Commuters avoid rush-hourBy Pat Omandam
madness with a relaxing ride
on the Wikiwiki Ferry
Up until this week, the morning commute for Brian Higa of Makakilo meant spending a lot of time stuck in traffic along Moanalua Freeway, hoping road rage didn't overtake him or other drivers.
Now, Higa can literally drift to sleep on his way to work.
Higa is among those Leeward commuters who are giving the Wikiwiki Ferry a try for the next month to see if traveling by sea can improve the quality of their daily commute.
Aboard the 95-foot hydrofoil Foilcat this morning, Higa said he could feel the tension ease.
"I'm feeling more relaxed these days," said Higa, who works for the state court system.
Higa and about 24 other people took the 5:30 a.m. ferry trip today from Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor to Aloha Tower. The trip took 51 minutes, longer than expected but understandable given the rough seas generated by thunderstorms that hit Oahu earlier this morning.
The bad weather was enough to cancel the 7:30 a.m. trip today. Those who had reservations for that ferry trip were driven to town on a bus, as the ferry guarantees a ride to work.
The early hydrofoil ride was a bit rough. The Foilcat pitched and rolled at times as it passed over large waves in the darkness at 34 mph. Passengers, however, didn't seem to mind, as small groups of people chatted, some slept and others read books.
Passenger Bill Miner of Makakilo said he takes the ferry commute one step further by using the free shuttle service in the Makakilo/Kapolei area to get to the harbor. And once downtown, he rides his bike the rest of the way to work for exercise.
Shuttle service also is provided from Aloha Tower, dropping off ferry commuters at designated stops throughout the business district.
Miner, whose commute started about 5:10 a.m. when the shuttle picked him up at a bus stop on Makakilo Drive, said he decided to try the free shuttle/ferry service because it was something different and could save him money.
"The seats are comfortable, and it gives me time to do work instead of sitting in traffic," he said.
Miner, like others, hasn't decided if he'll continue to ride the Wikiwiki Ferry once the free service ends on Nov. 17. He said it willdepend on the fare. It will be hard to give up the personal freedom of cars, but something must be done to ease rush-hour gridlock, he said.
Village Park resident Mike Evans, however, said today he would pay $80 for a monthly pass, given his experience riding the ferry these past two days.
Evans said this morning he enjoys not having to drive to work, and said the trip from his home in Village Park to Barbers Point is only seven miles. Moreover, he'll save $109 a month in parking fees by taking the ferry to his job in the federal building.
The U.S. Department of Treasury employee also likes the clean seats and well-lit, roomy atmosphere of the air-conditioned ferry cabin, which is designed to handle up to 136 passengers.
A snack bar inside the cabin sells coffee, soft drinks, juice, snacks and candy, as well as the morning newspaper. The driver of the Kapolei shuttle this morning warned that the coffee might not be very hot on the early trip because the electrical system on the 7-year-old Norwegian-built hydrofoil doesn't work well with an American coffee maker.
The seats have fold-down trays similar to those on airlines, but there are no seat belts attached. Instead, a "please be seated" light comes on when the captain anticipates rough water.
Meanwhile, the crew is helpful and courteous, Evans said.
"It's just a nice feeling," he said. "You don't feel rushed."
The Wikiwiki Ferry is a $3 million demonstration project by the state Department of Education to offer transportation alternatives for Leeward and Central Oahu commuters. The first month of the commuter ferry is free. Call 848-6360.