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Caltrans planner to take over Hele-On system

November 21, 2017 - 3:32pm
The name of the university Maria Aranguiz attended has been corrected in this article.

HILO — A California transportation planner has been hired to take over Hawaii County’s troubled mass transit system.

Maria Aranguiz, chief of systems planning and forecasting for the California Department of Transportation, will begin as the county Mass Transit Agency administrator on Feb. 16, county Managing Director Wil Okabe said Monday.

Okabe said the administration was impressed with Aranguiz’ background and her grant-writing experience especially.

“We are very pleased she has accepted the position,” Okabe said. “She has significant experience that will benefit our Mass Transit Agency.”

Aranguiz will be taking over an agency plagued with problems. Ridership has dropped by almost a third as frequent Hele-On bus breakdowns make the buses unreliable for commuting. A full 25 of the 55-bus fleet were out of commission when Mayor Harry Kim took over in December because they needed major repairs.

Broken buses litter the Mass Transit baseyard as mechanics and other workers await the promised completion of a new $11 million building that’s more than a year behind schedule. Inside, some of the buses are grimy and dirty, prompting complaints on the Hele-On users’ Facebook group.

Two buses stolen and driven away add to the embarrassment, even though the vehicles were quickly recovered.

Suspected thefts of fares has the county legislative auditor looking into cash-handling practices.

A $500,000 master plan is currently being conducted by consultants SSFM International. The County Council voted in 2015 to have the study done.

Aranguiz has a bachelor’s degree in geography and urban planning and graduate work in public administration from California State University at San Bernardino. As a senior transportation planner, she makes just over $80,000, plus benefits, at her California job, according to the Transparent California website database.

The county position pays $69,084-$127,284 annually. Aranguiz was one of about five qualified applicants who applied.

She did not return calls for comment by press time Monday.

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