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Breaking down how to use TheBus’ new HOLO card as it transitions away from paper passes

A hand holding up a blue-designed card saying "HOLO ADULT" with greenery behind it.
The new HOLO card.

Just as landline phones, iPods and printed-out assignments are fading into the past, so are paper bus passes on Oahu.

Starting July 1, 2021, the Honolulu-based transit company TheBus will no longer offer paper passes, including monthly and day passes. If you intend to ride the bus more than one round trip a day, you will need a HOLO card. However, getting a HOLO card is easy.

With the lack of paper passes, you must pay individually for every route in the transfer. However, the funds on the HOLO card never expire.

  1. Go to holocard.net and make an account with an email address and password. (You technically do not have to do this, but it’ll protect you in case of theft or losing the card.)

  2. Then, go to the Laie Village Shopping Center Foodland customer service counter and ask for an Adult HOLO card. They will activate your card and give it to you for free. At this stage, however, you can’t use it to ride the bus. The card still has to be loaded and registered.

  3. Register and load the card online using a credit or debit card. You can load the card with as much money as you want. (You can also load the card at Foodland. Just register it online and bring it back to the customer service counter, where you’ll need to pay cash to load it.)

  4. Return to your holocard.net account and select “Add HOLO card.” Input the card number and security code, then press the “add card” button. From here, you can load the card, as well as check how much money is left on it if you’re not using a monthly pass.

  5. The website also gives you an option to auto-bill your bank account or credit card every month.

TheBus website says monthly passes will continue to be a flat $70 and can be purchased after the 19th of every month to be valid for the following month. When using a HOLO card, paying fare for two trips automatically grants you a daily pass. Individual trips are still $2.75 each.

If you do not have a HOLO card, each bus trip, including transfers, will cost $2.75 in cash, exact change only. TheBus will no longer be handing out paper day passes, so you must pay each way.

To use the HOLO card, simply tap the card against the card reader at the entrance of the bus and wait for the shaka sign or the ukulele tone. On your way off the bus, you don’t need to tap again.

If you’re running low on funds, the reader will flash yellow to remind you to reload the card. While you can keep your HOLO card in your wallet, take it out before tapping the reader. According to TheBus FAQ, this is important so the reader is able to detect the microchip on your HOLO card only, not your other cards.

The reader will not take payment from the same card more than once within two minutes, so don’t worry about accidentally double-charging. Thus, you cannot pay for other people. Each passenger needs their own HOLO card.

If your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it online and get a free replacement card at Foodland. Register your new card and use the website to transfer the stored balance from your cancelled card onto the new card. You can’t do this if you didn’t register your first card at a holocard.net account.

Be aware, TheBus does not guarantee getting and replacing HOLO cards will always be free. TheBus FAQ says once initial distribution is over, a fee may be introduced. TheBus currently does not have any public information on when this may occur.

Two women sitting at a wooden bus stop with TheBus approaching on the road.

According to Hawaii Public Radio, the HOLO card will be usable at rail stations when they open. Further information is not available at this time, as the fare cost for the rail has not been officially decided yet.

The change may be difficult for some students. Amelia Meli, a junior from Kaimuki double majoring in biology and Hawaiian studies, said she takes the bus fairly often but isn’t sure if she’ll get a HOLO card. “I’ll miss the one-day pass. It was useful.” She expressed she feels as though TheBus is primarily making this change to squeeze extra money out of card-less passengers who need to make transfers.

If you have friends or family coming to visit Oahu and they intend to take the bus, you could advise them to get a HOLO card. The card itself is free and there are locations near the Honolulu Airport where they can pick one up.

If you qualify for reduced bus fares due to disability, are on Medicare, are under 17 or over 65, you cannot get a HOLO card at Foodland. Disability and Medicare cards must be retrieved from TheBus Pass Office on Middle Street in Honolulu. Senior and Youth cards must be retrieved from certain city halls. The closest ones to Laie are in Wahiawa and Kaneohe.

If you prefer to purchase a HOLO card via mail, it can take up to 10 business days for it to be delivered. At this time, only Adult HOLO cards are available for purchase by mail.

Customer service representatives from TheBus declined to speak with Ke Alaka‘i about why only Adult HOLO cards are available at Foodland. However, TheBus website says it plans to expand the locations where all types of HOLO cards will be available to acquire and load in the future.

TheBus representatives could not comment on if student discounts will become available in the future.