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Déjà vu: Hawaii to spend a half million to bring back inter-island ferry

Déjà vu: Hawaii to spend a half million to bring back inter-island ferry

The Hawaii State Department of Transportation received a US$500,000 grant from the federal Maritime Administration to hire consultants to explore potential routes and boats for an inter-island ferry. Is it even worth it to conduct such a feasibility study after what happened with the Aloha State’s last ferry “adventure?”

By all accounts, environmentalists were the reason the Hawaii Super Ferry was shut down, but some would speculate the airlines were also behind the demise of this alternate mode of inter-island travel.

Let’s compare. Having a ferry as an option for inter-island travel would have been welcomed by many island families and tourists, especially during the holidays when money is already leaving our pockets and wallets at a frightening pace. Right now, roundtrip airfare between most islands is around $US300, although there are a few lesser-costing modes of travel on small turbo-prop planes. To put this into perspective, for US$600 roundtrip, one could fly from the US East Coast to Europe (around 3,500 miles from New York to the UK), while the furthest distance in the major Hawaiian Islands is from Kauai to the Big Island – a distance of only 305 miles.

“The feasibility study might come back and say maybe it’s not financially feasible for us to do this,” said Ford Fuchigami, Director of the State Transportation Department. “But right now, using federal money which is available … we want to be sure that we use that money to see whether or not this is possible.”

The Hawaii Superferry launched in December 2007 and was forced to shut down in March 2009. It subsequently had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with debts that included $135.8 million owed to MARAD which had provided construction financing guarantees. In the bankruptcy auction, MARAD bought both vessels for $25 million and in January 2012 transferred them to the navy.

The Hawaii Superferry offered fares as low as $39 one way, and passengers could bring their cars along, eliminating the need to rent a car upon arrival and pay for shipping of say a trunk full of Grandma’s jarred pickled mango, loaves of banana bread, and gifts for the ohana (family). But legal issues over environmental impact statements and protests from residents of Maui and Kauai halted the ferry in its tracks.

The 340-foot long, 80-foot wide ferry could transport 900 people, 200 cars and 15 trucks from Oahu to Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island. On average, a one-way trip took around 3 hours, but while that is much longer than a 40-minute island hop aboard an airplane, passengers had lots to do to pass the time, including dining at a restaurant, a coffee and juice bar, fast food offerings, live satellite TV, a children’s play area, a business center, a gift shop, and that all-time local favorite of simply “talking story.”

Only time will tell what the outcome of a potential resurrected inter-island ferry will be. Perhaps the changing times when more people are looking for ways to save money, may make a revival a success this time around.

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