Molokai ferry seeks PUC approval for shutdown

Molokai ferry seeks PUC approval for shutdown
Published: Sep. 26, 2016 at 9:47 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 26, 2016 at 10:35 PM HST
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(Image: YouTube)
(Image: YouTube)

MOLOKAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Molokai ferry has filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission to end its voyages. Ferry operator, Sea Link of Hawaii, Inc., cited low fares from commuter airlines and a drastic drop in ridership. The service between Kaunakakai and Lahaina, Maui started nearly 30 years ago.

Sea Link reported a net operating loss of $523,555 in 2015. Last August, the PUC allowed the ferry to cut back its voyages in order to save money. Ridership numbers have fallen from nearly 1,691 in January to roughly 859 in July, according to the PUC filing.

"He changed his schedule so it couldn't really accommodate our Molokai travelers unless it was a special charter," said Maui County councilmember Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat. "Visitors that came on the ferry eventually became less and less because of his time schedule."

Molokai High School's sports teams stopped using the ferry last year, except for the football players. Traveling by small planes presents a challenge when transporting students, coaches and equipment.

"My problem with these nine-seaters (planes), the teams are 16 and you got one coach and seven kids on one plane, another coach and five kids on a secondary plane. It's not just one team. Sometimes I'm sending multiple teams off," explained athletic director Lee DeRouin.

DeRouin said Maui teams traveling to the Friendly Isle would also be affected by a shutdown.

"When we have a wrestling tournament on Molokai, or a cross country tournament on Molokai where we have a great number of Maui schools wanting to cover over, the ferry will longer be available for that to happen," DeRouin said.

The current one-way ticket price is $62.04. Sea Link received a one-time grant of $105,000 from Maui County last year. The company told the PUC that it has unsuccessfully tried to obtain other government and private funding, and that a ferry system without public ownership or support is simply not economically viable. The ferry was subsidized by the state until 1995 in exchange for providing discounted fares to daily commuters.

The deadline to submit comments to the PUC about the proposed shutdown is September 27.

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