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StarBulletin.com

Demise of TheBoat unavoidable


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POSTED: Saturday, May 16, 2009

After a laudable effort at testing a ferry commuter service between Leeward Oahu and downtown, Mayor Mufi Hannemann has announced that the service will be stopped at the end of June. While the mayor did not rule out a possible return of TheBoat, the completion of a rail transit line probably will render the concept of a ferry line even less viable than it turned out to be without rail in place.

Efforts in 1992 and 1999 to operate a ferry between Kalaeloa Harbor and Aloha Tower failed for lack of support by commuters. Bus service to the ferry at the leeward harbor was not provided, and Kapolei residents were reluctant to drive several miles in one direction to board a ferry operated by a company that looked for revenue from dinner cruises with schedules that made ferry departure times impractical.

In launching the new system two years ago, the city provided bus service to and from downtown locations and Aloha Tower, and to and from Kapolei neighborhoods to Kalaeloa at an annual cost of $1 million. TheBoat was dedicated entirely to the ferry operation, with the help of a $5 million federal grant.

The results were impressive. While only a dozen or so commuters made a habit of boarding the large and smooth cruise boats for the previous 45-minute commutes by sea, the three 75-foot catamarans averaged about 270 riders a day — including tourists who took the cruise for the joy of it — for the sometimes rough hour-long journeys between downtown and Kalaeloa. Hannemann said the 149-passenger boats have been running about 30 percent full. But they have been running at a significant financial loss.

Hannemann said he would consider a return of TheBoat if the Navy grants permission for it to make a stop at the harbor at Iroquois Point in Ewa Beach. That was part of the itinerary of the Wikiwiki ferry that operated in 1999 and 2000 under the sponsorship of the state Department of Transportation, averaging more than 1,000 riders a week from a Navy housing area.

While the mayor may continue to favor “;a multimodal transportation system,”; the rail system planned between Kapolei and Ala Moana remains the key component for the future.

In a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing this week, Peter Rogoff, President Barack Obama's nominee as federal transit administrator at the Department of Transportation, told Sen. Daniel Akaka that he supports the rail project, which he said is “;reaching a make-or-break point.”; Rogoff said he will work with people in the federal agency “;to make sure everyone is talking to each other clearly in terms of what needs to be done to move this project forward.”;