HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has hired new employees and beefed up surveillance to crack down on illegal tour companies across Hawaii.
The state Public Utilities Commission said there have been growing complaints from windward Oahu to Hana about the illegal tours, which are not registered with the state and drop off large groups of tourists at beaches or trail heads.
To fight the problem, the PUC has doubled the size of its compliance section to six and plans to add at least one more person.
PUC Chairman Randy Iwase said they're already seeing results.
In fiscal year 2015, the PUC issued eight citations to motor carriers. The following fiscal year, 17 motor carriers were cited.
And with five months left of the current fiscal year, PUC has already cited 15 people.
Iwase said under state law, all motor carriers must have an active certificate of permit prominently display on both sides of their vehicles with their name, logo or company initials and PUC number. The businesses must also carry adequate commercial insurance coverage and charge PUC-approved rates.
Failure to follow the law can result in a fine of up to $1,000 for each offense and up to $500 for each additional day of noncompliance.
"There is a law. If you're not aware of it, you're no longer ignorant of it," Iwase said.
Jeff Hendrix, who has lived in Lanikai for 14 years, said residents are fed up with tour companies not obeying the law.
"I don't have so much of an issue with the legal ones because they're probably insured and operate safely," he said. "The illegal ones, of course, I rather them not be here because they're adding to the sheer number of people that are coming to Lanikai and congesting it."
The problem of illegal tour operators isn't new.
State Rep. Cynthia Thielen, whose district includes Kailua and Kaneohe Bay, said she's been calling for a crackdown for four years and recently spoke with the PUC to ask them to ramp up enforcement.
"Let's get those people and stop them from doing this. It's unsafe," she said. "There have been confrontations between residents telling bus drivers, 'You can't be here, you can't do this.' And the bus drivers fighting back. So it's something that's going to explode if we don't get a handle on it."
For more information on how to apply for a PUC motor carrier certificate or permit, please visit the PUC's website at http://puc.hawaii.gov/filing/motor-carriers/application-for-motor-carrier-certificates-or-permits-for-transportation-passengers/. Anyone witnessing possible illegal motor carrier operations may file a Declaration with the Commission at http://puc.hawaii.gov/filing/complaint/declaration-witness-motorcarrier/. Questions regarding motor carrier activity and certification may be directed to PUC's Compliance and Enforcement Section by phone at 808-586-2020 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.