

said Erik Soderholm, vice president of Soderholm Sales and Leasing. He said the city doesn't have engineers on staff anymore who write the bid specifications for new vans.

As a result, Soderholm said bid specs have been riddled with mistakes and he has successfully protested one bid of 38 vans, delaying their purchase by nearly three years.

"Ten years ago, they had certified engineers in the department and 25 HandiVans were procured every year and 40 to 50 big buses were procured every year, and it was a dialed-in situation," Soderholm told the paratransit meeting.

The city is set to open bids for the purchase of 90 new vans in March, but those won't be delivered until late this year or early next year.

"And I want to know when the HandiVan is going to be customer-oriented.  Because it's not," said Lela Hubbard, a Handi-Van rider from Aiea.

Barbra Armentrout, who moved back to Oahu from the Cincinnati area in 2009, said para-transit service in Ohio traveled longer distances than in Honolulu and was much better.

"It showed up, literally almost on time, within five minutes any time and got you to your appointments.  It was like clockwork. You knew it was coming," Armentrout said.

"Our on-time performance for December was 87 percent.  And that represents that we were in the zero to 30-minute window," said John Black, vice president of the Handi-Van.

But Handi-Van's definition of "on-time" is quite liberal.  It means any pickup or drop-off can be up to a half hour late and still be considered "on-time."

The service received 155 complaints from customers in December, an increase of five from December of 2011, Black said.

But some Handi-Van customers said they sometimes have to wait a long time on the phone to make complaints, so they give up.  Or they leave messages with stories of bad service but never hear back from the agency to follow up on their complaints.