HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state transportation director apologized Thursday for a temporary rental car facility that forces some travelers, including the disabled, to park much farther from airline check-in desks because it borrowed half of the stalls in Honolulu International Airport's overseas parking structure.
On Nov. 4, barriers went up in the middle of the parking structure, meaning the 850 parking stalls on the Diamond Head side of the parking lot are no longer accessible to the public.
The state has temporarily converted those parking spaces into an interim rental car facility for five rental companies while it builds a permanent car rental facility nearby.
Airport officials said they had to avoid mixing rental cars with general public parking.
"You would have a mixture of both public and rent a car customers exiting that parking structure, causing a lot of parking havoc," said Ross Higashi, the deputy state transportation director for airports.
During a state DOT information briefing at the State Capitol on Thursday, State Sen. Donna Kim (D – Kalihi Valley, Moanalua), said, "In the meantime, the public is being inconvenienced by not being able to park there and they have to walk really far just to get to United, Delta, the major airlines."
Kim said the public can no longer park right across the street from major airline terminals that also include American Airlines, Omni Air International, Allegiant, Air China and Asiana airlines, but may have to walk through two terminals to get to their check-in desk.
Kim also said disabled parking stalls like these have been converted to rental car stalls, forcing people with disabilities on a longer trek to the airport.
"Senator, I apologize, that was my decision," said state Department of Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami. "It was based on the information that I had at the time, it was based on financing, it was based on basically an industry that is very important to us when it comes to car rentals."
Fuchigami said he decided to temporarily take over part of the parking structure because he was concerned about keeping costs down for the temporary rental car facility that is already costing about $40 million.
"It could have been much higher if we built a stand-alone facility," Fuchigami said.
Kim told him: "You are there to serve the public and not necessarily the commercial aspect of that."
Airport officials said they are considering relocating some parking stalls such as those reserved for limos and taxis close to elevators and converting them into disabled parking.
"We need to go back to the drawing board and see how do we take care of the physically challenged that might have a difficulty getting there," Fuchigami said.
With a finite amount of land at the 24/7 HNL, Fuchigami said the state is balancing many needs.
"Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that conflict with each other. When we try to accomplish one thing, there's something that might conflict with it. We just have to come up with the best scenario. In this particular case, we failed, and we need to get on it, and I will," Fuchigami said.
The state estimates it will be four years before the 850 parking stalls are re-opened to the public once the new permanent rental car facility is completed.