Posted by: The Amoeba | April 14, 2009

The Last Hawai`ian Ferry Tale

When we first arrived in Hawai‘i, nearly two years ago now, there was lots of talk about ferries. The big one (indeed, they called it Super) that ran between the islands – well, two of them, anyway – and the little one (which they quaintly called TheBoat), which ran between West O‘ahu and Honolulu.

They’re both gone now. The good people of C.A.V.E. evicted the big one a month ago. And today (14 April 2009), the Honolulu City Council sank the little one.

Now, if it seems odd to you that Hawai‘i should have such a hard time with ferries, your Amoeba is with you. After all (in case you missed the memo), Hawai‘i is a chain of little islands smack in the middle of the biggest body of water on Earth. Dozens if not hundreds of miles separate each island from all the other ones, and hundreds, nay thousands, of miles separate the chain from anything else with a vague concept of “dry”. For those of us who haven’t mastered yogic flying, travel from your island to anywhere else requires either a boat or a plane. Swimming, shark fans, is definitely not recommended.

Despite this, Hawai‘i, I’m learning, has a history of chewing up ferry services and spitting them out as bundles of Chapter 7 documents. And I can’t confess to having been overfond of the newly-cancelled theBoat service. On the occasions when I rode TheBoat, it took me a full hour longer, each way, to get to my destination than by either bus or car – and this is allowing for the gridlock on O‘ahu’s roads that TheBoat was supposed to be alleviating. Furthermore, there were no passenger services at either ferry dock; the dock at the western end was miles from nowhere and had a postage stamp for a parking lot. And, as I learned after it was too late, TheBoat’s boats were designed for use on Puget Sound. Lovely, calm, flat, glassy Puget Sound. Which the waters off southern O‘ahu most definitely are not. The ocean swells tossed those boats around like the proverbial corks. And the passengers with them. Every seat was well provisioned with barf bags, and the odor of disinfectant.

In other words, the TheBoat operation was woefully undercapitalized. One of the principal reasons, Business 101 students, why (from memory) 90% of all startups fail within the first year.

But I was impressed with the media’s reporting of the TheBoat closure, because, in the first case I can recall in this season of economic distress, the true costs of a service under discussion were published. And those costs are such that TheBoat would have had to charge $124 per round-trip ticket in order to break even financially. Remember, this is for a service with no dock facilities, and with vessels unsuited to the conditions.

The City and County of Honolulu was charging $4 round trip. Not much math to do, is there?

But what about the idea of using TheBoat to get cars off of Honolulu’s roads? Well, let’s assume that a would-be TheBoat passenger owns a car for which he paid $30,000 new, and which he will drive for 10 years and 150,000 miles. Factoring in insurance, gas, and maintenance, and figuring that our man paid cash for the car, or got one of those 0% APR loans (mainly ’cause I’m too lazy to calculate compound interest, and too scared of what the numbers would be if I did), that car costs about $14 a day if it never leaves the driveway, and around $19 a day (figuring gas at $3 a gallon) if it’s driven the full 150,000 miles.

I make that out to mean that the ferry rider saved a whole dollar a day to take TheBoat into work instead of his car. Not counting the cost of his lost time – which, even if Our Hero’s making the $7.50 Federally-mandated minimum wage, blows off that dollar like it wasn’t even there.

So, even at $4 a trip, it makes no economic sense for most people to take TheBoat.

Now, I reckon, if everyone who is yelling about protecting my pot of funds from the budget-paring knives would submit to this sort of analysis, then there would be less yelling, or any yelling that remained would be exposed for the special-interest power play that it is.

There is a problem, though. Those of us who haven’t been brainwashed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh realize that our use of automobiles, and other fossil-fuel-burning devices, is materially affecting the ecology of the planet. No scientifically-credible model exists that projects anything but dire consequences if we continue to use fossil fuels at current rates.

But what do you do when, in the short term and to the individual citizen, no alternative is economically feasible? Nor can be made feasible without asking citizens in a democracy to vote against their short-term interest? To pay for a $125 round-trip ferry ticket when they’ve already invested in a $20-per-trip automobile?

The animals who do not reason would simply carry on following their short-term interests. And when the crash came, they would stand around wondering what the hell hit them. Until it did hit them and exempt them from all cares.

Humans who do reason have the opportunity to forecast the consequences of blindly following short-term interests and acting accordingly. Or proving myths of special human creation wrong, once and for all, by following the lemmings over the cliff and into the sea.

We can start taking advantage of our opportunity by demanding that our information sources provide facts of the type provided in the TheBoat story, not soundbites that merely confirm or ignite our prejudices. And by dispassionately paying attention to those facts when they are provided.

Even if it winds up coming out of our pockets.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. Okay I’m not the greatest in math obviously. If a round trip ticket on TheBoat is $4 a day and you say the cost for a car a day is either $14 or $19 how is the savings only $1? I’m confused. I never thought TheBoat would be a suitable mode of transportation ever. Same with the Super Ferry. Reason being is time is money and I’ve always believed that. I say you come up with a more environmental friendly way of fueling cars. Don’t ask me what either. I leave that up to you scientists to figure out. But there’s gotta be something out there. Why not solar?

  2. Thom, if you own the car, you’re spending the $14 whatever you do – the only way out of that is to not own the car. If you never drive the car, you save $5 in operating expenses and maintenance. A $1 net savings over running the car if you take TheBoat instead, at $4. The actual savings, though, will be less, because chances are poor that you’d own the car and not use it for something. It doesn’t take much car use for that $1 savings to vanish completely.

    The Superferry might have made sense because it allowed individuals to bring their cars to the neighbor island (which, remember, you’re paying $14 a day every day you own it, so any time you rent, you’re adding that expense to what you’re already shelling out), and allowed shippers to haul bulk items not possible, or economical, to move via air cargo. The cargo factor might have balanced the time factor.

    Solar should work for a lot of things, but sunshine is not available on demand (thanks to clouds), and most methods for converting light to electricity are inefficient. Still, where there has been a sufficient investment in infrastructure, solar power is making a contribution. But the “infrastructure” investment runs up against the “short-term interest” problem cited in the post. Imagine the City and County of Honolulu adding a major solar-power grid investment to the proposed rail line …

  3. 14 minus 5 equals 9 correct?
    9 minus 4 equals 5 correct?
    14 minus 4 equals 10 correct?

    The $9 being the expense I have if I don’t use the car. The $5 being the amount I’m saving using the boat. The $10 being the expense I have using the car. I don’t see only $1 savings. Or are you saying that if I never use the car then the expense is $5 only and not $9 thus the $1 savings.

    And thinking about your equation, what isn’t taken into consideration is that if you pay your $2.00 on the bus and ask for a transfer you don’t pay for the boat at all. Or if you have a pass you don’t pay for the boat either. At least that’s how I understood it.

    It doesn’t matter to me what cargo factor there is. All I’m concerned on is my time and my time is money.

    Well I still think that something could be developed. I believe that the big oil companies prevent a lot of this because their pocket books would be affected and be in the same situation as the banks and car companies are now. You notice they are the only ones we never hear about in this economic slump. And if we didn’t have this rail shoved down our throats, maybe we could have solar-power grids around. But it went to quick and it’s going to be a waste of our money. Talk about taking winds out of our pockets. Rail is going to do it and big time

  4. $19 – $14 = $5

    $19 – cost per day if you use the car 30K m/year
    $14 – cost per day if you never use the car at all

    I included the bus fare in the $4 TheBoat round trip. You can’t park at the western terminal, and you have to get there somehow – usually via “your” bus. Which, when I’ve ridden the F buses, have almost always been empty.

    The private oil companies have stockpiled earnings; if they hadn’t, the price of oil would be putting them under stress. Where to watch for oil-related stress points is a place like Venezuela, which has spent its windfall oil profits on social programs of dubious efficacy and now is likely to be in trouble.

  5. Okay I’m confused with the $1. I’ll take your word for it. So you are telling me now the oil companies are going to have problems? When we are getting screwed with oil prices?

  6. The oil companies will probably do fine. But their profits will go down, and with those profits so will their tax payments. Which means that the states and nations dependent on the oil companies for their annual budgets (Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Texas, to name three) are likely to start howling. If they aren’t already.

  7. It’s a vicious endless circle and we the tax payers get screwed over and over again.

  8. The only way mass transit works for the ‘masses’ is to make the cost of individual car ownership higher than publicly funded buses, trains, ferries etc.

    There is no mass transit system anywhere in the world that makes money strictly from a fare structure. All are subsidized in some way, many times with tax breaks.

    • Well, Thom, it’s not like the taxpayers don’t have a vote. Of course, if the taxpayers were to deign to learn how to use their votes …

      ‘Zactly, Brian. And the cost of individual car ownership won’t go higher than public transport until there’s no other choice – because our Western economic system depends on Our mobility and our willingness to pay for that mobility, particularly through some means other than taxes. Overall, public transit works well here in Honolulu. Though, in my opinion, TheBoat is an exception.

  9. […] level or a philosophical one. You may remember, I once figured out it would cost me around US$14 a day to own a car if it never left the driveway. Last I knew, Hawai‘i was in a recession so bad, […]

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