City & County of Honolulu

Council questions
zoo train sponsorship

At issue is whether city officials
should solicit private funds

Some City Council members question whether corporate sponsorship of the Honolulu Zoo train is off track.

Councilman Charles Djou, whose district includes the zoo, has asked the city Ethics Commission for an opinion on the solicitation of private companies to provide subsidies that halve the zoo train fares.

Djou said the issue is "whether or not it's ethical for a city official on city time to go out and solicit money from a private corporation which might have business before the city for the benefit of another corporation."

But administration officials said the sponsors helped make the popular ride -- a mock train that carries children and other visitors around the zoo -- more affordable.

"Kids love the train, and there's no cost to the city. The concession agreement pays for all the operating costs with the moneys from the sponsors. It's a deal. It's a great private-public partnership," said Deputy Managing Director Malcolm Tom.

Djou's inquiry came after yesterday morning's scrutiny of the zoo operating budget by the Council's Budget Committee.

During the budget review, Council members expressed frustration at the lack of information in the budget on the operating cost of the train.

Council members had raised questions about its purchase last year.

"It seems to me that we should have some sort of accounting," Councilwoman Barbara Marshall told officials.

The train is operated by Xtreme Fun Rentals under a concession agreement with the city.

Tom said the cost to operate the train on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays is $400 per day.

The agreement calls on the city to find corporate sponsors if it wants to bring down the cost of the per ride fare to $1 from $2.

The nine sponsors -- Campbell Estate, Bank of Hawaii, ABC Stores, First Hawaiian Bank, Best Printing, Aston Resorts, Outrigger Hotels, Central Pacific Bank and Dole Plantations/Castle & Cooke -- brought in $29,000. The Star-Bulletin and MidWeek were among the sponsors of the name-the-train contest last year.

"Everybody thought that ($2) was just too much for 3-year-olds to pay, so what these sponsors have done, they stepped up to subsidize the cost of the rides for the kids so they pay $1 a ride," Tom said. "And what's wrong with that, making it affordable for the kids?"

Djou said he does not want to derail the train ride. "I don't have a problem with the zoo train. I know the kids love it. I think it's a fantastic addition to the Honolulu Zoo, so I'm not questioning the zoo train; I'm questioning how we're managing it and how we went about financing this thing."

Djou said he has no problem in trying to hold down the cost for the kids. "But the problem is all this secrecy, why this has sort of been kept secret from the Council."

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said, however, that the administration informed the Council of its plans to seek corporate sponsorship last April.


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