Ferry Prices Likely to Increase

If implemented, new costs for ferry customers will reflect gas prices.

By Zalina Alvi

New fuel surcharges for passengers taking the ferry between Maui and Molokai will likely become permanent following a favorable public hearing of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

“Our future is tied to this increase,” said David Jung, captain and president of Sea Link, the parent company of the ferry fleet, at the hearing. He urged PUC Chair Carlito Caliboso to approve the permanent fuel surcharge to ensure that the ferry service can continue operating.

After receiving testimonies from Jung and the state Division of Consumer Advocacy (DCA), and comments from the public, the commission will now make a decision. PUC officials present at the hearing did not have a timeline set for when the permanent increase would be granted or denied.

Support
Catherine Awakuni, executive director of the DCA, supported the increase, citing a recommendation from the division filed July 22. She encouraged Molokai residents to take advantage of their last opportunity to express any concerns before the surcharge becomes permanent.

Testifiers, however, were largely supportive of the increase. Sea Link employees and regular commuters said they did not want to see the company shut down, or the effects its shutdown would have on Maui or Molokai without a rate increase.

As a state-regulated service, the ferry must operate every trip, whether or not it is cost-effective. Jung testified that there are occasions when there are only three or four people traveling between the two islands, and the company has been hit hard by declining tourism and rising fuel costs.

A 30-year employee of the ferry and Molokai resident presented a petition to the commission signed by over 100 people on the island in support of the increase. The petition also supported government assistance to ferry customers facing rising costs.

By the Numbers
The temporary surcharge that went into effect on Aug. 15 is $26 each way for adults, and $13 for keiki. That means for an adult, the total ticket price is currently $68.40, which includes the surcharge, taxes, and the regular ticket price of $40. For keiki ages 4 to 12, the total price is $34.20, which includes the surcharge, taxes, and the regular ticket price of $20.

The fuel surcharge will be raised or lowered monthly according to the price of diesel fuel if the changes become permanent.

Jung explained that the surcharge will be a graduated increase. For example, with fuel at $4 per gallon, the surcharge would be $29. At $5 per gallon, it will be $32, and so on.

The new surcharge will not affect working commuters, who already saw a rise in ticket prices from $15 to $25 on June 1, 2008.

Jung said those who bought tickets before the company announced it would be applying the surcharge on Aug. 3 would have their originally-priced tickets honored.

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