Superferry still clouds Hawai‘i’s business image

I have to admit to a twinge of sadness when I read that the sorry saga of the Hawaii Superferry appears to be in its final act with the announcement by the U.S. Maritime Administration that it’s selling the two Superferry vessels, the Alakai and Huakai.

The federal agency ended up owning the ships when it had to eat $135 million in loan guarantees after the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled that a law exempting the Superferry from an environmental impact statement was unconstitutional.

Personally, I was looking forward to being able to use the Superferry to visit the neighbor islands again. I’ve seldom been able to go since I’ve been in a wheelchair because of a lack of ground transportation options, and being able to take my own van would have opened the state to me.

But beyond my admittedly narrow personal considerations, I felt the demise of the Superferry was a major loss to many local travelers and businesses who would have been at least a little bit out of the grip of the semi-monopoly airlines and shippers.

While there’s been a lot of finger-pointing as to who was to blame, it’s troubling that there’s been little thoughtful and objective consideration of all that went wrong and what changes we need to make to prevent such a debacle from happening again.

As we prepare to sell APEC delegates on the idea that Hawai‘i is a good place to do business, the Superferry is an elephant in the room that we’ve yet to adequately explain.

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10 Comments on “Superferry still clouds Hawai‘i’s business image”

  1. zzzzzz Says:

    Recommended reading for anyone interested in the SF fiasco:

    http://honoluluweekly.com/feature/2009/03/conspiracy-ferry/

    It sounds like taxpayers all over the country, not just here in Hawai’i,were taken for a ride. Meanwhile, Austal USA, whose parent is an Australian company, took advantage of that ride to win a multi-billion dollar contract with the US Navy to build ships similar to SF.

  2. zzzzzing Says:

    I was sad also on its demise. If Lingle had been a Democrat, would things have gone differently? We’ll never know.

  3. zzzzzz Says:

    It seems to me that the irony of the SF fiasco is that the Lingle administration’s eagerness to be perceived as business-friendly led them to give SF the bad advice that no EIS was needed, which is ultimately what sank SF and led to even more outcry about our state being unfriendly to business.

  4. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Hawaii is a nice place but not a good place to do business. It’s wicked unfriendly if the new business impinges on the sacred turf of the good old boy networks.

    As for the Superferry, we are worse off for having it gone. We’re an island state that feels it’s just dandy to spend billions and billions for a Mall Train but fails to have inter-island ferry transportation that would be truly stimulative to small business and tourism.

    The EIS issue was poorly handled but it was not the real reason for the demise of the SF.

  5. robert Says:

    It would be interesting to know if the SF, as implemented, was fulfilling the business plan, or if after a year the revenue wasn’t there to support it and if the EIS fiasco killed it then so be it. how were the final ridership numbers? when would it have been profitable?

    I had friends that loved using it and really miss it. kinda funny how people want Hawaii to be a place of innovation! yeah right!! good luck selling that to APEC!

  6. Guido Sarducci Says:

    The Legislature could have saved the superferry even after the Judiciary came up with that moronic rule about requiring an EIS for tying a barge to a dock.

    Why Hawaii Lost the Superferry

    http://hawaiifreepress.com/main/ArticlesMain/tabid/56/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/917/Why-Hawaii-Lost-the-Superferry.aspx

  7. hugh clark Says:

    For me, it was major loss for Neighbor Islands and the future of agriculuture on the Big Island as well as a chance to check airline costs. I blame former guv for pushing it through like a drunk driver running red lights — one after the other.

    Alarms were being sounded her full eight years and through either arrogance or stupdity she seemed oblivious. Her legacy is not just a financial calamity.

  8. shaftalley Says:

    I wish hawaii and the rest of the nation could have a mass transportation system without government involvement/control/subsidies.if we could have a ferry system in hawaii operated on a 100% pure free market system.but the risks for venture capitalists and other private investors to start a ferry company would be very risky,and unprofitable the way things are now.too many meaningless regulations and red tape.high taxes,etc.but the people of hawaii,residents and non residents appear to be willing for a ferry system that is funded by the tax-payers.

  9. Larry Says:

    The ferry’s demise is typically blamed on the gov’t’s attemt to sidestep the EIS, but the vessels are now up for bid because the business declared bankruptcy. Outside estimates were that it almost never, perhaps never ever, made money. The company waived the fuel surcharge and didn’t have the passenger load to break even, again according to outside estimates.

    So bankruptcy was inevitable, EIS or no. And so it came to pass.

    The ships were too large and subjected passengers to seasickness on many days. Had smaller, more fuel-efficient ships been used, it might have been able to turn a profit.

    The fact that the ships were too large and hungry is what lead to the theory that Austal was just trying to establish that they were seaworthy while looking toward military contracts.

    Perhaps a ferry could succeed privately, or could be publicly operated, but it would have to be fitted to the circumstances it has to deal with. Probably smaller, Probably it would need to operate without the state paying $1,000 or more per hour for a tugboat to help it load and unload.

    It does seem strange that Hawaii has no interisland ferry service. It will seem strange to APEC how backward we are in many respects. It doesn’t have to be this way.

  10. Ratu Bulamacow Says:

    No shipping co. No tug and barge. No airline has ever had to sumit a EIS as requirewd for SF. Hawaii.s a crook place for business. Hawaii’s has $125.00 airfares for 225 mile hop, higest in the US. Its no wonder the FBI is expanding its agents to 250, one for every state leg rep.


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