A Costly Commute? - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

A Costly Commute?

By Paul Drewes

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- As the work week starts up, so does the weekday traffic.

Thousands hit the roads in the rush to get to Honolulu.

But there are some who cruise into work on the city's ferry service "theBoat." But are enough people riding to keep this service afloat?

While many suffer the frustration of stop and go traffic, a few sail smoothly into town on oahu's commuter ferry. Which takes passengers from Kalaeloa, right into the heart of Honolulu.

theBoat makes the round trip six times a day, during the week.

A one-way ride takes about an hour, and costs the same as "theBus" -- two dollars! Which has convinced some riders that theBoat is a great deal.

"I love the boat ride and I like to ride it everyday," said passenger Ben Kea.

"If your coming in going to work you don't have to worry about the back-ups on the freeway," added Sherri Gibson, another passenger.

This is the city's third attempt at a ferry service.

"TheBoat's" two predecessors failed to create a loyal ridership and get cars off our crowded roads.  A problem opponents believe will happen again.

"Are we just shifting people that would normally ride the bus onto the boat or are we shifting drivers out of their cars onto the boat?" asked Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou.

The city's "theBoat" service launched last September and so far, this demonstration project hasn't cost much, because the federal government has pitched in $5 million of the $6 million needed to operate the two ferries.

But if the city was footing the entire bill, the boat would be a costly commute.

Right now the city only subsidizes some bus riders 65 cents to transport them each way, but the subsidy is higher for boat riders.

"The tax payer subsidy works out to $25 per person each way," said Djou. "That's an enormous cost especially compared to the bus costs."

But the city's director of transportation says the numbers game all depends on how you look at the service.

"I think the appropriate comparison for the boat is more of a comparison with express bus. The express busses run from 8 to 50 dollars a passenger," said Wayne Yoshioka, the department of transportation director.

After a lull in ridership, "theBoat" is seeing a rise in passengers. With just under 300 people using the service daily.

Both catamarans, the Rachel Marie and the Melissa Anne, have a capacity of 149 passengers. But a usual boat load is somewhere around 50.

It might not be a money-maker but some say that's not the point.

"Public transit is not a for profit endeavor. It's a public service and we have to provide a transportation safety net," said Yoshioka.

But while having options for our crowded roads is a good idea, some feel this effort is just too costly to keep.

"I think its better use of taxpayer money to focus that on theBus instead of theBoat," said Djou.

The money from the federal government runs out after one year. At that point the city will decide whether or not to keep the boat afloat.

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