Riders say the Handi-Van is failing them. And the city agrees
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rose Pou could not contain her emotions as she faced the City Council once again after struggling to use the Handi-Van.
“I do not ride Handi-Van because I cannot get to the places I need to on time,” she said, holding back a sob. “We’ve been working since 2000 trying to get more Handi-Vans for more people to ride. We need the help, please.”
City Transportation Services Director Roger Morton conceded, “It is a serious problem, and we have no solution. I mean the status quo is not acceptable.”
Morton described parallel pandemic-related challenges. The most serious immediate concern: Falling service performance rates, such as only 40% of calls answered by reservationists in five minutes or less.
The Handi-Van is a federally-required service for the disabled citizens who can’t ride traditional buses.
Morton said they are already in discussion with the Federal Transit Administration, which enforces the equality requirements. The agency could force changes.
“We might be required to do things that we don’t otherwise think would be good things,” he said, noting that there were already discussions underway with the federal regulators.
He told the council Transportation Committee, which asked for the briefing, that in recent months the call center ― run by the non-profit Oahu Transportation Services ― had been struck by COVID-related absences as well as problems recruiting new staff. Performance of the center has plummeted since the spring.
He said OTS and the city were looking at several solutions, including offering work-from-home options and online reservations, which he said could reduce workload by 25%.
Morton said the service is still meeting its on-time standards, but just barely, and increasing numbers of vans idled by age or repair issues is threatening that end of the service.
Pandemic supply chain and vehicle manufacturing decisions have inflated the prices and shrunk availability of para-transit vans across the country just as the fleet of Honolulu Handi-Vans is wearing out.
A contract for 65 new vehicle is held up by negotiations over the price.
Soderholm Sales is the city’s broker to buy Handi-Vans.
In July, it asked for a 15.4% increase to cover prices that have gone up drastically since they bid three years ago. The city seemed understanding, said co-owner Erik Soderholm, but hasn’t made a decision.
Solderholm said if he was forced to provide the vans at the price in the contract he would be forced out of business.
“If the city wants to cancel the bid, cancel the bid there’s other guys that bid against us. We’re not the only ones so if somebody wants to bid against us and do the job we do in Hawaii, great. Do it,” he said.
But Soderholm’s wife Denise, his co-owner, said other municipalities have granted price increases from 20 to 100%. She said their supplier is willing to supply Honolulu at a lower increase, although that offer could run out soon.
Erik Soderholm said they have given the city until the end of the month to make a final response to the 15.4% increase requested. The Soderholms said if the city walks away from the contract it could add two to three years to the process of bringing in new vans under a new procurement.
Handi-Van user and advocate for riders Donald Sakamoto put a number of questions to the city about the situation, but summed it up for all riders.
“I am just tired of these Band-Aids done for the Handi-Van repairs. We need new vans and we should have resolved this,” he said.
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