EXCLUSIVE: State fixing up old ZipMobiles; will not buy new ones

EXCLUSIVE: State fixing up old ZipMobiles; will not buy new ones
Published: Jun. 9, 2015 at 9:52 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 9, 2015 at 10:33 PM HST
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The state is not buying two new ZipMobiles to replace the aging machines that both went down a little more than two months ago, creating a traffic nightmare for H-1 freeway commuters.

But the state is greatly boosting the repair and maintenance expenses of the ZipMobiles, after officials admitted not enough money was spent on upkeep in the past.

The day after the traffic nightmare on March 31 when the freeway was at a standstill after both ZipMobiles broke down, State Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami said he wanted to buy two new ZipMobiles, because the 17-year-old machines were near the end of their 20-year life span.

But the state DOT ended up not asking state lawmakers for funds to replace either of them.

"We feel that it was possible to extend the life on these machines and work with them and basically try to extend the life. We know that they're old, but they're certainly able to do the job," said state DOT Spokesman Tim Sakahara.

Right now, the state is working on an engine overhaul of one of the ZipMobiles, which should extend its life by about seven years, Sakahara said.

"Replacing the entire diesel engine, eventually we'll also replace all the hoses and pumps and fuel gages and everything on it, basically to rebuild the vehicle," Sakahara added.

The state is also replacing the computer system and software to upgrade the vehicle, Sakahara said. Work is being done on weekends because the second ZipMobile always has to be on standby in case the other one goes down.

State Rep. Matt Lopresti represents the Ewa Beach area in the State House, where he's the transportation vice chair.

"We're working closely with them, working closely to make sure that they have the funds now to keep the repair, maintenance and operability of the Zip mobiles so that that doesn't happen again," Lopresti said.

Over the last year, the cost of maintenance of the ZipMobiles was paid by contractor Zip U There out of its $1.6 million annual contract. And the state admits that not enough money was spent to keep up the machines, that are near the end of their life span.

Sakahara said the contractor spent only between $50,000 and $100,000 a year on maintenance of the older ZipMobiles in the last year. So lawmakers coughed up funds for a huge maintenance increase, and now $1.2 million will spent on repairs and parts over the next year.

"The DOT acknowledges that perhaps there wasn't enough money in the maintenance budget before, which is why this $1.2 million extra this year is so big for us," Sakahara said.

Lawmakers have given the DOT another $971,000 for ZipMobile maintenance in the following year.

The DOT estimates it will cost about $2.5 million to buy a new ZipMobile in the years ahead.

Down the line, the state doesn't plan to buy two new ones at the same time because it doesn't want to be in the same situation with both machines getting old at the same time, Sakahara said.

"We don't want to have the same issues that we're having now where they're both aging at the same exact time. It would be better to have one new one now, and then, down the road a few years later, have another new one so they can age separately," Sakahara said.

Mechanics are being trained on previously proprietary information to make repairs faster and to reduce the need of having to fly technicians in from the mainland. After the March 31 traffic nightmare, the state had to fly a technician in the next day who quickly repaired the situation within fifteen minutes.

"We shouldn't have a half million people's lives put on hold because we have to fly one guy out from the mainland," said Lopresti.

The state extended Zip U There's contract on January 16, about two months before the March 31 double ZipMobile failure. That's when the company's annual contract increased from $1.6 million to $1.7 million.

Besides getting a raise, the contractor is saving money because the state, and not the contractor, is now paying for maintenance costs, to assure the vehicles are properly kept up.

The combined battery pack and processing unit that needed to be replaced after the March 31 incident cost between $1,200 and $1,500, officials said. A technician from California brought in those replacement parts the next day.

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