Cliff Slater’s Second Opinion

The Honolulu Advertiser

November 29, 1999



Downtown ferry idea is all wet

Let’s not bother with something that will waste taxpayer money; there’s a better way to relieve traffic—tollways

Today, the state is once again providing taxpayers’ money to subsidize the running of a ferry from Kalaeloa Barber’s Point Harbor to downtown. It failed to get a significant number of riders last time they did it; it will undoubtedly fail again this time.

People cite San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver as successful users of ferries and believe that ferries could be used effectively here during the rush hour.

But there is a one major difference between the situation in Honolulu and these cities. In each of these other cities, the point-to-point distance the ferry travels over water is much less than that necessary to get to the same place by road.(1)

A lengthy study completed by the State Department of Transportation ten years ago detailed why a ferry will not attract significant riders. Did no one pay any attention to it?

Stop and think about the hassle of commuting by ferry from Barber’s Point. First, you have to get there. For most people that will entail a car ride in the opposite direction from downtown. Add to that the waiting time for the ferry to board and leave since you cannot time it exactly and it only leaves Barber’s Point at 5:30am and 7:30am. Then add to that the 50 minutes the ferry will take from Barber’s Point to Downtown. Then add the time to walk from the waterfront to work. And so on.

The alternative of travel by car on a clogged freeway may be slow but not as slow in door-to-door time as a ferry.

If we want a sensible ferry in Honolulu, I have a proposal. We first build a critical mass of office space at the Waikiki end of Sand Island. We then provide a ferry from there to Aloha Tower. It would be much faster by ferry than the alternative route by car to get to downtown.

This proposal is far more like the other cities’ ferries in that it would be a time saver. A Barber’s Point to Downtown ferry, on the other hand, is a time waster. It is why no one used it the last time we tried it. And it is why no one will use it when they waste taxpayers’ money running it again.

If we want sensible proposals to reduce traffic congestion then why do we not try a truly radical approach. We could find those few cities in the U.S. and elsewhere that have reduced traffic congestion and find out how they did it. Then we could see whether their successful solutions would be likely to work here. This is not rocket science.

The facts are that the cities that have reduced traffic congestion have done it mainly using tollways, busways and other means of increasing road capacity. (2) For example, a high-occupancy tollway between Pearl Ridge and downtown in the same alignment as the original rail transit proposal would go far to relieve traffic congestion on the Leeward side.

Such a privately-funded elevated high-occupancy tollway could have just two lanes running one-way into town in the morning rush hour, reversing at midday and then providing two lanes one-way out of town in the afternoon.

Funding would come from willing payers who would relieve the existing freeway of a great deal of traffic. Thus, everyone would benefit. Those who wished to pay the toll would travel the fastest. Those who declined to pay would still travel faster on the existing freeway than they do currently.

We first made this proposal ten years ago. Maybe leeward commuters are today feeling enough pain that they will contact their elected officials to ask why these officials have not even studied it.

Cliff Slater is a Honolulu businessman who represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii. His footnoted columns are at


(1) Regional Ferry Plan San Francisco Bay Area FINAL REPORT. Prepared for METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION. Pacific Transit Management Corp. and Associated Sub-consultants. September 1992.


"The current commute time between Sausalito and San Francisco is 30 minutes, which is not competitive with the automobile."

"The ferry commute time between Larkspur and San Francisco is excessive (45 minutes), which is not competitive with the automobile."

Map of Vancouver, Canada, ferry route.

(2) Texas Transportation Researcher, Volume 34, Number 1 (1998).

Quote: "Most [cities] that either improved [their traffic congestion] or stayed the same did so because either the city built more freeway lanes and streets to handle the demand, or demand was reduced as a result of an economic downturn."