Commuter ferry ridership drops
The city will launch a new marketing campaign for its troubled ferry system and change the schedule for TheBoat in an effort to boost ridership, the city transportation director told a City Council committee Thursday.
Trouble staying on the water
As TheBoat enters its fifth month of operation, trips have been canceled nearly half of the time, causing ridership to suffer.
» Start date: Sept. 17 104 days in operation as of yesterday
» Forty-five days with limited service because of mechanical failures
» Six days with limited or no service because of bad weather conditions
» Three days with no service on holidays
Source: City Department of Transportation Services
Ridership on the commuter ferry has dropped to around 200 people a day, primarily because the public has lost confidence in the service's reliability, Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka said.
"I would say right now we're not at a desirable point," Yoshioka said. "The fact that we had one boat that was consistently on the blink really disrupted consumer confidence in the system."
Low ridership numbers during the first four months of the city's yearlong pilot project, financed by a $5 million federal grant, could harm chances of it becoming a permanent service.
"They need to come to us and make strong justifications why it should go beyond one year," said City Councilman Nestor Garcia. The city would have to plan for TheBoat's costs in the budget.
One of the city's ferries, the Rachel Marie, has been hampered with engine problems since TheBoat's launching on Sept. 17, forcing operators to cancel rides, sometimes for weeks at a time. Yoshioka said they have installed a new engine and that the Rachel Marie has been operating as scheduled for the past three weeks.
While the city provided a shuttle bus connecting riders from Kalaeloa to Aloha Tower in place of the ferry during the cancellations, ridership plummeted.
In the beginning of the city's pilot project, there were generally 300 riders a day. But in November and December, when the Rachel Marie was having continuous problems, ridership dropped below 200 -- sometimes closer to 100 -- even though each boat can carry 149 passengers with six rides a day.
Yoshioka said the city's goal is to boost ridership to about 400 to 500 passengers a day, which would make it cost-effective compared with the city's express bus services. It costs the city about $3 to $50 a person to subsidize the express service, Yoshioka said.
"We're hopefully over this hump," he said. "We can now move on and operate with the full service."
As of mid-January, ridership had slowly increased to about 250 riders daily.
"What we really need to strive to do is demonstrate to the public that the Rachel Marie is as dependable as the Melissa Ann," Yoshioka said, referring to the other boat, which is the newer of the two.
Darin Mar, TheBoat's project manager, said they will be launching marketing campaigns, particularly for riders connecting to TheBoat from shuttle buses in Waikiki and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In surveys, people also said they preferred different departure times, such as leaving Kalaeloa Pier at 6 and 7 a.m. In the afternoon, many said they would like to depart Aloha Tower at 4:30, 5 and 5:30 p.m. Yoshioka said they are looking at other piers, such as in Ewa Beach, to accommodate potential riders.