Shifting gears, Park-and-ride trend grows
Commuters look for ways to save money on gas by taking transit alternatives
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With gas prices rising, some Hawaii residents are getting out of their cars and finding other ways to get around.
Local bicycle shops, mass transit and Vanpool Hawaii officials say as gas prices have risen, their sales and usage are also going up.
According to AAA's fuel gauge report, Hawaii had the third highest fuel prices in the nation yesterday, behind Alaska and California. Regular gas in Hawaii was $3.83 a gallon last week.
"I've noticed that the bus has gotten a lot more crowded lately," said McCully resident Kaiulani Fontenot, 22, who rides the bus to work at the Queen's Medical Center.
At the Bike Shop on King Street, sales have shot up about 10 percent in recent months, said general manager Gary Gavin.
"We have seen an increase in bicycles being purchased specifically to and from work," he said. "They (customers) mention the increase in the price of gas and they also mention the expense of parking."
Vanpool Hawaii has also added about 300 to 400 new riders in the past six months.
"It's definitely because of the increased price of fuel," said Vanpool Hawaii Executive Director Vicki Harris.
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As gas prices keep breaking records without a respite in sight, some motorists are parking their cars to save cash and hopping onto TheBus, bikes, TheBoat or Vanpool Hawaii.
With gas prices in Hawaii reaching yet another record at $3.83 last week, TheBus is handling a surge in ridership. In March, officials with Hawaii's largest mass transit system counted about 10,000 more riders per weekday than the same time last year -- a nearly 5 percent increase.
"There are more riders. I would say that the gas has a lot to do with it," said Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services. "Many of our busiest buses are filled to capacity or over capacity. That could be a limiting factor for us."
Some express routes had the greatest increase -- as much as 20 percent -- during the first quarter, ending March 31. Routes with large increases typically serve suburban areas such as Mililani, the Waianae Coast, Kunia, Wahiawa and Windward Oahu, Morton said.
The price of fuel, traffic congestion, and expanded bus services might all be factors in the influx of riders, he said, adding that Honolulu is fourth in the nation for bus ridership.
"I've noticed that the bus has gotten a lot more crowded lately," Kaiulani Fontenot, 22, said after getting off TheBus near the Queen's Medical Center.
Fontenot, a McCully resident, and her husband never bothered to replace their car last year after it started having problems.
"Buying a car now is pretty much pointless," she said. Instead, she and her husband began riding the bus. One month ago, they both bought bikes at Wal-Mart.
"We didn't want to rely on the bus too much," said Fontenot, who works at Queen's transporting patients. "Plus, we're trying to lose weight. We'll get exercise, plus have a means of travel."
Biking and TheBus help her avoid gas prices and the hassle of parking at Queen's, she said.
Bicycle shops in Honolulu say they've seen a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in sales as more people look for transportation to replace motorized vehicles.
At the Bike Shop on South King Street, bikes are going out the door faster than at the beginning of the year -- to the tune of 10 percent, said General Manager Gary Gavin.
"Our business is up overall, where a lot of businesses in this climate are flat or down," Gavin said. "We're seeing people bring in bikes that they bought 15 years ago ... to have reconditioned."
While bike sales usually increase before summer, this year's increase is larger than last spring, he said. Customers report they are looking for a bike because gas prices and parking fees are too high, Gavin said.
"I don't think there is that much confidence that fuel will go down and stay down," Gavin said.
At Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street, bike assembler Gary Owens said customers tell him they want a bike to avoid parking and gas prices.
"I get that all the time," he said. "They always say, 'I want to ride to work. I don't want to deal with it. It's just easier to get on the bike.'"
At Bikefactory Hawaii on Ala Moana Boulevard, sales have increased from the beginning of the year by about 10 percent to 15 percent, said Duane Franklin, assistant manager.
"We're not keeping as many bikes on the floor as we normally do because we're selling so fast," he said, adding that sales have been higher for entry-level and folding bikes. He hopes the economic environment will lead to a change of mind-set for car-driving residents.
"We're never going to see $3 a gallon of gas again," he said. "People are going to finally realize that we live in a community where 90 percent (of residents) live within a 25-mile radius. There's no reason why this shouldn't be the No. 1 bicycling community in the United States."
Commuters have also opted in recent months to sail to work on TheBoat, boosting ridership.
In March, 6,189 passengers took TheBoat, up 580 from February's total of 5,609, or a 10 percent rise. There were 4,255 riders in January.
TheBoat has a capacity of 149 riders, and there are six trips daily, three morning trips into town and three afternoon trips out.
Besides TheBus and bicycle shops, another group seeing a switch from single-occupant vehicles is Vanpool Hawaii. In the past six months, it added about 40 vehicles, a 16 percent increase. The company also had a 20 percent spike in ridership, more than 300 additional riders, during the same period.
"It's definitely because of the increased price of fuel," said Vicki Harris, Vanpool Hawaii executive director, who asks callers why they are considering vanpooling. She said the six phone lines in the office were all busy at times last week: "There are more and more people willing to rideshare."
In the past, she joked, the greatest fear after public speaking was riding with a stranger.
"But when it's so expensive, they pull up their bootstraps and do what they need to do," she said. "They find it such a positive experience." As a vanpooler, residents pay $55 a month and share the cost of gasoline and parking. They don't pay for the vehicle, maintenance and insurance. Harris said, "It can be $1,000 back in your pocket a month."
Star-Bulletin reporter Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.