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Committee Considers Ferry Subsidy

Possible financial aid is in sight for the Molokai ferry, whose recent losses in ridership and funds have forced company president David Jung to consider a shutdown as early as June.

On May 15, the county’s Budget and Finance Committee will discuss a bill in which Mayor Alan Arakawa has proposed a $105,000 subsidy for the ferry. The money would come from the county’s Economic Development Revolving Fund (EDRF) and apply to the 2015 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“The ferry throughout the year has seen a decrease in ridership as hard times have come to Molokai,” said Jung, testifying at the county council’s May 7 meeting. “[Ridership decreased] when the Sheraton shut down, Pau Hana Inn shut down, watermelon faded away, coffee slowed down. Now we have GMO restrictions. Molokai is in hard times.”

The bill came in response to Councilmember Stacy Crivello’s March 31 resolution urging the mayor to consider economic relief for the ferry. Ridership has dropped 25 percent since last summer, said Jung, and the company suffered $288,000 in losses last year.

If the committee recommends passage of the proposed bill on May 15, it must go to the council for final consideration. According to the office of Council Chair Mike White, if the committee issues a report, which usually takes about a week, the bill could be ready for discussion at the council’s May 26 meeting. If approved then, a subsidy could come to the ferry early to mid-June.

Residents can email written testimony on the matter to bf.committee@mauicounty.us or testify remotely at the Molokai district office at 1:30 p.m. on May 15.

It wouldn’t be the first time the ferry was subsidized. The state provided the ferry with the $30,000 monthly subsidy from its inception in 1986 until Gov. Ben Cayetano ended the subsidy in 1995.

Councilmembers have continually expressed their support of the ferry.

“I think it’s a wonderful alternative,” said Councilmember Gladys Baisa at the May 7 meeting. “Even though Hawaiian Airlines may be economically cheaper, it’s the luggage situation. I’ve been on the ferry when the teams are traveling. There’s hardly room to sit because the kids bring everything and anything, and that is such an advantage for them.”

Molokai resident Juliana Kaupu, who testified remotely, said she and her family have been using the ferry for decades, traveling to Maui to shop, attend family functions, make hospital visits and support student athletes.

“I’m not one to come out and speak, but this really touches my heart,” said Kaupu. “… I’ve had children who’ve been in sports involvement, and through that MIL participation we’ve been blessed to have athletic scholarships for our children to pursue an education, and that has been a big role on Molokai for many of our students.”

Ferry captain Greg Kyle added that families use the 100-foot-long boat for carting home bulk purchases from Walmart or Costco.

“The ferry provides a critical service to local school teams, commuters and people needing supplies,” wrote Kyle in a Facebook message. “… I live half the week on Molokai and the rest in Lahaina. I have many friends there that can’t afford the freight charge on the plane.

Meanwhile, the Lahaina Cruise Company’s attorney is still negotiating with the Public Utilities Commission to approve a scheduling change. In March, the company proposed suspending one of the ferry’s two daily, round trip routes between Molokai and Maui to further ease the financial burden.

“To be very, very honest, we don’t really know [what schedule will work] until we see what the ridership does,” Jung told the council. “… In my mind it would be better to offer only weekend only service if that’s what it took to survive.”

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