[ OUR OPINION ]
Ferry system would
be boon to isle economy
AFTER decades of various fits and starts, the vision of a ferry system to link Hawaii's land masses may be taking feasible shape. The proposal will need vigorous support from state officials as its developers seek federal funding for a pilot program.
Hawaii Superferry plans to create an interisland ocean highway to transport people, products and vehicles.
Ferries would expand the market for neighbor island products and services while functionally shrinking the distance -- and the costs -- of moving goods and people. As John Strom, a business and development specialist, told the Star-Bulletin's Russ Lynch, ferries will turn Hawaii into a single-market area rather than separate islands, a boon for all manner of commerce from agriculture to technology enterprises. Residents, business people and tourists will have a travel option that's now limited to struggling airlines.
The partners of Hawaii Superferry have come up with a promising concept to extend transportation along an ocean highway with "wave-piercing catamarans" that can each carry as many as 900 passengers and 250 cars, trucks, semi-trailers and buses. The drive-on, drive-off vessels will change for the better "the competitiveness and the cost of doing business in Hawaii," said Mike Fitzgerald, president of Enterprise Hawaii.
As an example, a study by Fitzgerald and Strom showed that ferries can carry produce for 2 cents a pound as compared to the current 13 cents a pound. They also can transport goods too fragile or perishable for barge cargo, eliminating the need for items to be handled several times from producer to truck to boat and again to another truck before its final destination.
Failed attempts at establishing interisland as well as commuter ferries spur skepticism about a system. However, Hawaii Superferry is banking on a new type of vessel built in Australia that is used successfully around the world and that can ply the rough channels between the islands in stability and comfort at about 47 mph.
Ferry travel won't be cheap, but Hawaii Superferry believes it can move a family of five in their car from Oahu to Maui or Kauai for about the cost of airfare, car rental and fuel. The ease of movement alone could prove attractive enough for local people. Honolulu residents can "drive" to Makawao to visit grandma while people in Lihue can come to Oahu to shop at Ala Moana Center and take their purchases home in the trunk of their car. Tourists will be offered a different experience as they travel by sea to Kahului or Kawaihae.
The plan has a long way to go before it becomes reality. The catamarans cost about $60 million each, the state's sole interisland ferry terminal will need to be augmented and other infrastructure will be required before the 2006 start-up.
Meanwhile, Governor Lingle, who supports the proposal, the state Department of Transportation and legislators should lend a helping hand. Right now, Hawaii's reliance solely on airlines for travel and transport is too confining for people and businesses.