Sunday, July 25, 2010


Will Mufi “turn to desperate measures, like, say, reviving Hawaii’s Superferry” if he becomes governor?

by Larry Geller

Internet find:

Will Birmingham-area politicians turn to desperate measures like, say, Hawaii's Superferry to solve the Grants Mill Road bridge problem? Never say never.   [The Birmingham News, Chat live with Driving Miss Crazy on Monday at 1, 7/25/2010]

Before they do anything that desperate, I hope they check Google. They’ll learn of the extensive subsidies Hawaii bestowed upon the ferry business, that it was losing money, and that the state knew about it months before the ultimate bankruptcy filing.

Of course, as a government-owned operation, it would be reasonable for Birmingham to decide to invest in a ferry as a public service, just as government runs transportation systems anywhere. New York City provides the Staten Island Ferry for free, as an example of a subsidized ferry service.

It was interesting, though, just to see “Hawaii Superferry” and “desperate measures” in the same sentence. There really isn’t much in it.

This next, however, is much more serious. It’s a snip from an interview with gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann, in which he seems unaware that Hawaii Superferry was not a viable business from day one:

My next question is one of my favorites because every politician loves the idea. So Mufi is elected and on the first day of session the legislative leadership says he can give them one bill and they will immediately pass it - what is the bill.

Mufi thought about this for a good 20 seconds. And then he said funding to restart the super-ferry and do the EIS. Mufi went into great detail about the great benefit that people in the state had when it was running.   [David Thielen (Huffington Post), Mufi Hanneman Interview, 7/12/2010]

In the audio record of the interview, Mufi says “I saw enough of it that I knew it was going to be successful” (around 29:35 in the interview). Unfortunately, this is contrary to the facts as revealed by the Associated Press story of 7/21/2010 (after the interview date).

Again, a decision by government to create a Hawaii inter-island ferry service and pay the cost could be a rational decision (if they can also figure out how to do it without causing extensive seasickness). The Hawaii Superferry, however, was to be a private, profitable business, not a municipal- or state- run ferry. The taxpayer was subsidizing the potential profit of Hawaii Superferry’s owners.

But look, Mufi has a rather poor record at implementing water transportation so far, and a tolerance for high losses:

TheBoat, Honolulu's commuter ferry from Kalaeloa to Aloha Tower, gives West O'ahu residents an oceangoing alternative to increasingly clogged highways, for no more than $4 per round-trip ticket.

What makes the service so cheap is that Honolulu taxpayers pay an additional $120 per roundtrip rider to cover the actual costs of operating TheBoat, according to a city study.

The cost of carrying each passenger on TheBoat is about 62 times more than the cost of an average trip on TheBus. It is also significantly more expensive than comparable Mainland ferry services.   [Honolulu Advertiser, High subsidies may scuttle Hawaii's ferry, 2/15/2009]

It was ok with Mayor Mufi to charge taxpayers $120 for each roundtrip rider on his boat service before it was finally terminated.

Hawaii Superferry certainly had an EIS problem, but even without that, the business appears to have been dead in the water from day one. The Superferry fiasco wasn’t Mufi’s responsibility, but his lack of understanding of what ultimately sank the business combined with willingness to tolerate losses incurred by TheBoat should be a concern, given the need to control costs for a possible rail transit system planned for Honolulu.

(Thanks to Kevin for pointer to the interview story)



Wow, nice article, Larry. You saw Goofy Hannemann's Super Fairy Dream comin' beforehand. Hope you don't mind me reposting this?

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