HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two years after the state began charging tourists $3 to park at the Pali Lookout, Hawaii News Now found many visitors aren't paying the fee because they don't know they're supposed to pay or they can't understand English when attendants ask them to pay.
During an hour and 15 minutes Wednesday morning, Hawaii News Now observed at least a dozen groups of tourists who did not pay for parking at a blue-colored automated kiosk that takes credit cards. At that rate, state taxpayers and the concessionaire could be losing as much as $87,000 a year in revenue. Hawaii residents do not pay to park at the Pali and tour buses and vans pay flat monthly rates based on the size of their vehicles.
Kitty and Freddy Vaughn, visiting from Chickamauga, Georgia, had no idea they were supposed to pay to park at the Pali until a parking attendant stopped them.
"We didn't see any signs and didn't notice the little kiosk over there either until he stopped us and told us we needed to pay," Kitty Vaughn said.
There are only five parking fee signs, mostly at the lookout's main entrance. Two of them have tiny print that is hard to read standing under the sign and impossible to read if you're driving by in a car.
There are no parking fee signs posted where people actually park their cars. That's where a parking attendant comes in.
"Aloha, can you pay parking? Can you pay parking?" said attendant Reno Rufes as an Asian, non-English speaking couple who apparently didn't understand English kept walking toward the lookout without paying.
"I try to tell them, but sometimes they just walk by. They don't understand," Rufes said.
Rufes appeared to be trying his best to help people pay at the kiosk and catch those who don't. But the state says it's an honor system and we saw numerous people walking right by the attendant, sometimes not listening, even as he politely asked them to pay.
"Aloha, you gotta pay parking. Aloha. Excuse me. Uh," Rufes said as another couple walked right past him.
"I think we're leaking a little bit in terms of our income. I think we could tighten it up," said Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator of the state parks division, which oversees parking at state parks.
Cottrell said parking concessionaire Makai Parking Management pays the state at least $312,000 a year on a five-year contract. The company can pay for new signs -- and add some in Japanese, Korean and Chinese languages -- to improve parking income for both the state and the company. But Makai Parking has not asked for permission to improve signage, he said.
"We have signs posted but they're nice looking and they may be too small, because we don't want to pollute the view shed with a lot of pay here signs. So we could probably do a better job with placement of signs," Cottrell said.
The company pays the state a minimum of $26,000 a month or 70 percent of its gross revenues, whatever is more, according to the parking contract.
"It's a pretty lucrative source of income at no expense to the state," Cottrell said.
Increasing the parking revenue could bring more money into state coffers to improve state parks which have suffered from a 50 percent cut in state general fund money over the last 20 years. In 1992, state parks received $8 million from the state, an amount that dropped to $3.9 million in 2012.
Cottrell said the state is looking at installing portable toilets at the Pali, which does not have any restrooms or running water.
"We're hoping we can maybe provide some porta potties, at least, in exchange for generating the income, because now we can afford it a little bit better," Cottrell said.
The two parking kiosks at the Pali have no roofs, and frequent rain affects the site. Concession employees said a little shelter would help them and improve the visitor experience for tourists as they pay by credit card and get their receipts.
"I would not want the job of standing in the rain at the Pali lookout. So we'd be more than glad to work with the vendors if they approach us, and they've talked about it, about putting in tasteful, small kind of park-looking structure, that's all fine," Cottrell added.
Makai Parking has contracts for parking state parks at the Pali and Akaka Falls on Hawaii island. Republic Parking has concession agreements for parking at Iao State Park on Maui and Hapuna Beach Park on Hawaii island.
Parking at all four sites brings in nearly $1 million to the state a year, Cottrell said.