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Hawaii's Ferry Big Development

John Deiner

While doing some research for last weekend's Way to Go issue, I stumbled across this tidbit: Starting in July, the Hawaii Superferry will start shuttling passengers from Honolulu (on the island of Oahu) to either Maui or Kauai. The ferries can hold more than 850 passengers and about 280 cars, so you don't have to leave your beloved rental car behind if you go to another island.

Cool, eh? Then I checked out the prices on the Superferry Web site, and was surprised to see that fares start at $42 each way per person for weekday travel reserved in advance. The car fare starts at $55 each way (it's not clear from the Web site if this includes taxes, but you can't buy tickets now anyhow). So a couple going from Oahu to either Maui or Kauai (about a three-hour ride) and intent on dragging along their rental will pay at least $139 each way, or $278 round trip.

I'm trying to decide whether this is one of the coolest, most relaxing things in the world to do, or one of the biggest time-wasters. I'm usually all for wasting time (particularly in Hawaii), but having to get to the ferry terminal and chill, then sit for three hours to get to another island, then wait in line to drive off the ferry with 280 other cars sounds a bit much.

And consider this: Flying may be cheaper.

Fares have come down considerably as different carriers -- including Pacific Wings, Aloha and Hawaiian airlines -- compete for the lucrative inter-island market. go! airline, for example, offers $39 advance-purchase one-way fares among the islands. I checked online for next October and found that, including tax, the round-trip go! fare from Honolulu to Kauai is $89.80. The flight is only 40 minutes, and even though you have to go to the airport, it could, conceivably, shave hours off of the commute.

Further, PWExpress, part of Pacific Wings, offers $29 fares on flights from/to Honolulu, Molokai, Lanai and Maui. That's about $75 per person round trip, with taxes.

Still, the Superferry intrigues me, and I'll be watching closely to see how it does. It'll be nice not have to check bags and wait in another rental car line (plus week-long car rentals are often cheaper per-diem than three- and four-day mini-rentals). Seeing the islands from the water is always something special, and we all do a little too much running around (yes, you, too) when we're in Hawaii.

But I'm interested to know: If it turns out it's cheaper to fly than to ferry around, what would you do?

By John Deiner |  February 6, 2007; 11:34 AM ET  | Category:  Hawaii , John Deiner
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Speaking as someone who grew up there, don't count on those low airfares lasting for too long. Every startup airline that tried to undercut Aloha and Hawaiian eventually went under after a massive fare war. Prices went back up to their old levels shortly thereafter. So the price advantage may be illusory.

Posted by: Larry Akiyama | February 6, 2007 12:29 PM

Agree with previous poster. Am a kama'aina too (someone born and raised in the islands) and the fares will go up- alway do. You used to be able to buy coupon books- redeemable for 5 round trips at ridiculous discounts. No more.

And- the ferry is wanted and needed for Hawaii residents, for the most part. People visiting the islands will no doubt take advantage of it, too, but it's been a big pain getting your gear and car from island to island if you live in Hawaii. And being able to take your pets, too, without subjecting them to flying will be a huge bonus.

Posted by: Kaloio | February 6, 2007 12:49 PM

I can tell you that most people on Kauai are against it altogether! More traffic than this little island can already handle will be a huge problem. Bringing over invasive species? Citizens continue to ask questions like What would prevent Oahu residents from plundering Neighbor Island reserves of fish, opihi, maile, and limu? What about transport of stolen goods and drugs? Will the Superferry kill whales?

In recent months, public awareness of Superferry impacts has grown on Kauai and the Big Island. Both islands have launched petition drives, and Kauai conducted a "drive-in" with some 150 cars converging on Nawiliwili Harbor to model the traffic jams the ferry could create (the Superferry is capable of carrying 282 cars and nearly 900 people at a time). When Neighbor Island residents traveled to Honolulu last fall to present a petition with over 5,000 signatures, Lingle refused to meet with them.

City councils on Maui, Kaua'i and the Big Island have passed non-binding resolutions calling for a more complete environmental study, and a state judge on Maui ruled last month that a lawsuit by Maui County and two groups seeking to block the ferry can proceed.

Additionally, with FOUR interisland airlines competing with each other, do not count on airfares to go up anytime soon!

Posted by: Vinny | February 6, 2007 2:03 PM

I find it sad but typical that Mr. Deiner can think of Hawai'i only in terms of visitors and their rental cars, and that anything put in place there is to serve tourists. Guess what--people live there (and have for about 2000 years). Let's see more integrity in the Post's discussions.

Posted by: Doug Herman | February 6, 2007 2:06 PM

Bear in mind this is a Washington paper. The vast majority of its readers will be visitors to Hawaii.

On the merits, as a potential and past tourist, why would I opt for a ferry? Flying from one island to the next would take no more time, and the rental cars were very easy to pick up and drop off. (In fact, we got the same model each time--the only difficult thing was remembering the color "If this is Maui, it is a red car")

I could understand the benefits to a local who owns a car of a ferry, but for a tourist going from one island to the next it seems like little benefit.

Posted by: ah | February 6, 2007 2:18 PM

From the ha'ole point of view, the ferry is an interesting idea, but it isn't clear to me how many tourists will want to use it. Do you really want to arrive at HNL after a minimum 5-hour trip, then get a car, get lost 8 times trying to find the ferry terminal, and wait in line for maybe an hour to drive onto the ferry? I think it would be cool for those who are on extended, multi-island visits -- in fact, I'd like to ride it myself -- but it seems to me that the typical tourist will either fly destination direct or take Aloha or Hawaiian from HNL to wherever.

I don't imagine it's going to be much fun for those who live near the ferry terminals, though.

Posted by: ajsmithva | February 6, 2007 2:32 PM

Its all fun and games until the ferry capsizes. I for one would never ever get on car-ferry heading for the open ocean. Thats got death-sentence written all over it.

Posted by: Slipjac | February 6, 2007 2:55 PM

I was under the impression that the ferry that was going to be used inter-island was of the "High Speed" variety and was passenger only? A super ferry sounds like another boondoggle that will never pay for itself and cause more harm than good.

Posted by: AKfaust | February 6, 2007 3:27 PM

I think tourists might look at the ride as one of their "activities". I would. A nice excuse to relax and read or just watch the ocean or islands from a different perspective. My husband, on the other hand, is always calculating minutes and can't stand to sit and "do nothing".

I also thought it was going to be a high-speed ferry. And since we only travel from Maui to Kaui or vice versa, I am disappointed that there is no direct service. It would take 7 hours for the trip. I might try it once anyway.

Posted by: Booklady | February 8, 2007 4:01 PM

For kama'aina, the superferry will be a real benefit, particularly getting the stuff you buy in Honolulu home to Kona or wherever without container shipping charges, and the ablility to travel with your car, family, pets and stuff to visit family and friends on the neighbor islands.
For tourists, the superferry may well be the thing that reduces air fares once and for all, and sorts out the true staying power of the 4 or more inter island airlines.
Most folks simply do not grasp that the only way to travel from one island to another in Hawai'i is by air, there is no alternative.
Superferry was developed after 9-11,when the grounding of all air traffic showed the weakness of the present system, as all travel, commerce and everything stopped there. The ferry, locally called H4, will be a boon to some folks and a bane to others. (H1,2,3 are the freeways on Oahu, so H4 will be an extension of the freeway to other islands...)Freeways are good and bad. Hawai'i's H4 will have the same problems of any freeway....
Aloha, PB

Posted by: pb | February 8, 2007 11:42 PM

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