Budget ills might curb
town trolley in Kaimuki

Kaimuki Neighborhood Board members are worried that their town's trolley, which serves 20,000 riders monthly, is in danger of losing its city subsidy.

Funding for the trolley was already cut in half last year, to about $213,000 from $425,000, as part of the City Council's efforts to balance the budget.

And City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said yesterday that it will be hard "to justify a half-a-million (dollar) trolley just in one community" once the new fiscal year's budget comes up for consideration.

Cheryl Soon, director of the city Department of Transportation Services, would not say whether money for the trolley was included in her office's budget, which will be sent to Mayor Jeremy Harris in March.

But Soon has asked the Kaimuki board for the trolley's ridership numbers and "how it had met its goals."

The Transportation Department has provided the trolley's subsidy in its budget for the past three years. During that period, the number of people who rode the trolley monthly grew by more than seven times, from 2,800 in its first month.

"When the (city) bus went on strike, a lot of people discovered us," said Ginny Meade, executive director of the Greater East Honolulu Community Alliance. "A lot of the university students are riding it ... (and) commuters use it in both directions."

Kaimuki community leaders say without the city funding, the trolley service will die.

And that, they stress, would hurt area businesses, which stand to lose thousands of dollars if tourists who ride the trolley's circular route through Waikiki, Kapahulu and Kaimuki stop coming.

"It has had a really positive impact," said Kaimuki Neighborhood Board Member Vernon Tam, adding that the trolley gives tourists a picture of "a typical small town in Hawaii without going all the way out to the Windward side."

Meade said the trolley cannot run on fares alone.

A one-way ride on the trolley costs $1, with special fares for seniors, students and those with city bus passes. A $25 monthly pass is also available, along with a $2 fare, which gives riders on and off privileges for one day.

The service runs every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and has 26 stops beginning at Royal Hawaiian Avenue and running along Kapahulu, Waialae and Kuhio avenues.

A new route, introduced last year as part of a larger push to increase ridership, brought stops to Chaminade University of Honolulu and the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Frear Hall.

Meade said she and others have talked about the possibility of raising fares to make the trolley, which is operated by E Noa Tours, more self-sufficient.

"We've discussed doubling it ... (but) we figured we would lose some riders," she said.

Kobayashi has also suggested having Kaimuki's shops and restaurants subsidize the service, as is done with trolley services in Waikele and Hawaii Kai.

"We're hoping that we can keep the trolley alive," Kobayashi said. "Hopefully, we can get some of the businesses to pay. We'll have to see how we can make this work."

Meade said the businesses in Kaimuki are smaller than those where other shopping trolleys run and would likely be unable to afford any additional fees.


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