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Ferry System Not Feasible

A state ferry system is not feasible, and neither is bringing back the Molokai to Maui ferry, even though it may be needed, according to a recent study from the Department of Transportation.

After being tasked with conducting the study by the state Legislature in 2016, the DOT examined the technical, commercial and financial feasibility of several types of ferries in Hawaii. It looked at an inter-island ferry, an intra-county ferry between Molokai and Maui, and intra-island ferries between West Oahu and Honolulu and between West and Central Maui.

The study reviewed the controversial Superferry, which served Oahu, Maui and Kauai between 2007 to 2009, as well as the recently shut down Molokai Princess, which ended operation between Molokai and Maui in 2016, after claiming financial hardship.

Bringing back those services wouldn’t make sense for a number of reasons, the report found. Primarily, the lack of current pier space and high price of building new facilities to serve a ferry system would be cost prohibitive for most routes. Commercially, it found that none of the ferry routes would be self-sustainable and would need state funding from taxpayers. Additionally, researchers concluded that Hawaii residents wouldn’t use the service enough, even though state residents have shown strong interest in reviving a ferry system. The study said until a ferry technology exists that allows lower cost operation or a much higher speed, the demand versus cost analysis would make implementing a ferry system unlikely.

The report made special note of the Molokai ferry, however, calling it an “anomaly.” In contrast to other harbors, Kaunakakai Harbor already has a ferry facility that can sufficiently support a ferry operation, it states.

“When specifically questioning Molokai residents, 80 percent stated that they had used the Molokai Ferry in the past,” says the report. “However, the interest in a Maui-Molokai service was not strong: only 37.2 percent said they would be very likely to use the ferry service again in the future. In fact, 31.4 percent were not at all likely to use the system.”

Despite those numbers, residents stated a need for the service.

“The market study results align with the other prospective routes, but the anecdotal comments from all participants accentuate a very real need for this service to be restored,” the study noted. “This service may not be commercially feasible, but it is needed. Extra research can be done to better understand who needs this service and why this need is unmet by air travel.”


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