Last week my wife and I took a getaway weekend in Kauai. Once there, we had a wonderful time, but you always learn things when you travel.
We took Hawaiian Airlines, really the only choice, and they want you there 45 minutes before flight time. We had to spend $141 each for the cramp of coach, plus the insult of $10 per bag. That meant over $300 for airfare. Lucky it wasn’t first class - that would have been something approaching $700.
Then we had to wait on the TSA line to present our papers, take off our shoes, enjoy a good scan, and all that took much too long. It was a tedious experience from the curb to your seat, then to enjoy recorded welcomes on the plane with 40 minutes of watered down something kind juice.
At the other end, we rented a car for $221 after rejecting their insufferable scare pitch on additional but unnecessary insurance that would save our bacon in the event of a collision. I thought we must be past that now, but I guess everyone has to listen to it to get their car.
Two hundred dollars isn’t small change for a car over a weekend where you’re only going to your hotel and driving maybe 100 miles. I kept thinking how much more comfortable we would have been if we could have had our own car, and how it wouldn’t have cost us anything.
We saw a lot of tourists, and I guess that’s good for the economy, but we didn’t see anyone we knew on the plane, at the hotel or any place other else on Kauai. I don’t think there were a lot of people from Honolulu there that weekend. I would also guess that would be so every weekend.
This was different from the Igloo Days of our youth, where everyone you knew rushed off for a weekend on a Neighbor Island (we called them outer islands then). They went in scant clothes, carrying beach mats and igloos filed with picnic stuff. It felt like everyone on the plane knew each other. It was fun and inexpensive.
After our time on Kauai, we flew back the same way, but there was a little surprise at the airport in Lihue - full body scan. Lots of TSA, and that meant lots of delay. I figured they were testing or perhaps training on the new equipment. Either way, the security was rigorously overdone.
All in all, the creature comfort payload of this trip was well outweighed by the breathtaking travel expense and the distraction of navigating through the security obstacles. I kept thinking how much better such a trip would be if we could just have gone on a ferry. You know, the SuperFerry.
Yes, we have no ferry in Hawaii. Every water and island state in the world has ferries, multiple ferries going everywhere, fast, convenient and inexpensive. Hawaii is the most water and island state in the country, so you’d think we’d have at least one single interisland ferry, wouldn’t you?
Beyond that, you’d think we’d have interisland ferries that could carry cars and trucks and let passengers carry cargo in those cars and trucks. That’d be wonderful for weekenders like us, and for small farmers and mom and pop business people in general. What a great idea for Hawaii.
But wait - that's exactly what we did have. We had all that in SuperFerry for about a year and we threw it away. Try to explain that to somebody from the Mainland. Try to explain it to me and my wife. Hard to believe we chucked it all and left ourselves without a prayer of getting it back.
Somehow our state blew up a profoundly useful transportation system that could have and unified our islands and allowed us to travel among them at relatively cheap fares. It would have allowed us to take our own cars anywhere in the state. The efficiencies are mind-boggling.
It would have made the Neighbor Islands an extension of Oahu and vice versa. But we rejected all of that. Why, exactly, did we do that? I guess a lot of people don't remember exactly why, but the activists tell you it was because the bad guys who ran the ferry needed to be punished.
They will tell you that those guys, complicit with our governor, didn’t want to play by the rules. They wanted to trod berries to outlying places and violate the whale sanctuaries, and that no punishment was too stiff or stern for them, including that of terminating the ferry altogether. As I recall, they never checked our shoes for berries as we got on the plane.
And punished they were. Their investors, who actually did have state permission to proceed, lost everything, hundreds of millions. The employees, hundreds of them, lost their jobs. The two new and beautiful ferries they built were impressed into the rigors of emergency service to Haiti. They're not beautiful anymore.
The last news story I’ve seen appeared in PBN last week reporting that other harbor users, and the public, would have to pick up the cost of the abandoned $40 million of dock facilities the state had installed for SuperFerry. But that’s only a small part of a much larger and tragic loss.
Make no mistake - the need for ferries in Hawaii has not gone away. We’re still an island state and we still have a desperate need for interisland transportation and light cargo. A ferry or a system of ferries could still provide a much needed economic and social benefit for our people.
But there's been no hue and cry to bring SuperFerry back. The governor has been silent and so has the legislature. The paper doesn’t mention it. Neither Bishop Street nor Wall Street seems at all interested in risking another loss like SuperFerry. The whole thing has slid under the waves.
I guess we’ve forgotten we need a ferry, or perhaps we really never knew that we did. After all, if you don’t live in a place where ferries are running, you might not know how important they are. And if you never had a ferry you could use, well then you don’t miss not having one.
So SuperFerry and ferries in general are fading into history. The fickle finger of the news cycle has moved on, and the pain of the tragedy has been dulled by a year of mourning. Now, we just don’t think about it anymore, a kind of travel lobotomy locking us into the body scan and barge.
But what kind of thinking is this? It’s over? Forget about ferries for Hawaii? That’s crazy. We need a ferry system now more than ever. There should be an outcry and a campaign platform for every party and politician demanding that the state build or incentivize one immediately.
We know from SuperFerry that a state-wide ferry system wouldn’t cost more than $1 billion. Why would we spend $6 billion we don’t have for a contested rail system to serve part of one island when we can build a ferry to serve the people on all islands for a fraction of the price?
We’re on the threshold of spending something approaching $2 billion for an undersea power cable to carry electricity among the islands. Don’t you think it’s at least as important to enable inexpensive travel among the islands, for family, for commerce, for relating to the environment or even just for romance?
If you’re a politician running for office, don’t you think you should take a position on this? Our current policy is to run away from the issue because it’s too hot to handle. How about facing the issue, and coming up with a way that will give us the system we should have had so many years ago.