Planning a trip to Oahu? Not quite sure how to get around while you are here? Well, one of the best ways of travelling within the island of Oahu is by using its public bus service, the very aptly named TheBus transportation service.
With excellent coverage, an easy to use system, and low fares, TheBus is a highly popular mode of transportation in Oahu. Based on the latest figures, a huge number of people (approximately 71 million a year) ride TheBus across 110 routes and 4200 stops. A fleet of 519 busses keeps the rides from getting too crowded.
TheBus is managed through a public-private partnership between the non-profit Oʻahu Transit Services Inc. and the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services. This keeps fares affordable and services accessible to all. In fact, young people in Honolulu fondly refer to TheBus as “Fasi’s Limo” or “Uncle Fasi’s” as this service was established back in 1971 when Frank Fasi was the mayor of Honolulu.
TheBus, Oahu’s public transportation system (Source: Wikipedia)
The easiest way to get information on routes, timings and bus numbers is to simply check on Google Maps. Just switch on your GPS, key in your destination and tap on ‘Directions’. The bus option would show you the closest stop as well as timings.
Google Maps is a very reliable tool to search for TheBus routes in Oahu. In fact, it is recommended by TheBus themselves on their website. As an alternative, you can check routes and schedules on www.thebus.org.
Busses are fairly frequent (most routes run 10 to 30 minutes apart), but there can be slight delays. Luckily, you can check the estimated arrival time (HEA or Honolulu Arrival Time) for the bus on the website http://hea.thebus.org. As this data is based on GPS tracking of the actual busses, it is highly accurate.
When your bus arrives, step up to the bus stop sign. As the license plate numbers of the busses match the assigned bus number, it couldn’t be easier to get on the correct bus.
Unless you have a bus pass, bus fares are paid in cash onboard. Insert the exact amount into the ‘farebox’ (the machine directly next to the driver) as change is not given on the bus.
A one way adult fare costs $2.75 and a 1-Day pass costs double at $5.50. The 1-Day Pass offers you unlimited rides from 12am to 2.59am the following day. If you are going to be riding the bus more than twice daily, the 1-Day pass is excellent value. Just be sure to inform the operator of your choice of ticket before inserting money into the box.
The names of the stops are automatically announced, making it possible to take TheBus even if you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood. As an added bonus, the voice behind the stop announcements is that of Puakea Nogelmeier, a well respected Hawaiian language advocate and songwriter.
As you reach your destination, pull the cord to request the bus to stop. It’s that easy!
All busses are wheelchair accessible and come equipped with bicycle racks. They are also fully air conditioned, a welcome relieve from the tropical Hawaiian weather. All in all, TheBus busses are comfortable and clean, perfect to relax and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Oahu.
***Top tip – If you feel cold easily, try to get a seat towards the back of the bus. The air conditioning isn’t quite as cold in the back.
For added convenience, consider purchasing a bus pass to save time and money. Depending on your needs, TheBus has various passes to choose from.
For persons over the age of 17, you can purchase a monthly pass (unlimited rides for one month) for $70.00 or a yearly pass (unlimited rides for 12 months) for $770.00. The annual pass can only be obtained from TheBus Pass Office at the Kalihi Transit Center.
Senior fares apply to people aged 65 years or older. To qualify for senior fares, apply for a Senior Card ($10.00) at the Kalihi Transit Center. The Senior Card is available for visitors as well.
If you are planning to spend more than a few weeks visiting Oahu, the senior card coupled with the Monthly Pass Sticker is well worth it. Beyond the monetary savings, it would save you time spent rummaging for change to pay the exact fare. Senior Card fares:
One-Way Fare: $1.00
1-Day Pass: $2.00
Monthly Pass Sticker: $6.00
Annual Pass: $35.00
The adult and senior passes are good deals, but necessitate a trip to the Kalihi Transit Center which is a long bus ride from downtown.
If you are visiting Oahu for just a few days, consider the Visitor Pass. For $35.00, the Visitor Pass gives you unlimited bus rides for a total of four consecutive days. It can be purchased from Waikiki ABC stores and TheBus Pass Office at the Ala Moana Center.
Purchasing individual day passes every day is slightly cheaper than the Visitor Pass. The drawback is that you would need exact change for the bus. The main advantage of the Visitor Pass is convenience – just purchase once and you can go everywhere in Oahu for the next 4 days.
Youth passes are approximately half the price of adult passes and can be used by those aged 6 to 17 years old. The fares are as follows:
One-Way Fare: $1.25
1-Day Pass: $2.50
Monthly Pass: $35.00
Annual Pass: $385.00
If you qualify for a Disability Card, different fares are available to you. To obtain the Disability Card, there is a one-time payment of $10.00. The application needs to be certified by a health care professional in Hawaii.
With a Disability Card, the one way fare is only $1.00 and the 1-Day Pass is $2.00. For longer term passes, the Monthly Pass Sticker is $6.00, the 12 month pass is $35.00 or $70.00 for 24 months.
Beware of Counterfeits!
Be careful when purchasing bus passes. There have been reports of counterfeit bus passes. If you are found using these counterfeit passes, not only would you have to leave the bus, the penalty includes a heavy fine of up to $2,000 or even time in jail of up to a year.
To check if your bus pass is a counterfeit pass, examine the silver strip along the lower section of the card. In fake passes, the silver strip is raised off the plastic card whereas in genuine bus passes, the silver strips are incorporated into the card.
Genuine bus passes are widely available and easily purchased from many different locations across Oahu including TheBus Main office, Satellite City Halls, 7-11 stores, ABC stores, Times Supermarket, Foodland stores and UH Manoa – Campus Center.
Here are some of the more popular routes.
Route 8 – Waikiki to Ala Moana Center
Route 42 – Waikiki to Ewa Beach via Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbour)
Route 22 – Waikiki to Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, Makaapu Beach and Diamond Head
Route 40 – Ala Moana Center to Makaha Beach
To go between the airport and Waikiki, route numbers 19 and 20 are useful for most travellers. However, luggage onboard TheBus is restricted to baggage that can be stored under the seat or on the passenger’s lap. If you have large and bulky bags, perhaps avoid using TheBus for airport transfers. Check TheBus baggage rules in more detail here.
Award-winning Public Transit System
Until now, only one mass transit system has won the American Public Transportation Association award not just once, but twice – and that is TheBus. It was recognized as America’s Best Transit System in both 1994 to 1995 as well as 2000 to 2001.
For both locals and visitors, safety is paramount when using public transportation systems. TheBus has taken steps to ensure a smooth and safe journey for their passengers. For example, the busses come equipped with security cameras to deter crimes. Not only that, all busses have two-way communication equipment with the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) via their Mobile Watch Program. If you find yourself in trouble and need police assistance, just board TheBus and speak to the bus operator.
Lost & Found
Left something on the bus? Contact the Lost & Found department at (808) 848-4444. Lost & Found is located at the Bus Pass Office in Kalihi Transit Center and is open during office hours Monday to Friday.
Go Green with TheBus
It is important to make environmentally conscious choices, even while travelling and on holiday. TheBus is a company that has been taking conscious steps towards going Green. From their website, here are some of the steps that they have taken to show their love for the environment:
– Increasing the amount of Hybrid busses in their fleet (60 this year, more coming soon)
– Recycling all parts of their busses
– Incorporating “Clean Diesel” engines
– Avoiding fuel wastage by not idling busses unnecessarily
– Using water based paint and cleaners
In general, taking the bus leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than driving or taking taxis.
If you have disabilities that prevent you from using TheBus, there is the TheHandi-Van, a paratransit service that provides shared-ride services to disabled passengers. Even though TheHandi-Van requires you to book your ride in advance, it should not be difficult to get a ride as there are 160 busses providing this service. It costs $2.00 for a one way ride. Rides can be paid for in cash or tickets purchased from the Kalihi Transit Center.
TheHandi-Van, an alternative for persons with disabilities (Source: Honolulu.gov official website)
TheHandi-Van coverage area is everywhere within the island. Service hours are generally 4.00am to 1.00am. 24 hour service is available only in select areas.
Similar to TheBus, TheHandi-Van has a selection of bus passes. To obtain TheHandi-Van passes, first apply for a TheHandi-Van ID (in-person interview required). With the special ID, the following fares are available:
One-Way Fare: $1.00 with TheHandi-Van ID
1-Day Pass: $2.00
Monthly Pass Sticker: $6.00
Annual Pass: $35.00
As an alternative to TheBus, the Waikiki Trolley can be a fun and easy way to explore Waikiki. These distinctive bright orange trolleys are seen rolling around Waikiki, Honolulu and East Oahu. The routes include stops at major landmarks, hotels and tourist attractions. The trolleys are open sided, making them a perfect choice for days with good weather.
A day ticket costs $25.00 for adults and $15.00 for children. One way cash fares are only $2.00 for both adults and children.
Compared to TheBus, the main downside of the Waikiki Trolley is that the day passes are more expensive. It is also significantly more touristy, but that could be a drawback or an advantage depending on the type of experience you are looking for.
Apart from that, the areas covered by the Waikiki Trolley area limited to the main tourist zones around Waikiki and Honolulu. TheBus is a better choice if you plan to venture further afield and experience local culture. If you need something quick and easy to zip around Waikiki for a day or two without too much planning, the Trolley is fabulous.
When visiting new places, taking local transportation is always a great adventure. In Oahu, it is especially easy and convenient to use the bus system.
To sum it all up, here are our top five tips for taking TheBus when in Oahu:
– Use Google Maps to plan your route.
– Have the exact fare ready to pay on the bus.
– Avoid peak hours as it can get crowded.
– Be careful of counterfeit bus passes!
– Above all, enjoy the journey.