LIHU‘E — A major interisland shipping company has announced it will be changing its gate hours at five Hawai‘i ports.
“Difficult economic times require us to continuously review and modify our operations to reduce expenses and operate in a more efficient manner,” Young Brothers stated in an Aug. 10 letter to its customers, citing “greatly reduced (shipping) volumes” as the reason for the modifications.
Beginning Monday, Young Brothers will shorten its hours of operations for most Hawaiian island ports on days when there is no docked barge.
“The forecast for the Neighbor Island communities for the remainder of 2011 is that cargo volumes will be flat at best, with minimal but hopefully positive growth for the year 2012,” the letter stated. “In the absence of recovery of cargo volumes and in the face of a projected loss from operations in 2011, we have decided we must reduce our gate hours.”
At Nawiliwili, Kawaihae, Hilo and Honolulu ports, Young Brothers’ gate will close at 11:30 a.m. rather than 3:30 p.m. two days per week. The Port of Kahului will close at noon on Mondays. Molokai and Lana‘i ports’ hours will remain the same. There will be no change to the frequency of Young Brothers’ 12 weekly sailings from Honolulu to Neighbor Island ports.
Matthew Humphrey, vice president and general manager of Young Brothers, told The Garden Island on Friday that there is less port activity on non-barge days and, therefore, he anticipates the shorter hours will have less impact than other cost-cutting measures.
“Generally speaking, since the peak of cargo in 2006 and 2007, we’ve seen a 35 percent fall off in cargo volume from then to now — a very, very slow decline since 2009. Volume (today) is even less than 2010,” Humphrey said. “Tourism in the Neighbor Islands has traditionally been what has driven Young Brothers’ business.”
Although the tourism industry may be able to get people to Hawai‘i by drastically reducing travel costs to the islands, he said, “people’s spending habits have changed … They’re not doing as many excursions and they’re not shopping like they were before.”
Average visitor spending, excluding airfare, has dropped from its high of more than $200 per day in 2007 to less than $153 per day during the first half of 2011, representing a decline of 24 percent, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
For Young Brothers port employees, it means being “off the clock a couple hours earlier,” Humphrey said.
Young Brothers went through general lay offs in 2009 and management lay offs this year, Humphrey said. “It was a difficult thing. We’ve been on a steady rate increase the last four to five years because nobody predicted the volume would do this. Like anybody else, we’re trying to make a good business decision.”
He said Young Brothers will also allow communities time to adjust to the new schedule.
“We won’t close the gate on a crowd of 10 people at 11:30 a.m.,” he said. “There needs to be a time of adjustment for both trucking companies and customers.”
Steven Gerald, president and owner of Kaua‘i Freight Service, said he anticipates the new gate hours will negatively impact his business.
“We’re afraid because we have a lot of volume on Kaua‘i and it’s a day and a half a week I’m cut,” he said. “So we’re just worried when the stores call in to pick up empties, what we’re going to do with it. Put it in our yard, I guess.”
Gerald said his freight company ships and hauls containers, heavy equipment, dirt, building materials, refrigerated goods, produce, meats, grocery products, live plants and just about anything else. “You name it,” he said.
“We love working with Young Brothers and have for over 40 years,” he said, “but we’re concerned, very concerned. Everybody has to make adjustments, and hopefully they will work … Our main concern is giving the customers service. We have nothing to sell but service. With the economy the way it is, you want everything to be on time.”
When asked if he has experienced a decline in the volume of his business since 2007, he said, “I monitor my own loads, and I’m up and busy. When it comes to retailers and wholesalers and all, I do pretty good. The construction end, yes; but general freight, no. It’s pretty smooth.”
Conversely, Sandi Acob, Kaua‘i station manager for Commodity Forwarders in Lihu‘e, said she does not anticipate an impact to operations by the change in gate hours. She, too, said shipping volume has been brisk. Commodity Forwarders handles produce and meat distribution for Times Supermarkets and restaurants on Kaua‘i.
“As with your own company, Young Brothers must continue to change and adapt to the challenging economic conditions in order to provide basic and reliable transportation services while working to achieve economic recovery,” concluded the Young Brothers’ letter signed by Humphrey. “We hope that cargo volumes and revenues will allow us to expand gate and operating hours in 2012.”
The changes in hours will remain in effect at least through the end of the year, he said.
For additional information, including days and hours of operation, call Young Brothers at 543-9311.
Port of Nawiliwili Hours
Mondays 7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Tuesdays 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Thursdays 7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Fridays 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing email@example.com.