Time has arrived for
Oahu commuter ferry


Mayor Hannemann is planning a commuter demonstration ferry system between Kalaeloa and Honolulu harbors as early as next year.

LEEWARD Oahu commuters have snubbed city-bound ferries offered in the past, but a ferry system remains a promising means of getting to and from work. Mayor Hannemann's plan to try again, recognizing flaws in previous efforts, should finally succeed in providing commuters a compelling alternative to their present habits.

The mayor says he will use $3 million in available federal money to pay for a demonstration ferry system connecting the harbors of Kalaeloa and Honolulu, beginning as early as next year. At each end, buses would transport passengers from their neighborhoods and workplaces to and from the ferry terminals.

The lack of a bus connection was the major cause of past ferry failures. Most recently, the WikiWiki demonstration initiated in October 1999 ended little more than a year later because of lack of interest.

"But the important part about that demonstration was not so much as to attracting the riders but to demonstrate that type of operation as physically feasible," says Toru Hamayasu, chief planner of city transportation services. It showed that the ferry ride between the two harbors took 44 minutes.

Barbers Point Harbor was not served at all by the bus system, so the ferry operation relied entirely on motorists who were accustomed to driving to work from Leeward Oahu. Most Kapolei commuters understandably were reluctant to drive several miles in one direction to board a ferry heading the other way.

Hannemann proposes direct bus connections between Kalaeloa and Nanakuli, Maili, Makakilo and Kapolei, and between Honolulu Harbor and Kalihi, Waikiki, Ala Moana and the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus. Forcing a part-way converging bus link, such as the Kapolei Transit Center or Ala Moana Center, would be a death knell.

Kapolei's population growth and mounting traffic congestion in the past six years add to the increased viability of such a system. Technological advances provide the possibility of an added enticement -- wireless Internet access allowing commuters to make productive -- or entertaining -- use of their time aboard the ferry. Hannemann's appreciation of the benefits of expanding broadband wireless in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu should extend to the ferry.

A research project managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation has proved the feasibility of such Internet access aboard ferry routes in Washington's Puget Sound area. The project, allowing riders to check their e-mail or access Web sites at fast speeds, was launched last summer and has been expanded to five ferries. It will remain free to commuters until May and then might be turned over to a private operator.

Mobilisa Inc., a Port Townsend, Wash., software company, developed the "Wireless Over Water" technology allowing the Wi-Fi connection. Users need a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop computer or handheld computer device.

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