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County Explores Avenues for Ferry Aid

The Maui County Council is taking the first steps toward addressing the struggling Molokai ferry, which has seen decreases in riders and funds within the past year.

Councilmember Stacy Helm Crivello, who represents Molokai on the nine-person council, introduced a resolution last week urging Mayor Alan Arakawa to seek significant financial support for the Lahaina Cruise Company (LCC), which runs the ferry service between Maui and Molokai.

The resolution requested that the mayor to propose an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget that would appropriate $500,000 to the ferry. The money would come from the county’s Economic Development Revolving Fund (EDRF), which, according to the resolution, currently has an estimated balance of $1 million. According to Maui County Code, the EDRF was established to support programs that could potentially promote economic growth within the county.

In her resolution, Crivello called the ferry a “critical transportation link” for employees who work off island and students who travel for academic and athletic competitions.

“The Molokai ferry fosters cultural, social and economic interaction among County residents,” wrote Crivello. “… Loss of the Molokai ferry would create hardships for the people of Molokai who rely on its services.”

Since last summer, the Molokai ferry has seen a 25 percent decrease in riders, said LCC President David Jung. In 2014, the company suffered $288,000 in losses.

“We’re beating the bushes to come up with any and all sources of funding,” he said.

The council discussed the resolution at its April 7 meeting, which was open to testimony from the public, and needed five out of nine votes in order to pass, according to Maui County Council Communication Director Kit Zulueta. She added that if it’s passed and the mayor agrees to it, he would then introduce a bill to the council, which would have to refer the bill to another committee. Various factors, such as the availability of committee chairs, will determine how long the entire process takes.

“This is where committee input is crucial, because the more they hear from the public, the more they would feel the sense of urgency,” said Zulueta.

In the meantime, Jung has requested a scheduling change from the Public Utilities Commission that would suspend one of the ferry’s daily routes between Molokai and Maui. The route, which departs from Kaunakakai Harbor at 5:15 a.m. and begins the return trip from Lahaina at 6 p.m., runs from Monday through Saturday, and Sunday evenings, each week.

According to Hawaii Revised Statutes, “water carriers” must give 45 days notice prior to implementing any scheduling changes, but LCC is requesting the period be shortened to seven days due to the “extreme financial burden” the company is currently under. Jung said the company’s attorney is currently having discussions with the PUC, but there is no timeframe when a final decision will be made.

“At least the clock is running,” he said. “At least we’ve made our application.”

While Jung has said they’d rather have “reduced service than no service,” some residents have expressed concerns over the effects of suspending the daily morning route, particularly on students who frequently ride the ferry to off island events. Students and chaperones might have to leave a day earlier, which could prove more costly for both home and visiting teams, said Molokai High School Athletic Director Lee DeRouin.

“Some of the coaches, they would have to go a day before, and that’s possible work being missed and time from their own families,” said DeRouin, who added that students might also miss school. “It puts another cost on the kids for another meal. It’s gonna put a strain … on the schools [where they stay].”

Working commuters have expressed mixed responses. Filomena Sayaboc, who’s been riding the morning ferry route to her housekeeping job on Maui for 28 years, said that while switching to airlines would be more expensive, it wouldn’t affect her job and she’d still live on Molokai. Meanwhile daily commuter Micah DeKneef, who’s been working as a painter on Maui for the past two months, said he might have to consider moving to Maui or altering his work schedule if the route were suspended.

As for the 10 workers Jung said the company currently employs on Molokai, LCC would still offer them a job if operations relocated to Maui, though crewmember Cory Napoleon said he’d “basically be out of a job” if that were to happen.

Ridership over the next few months, as well as the response from the PUC, will determine what steps the company takes next, said Jung.

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