Life without cars

LIHUE — Creating transportation alternatives that would decrease Kauai’s traffic congestion and carbon footprint is a long road.

It’s going to take time and money, but experts say they’re making headway on finding a solution to Kauai’s compounding congestion.

“When you talk about congestion and improving air quality, that’s an obvious solution to pursue,” said Tommy Noyes, board member for Kauai Path, an organization promoting awareness for walking and biking on the island. “I don’t have any delusions about making a sudden and comprehensive transition from our current status, though. It takes incremental steps.”

The island’s great transportation experiment is based on the Kauai Multimodal Land Transportation Plan, adopted by the Kauai Council in 2013. The plan’s goal is to lower the number of vehicles on the road, while increasing the use of other modes of transportation — the Kauai Bus, walking and biking.

“We shouldn’t just be putting all of our efforts into serving automobiles,” Noyes said. “It’s not efficient and not helping in the long run.”

The multimodal plan outlines the goal of transitioning from 54 percent of Kauai’s transportation taking place in single-occupant vehicles in 2010 to 39 percent in 2035. That would result in an increase in bicycle, transit and walking.

“So it’s an integrated system and we’re looking at paths as one component in that,” Noyes said. “Further along in the development, we’ll be taking a significant percentage of travelers out of single-occupant vehicles and either into the bus system, longer distances with bicycling, or short trips on foot.”

Walking, biking and transit

Currently, the county has completed eight miles of the path from Lydgate to just past Donkey Beach, a project that began in Lydgate Park 12 years ago. The plan is to further that path to connect Anahola all the way through to Lihue. On the North Shore, a path is planned to connect the Hanalei area to Moloaa. Another segment is planned to connect Koloa to Poipu, and a fourth is planned to connect Kekaha to Eleele.

“So all the communities adjacent to one another, or communities that are growing (rapidly), will be connected and we’re planning for good, attractive walking and bicycling facilities,” Noyes said.

Those facilities would go hand-in-hand with the facilities planned for the Kauai Bus system, which would have to amp up its services and bus stops in order to achieve what’s mapped out in the multimodal plan.

Celia Mahikoa, executive on transportation for the county of Kauai, said an estimated 80 percent of Kauai’s population lives within three-fourths of a mile of somewhere the bus can provide service. Lately, the bus system has been making about 65,000 trips a month and Mahikoa estimated around 800 individuals are served daily. Around 10 percent of riders are visitors to the island, but she said that percentage can increase to 15 percent when cruise ships arrive.

Buses run hourly on weekdays, except for peak commuter hours when an extra bus is added. On the Westside, for instance, buses run every half an hour for the first four hours to help with work commutes. It runs every two hours on weekends and holidays.

The Transportation Agency has 65 buses in the fleet, including the paratransit service, which is available for door-to-door pick-ups for seniors and other qualifying individuals.

“I’d be the first to say that we need to provide a much more user-friendly system if we want the public to use it,” Mahikoa said. “For the sake of everyone on the island, we need it, but it’s a challenge.”

It all comes down to money because that’s what’s needed for additional staffing and vehicles, as well as satellite baseyards on the north and west sides of the island.

“The only option we see right now is the general excise tax,” Mahikoa said.

That is a one-half percent surcharge the county is considering to add to the already 4 percent tax on purchases on Kauai. The money raised from the surcharge would be earmarked for transportation projects.

Mahikoa and Noyes said they’ve already seen increased usage of both the paths and public transit when expansions happen, and they believe more efficient interfacing of the two systems will lead to a further increase.

“It all plays together and there are so many choices to be made by our decision-makers,” Noyes said. “It’s important they have the foresight to plan our future expansions.”

Limiting rental cars

One option that has been raised is to limit the number of rental cars available on the island. That would force visitors and residents in need of a rental to use other modes of transportation.

Cab driver and owner of At Your Service taxi company, Carrie Myers, said that would be a huge benefit to the taxi industry. She said most taxis, herself included, can carry up to six passengers at one time and about three-fourths of her passengers are visitors.

She doesn’t have to compete with the popular car-sharing service Uber, according to Michael Drake, supervising license examiner and inspector for Kauai’s Department of Motor Vehicles, because the service doesn’t have a license to operate on Kauai, but cabs in the industry are highly competitive.

“We’re all just sitting at the airport waiting for the flights to come in,” Myers said. “And the worst part about it is you don’t know what you’re waiting for.”

She said, at best, she’ll get a fare to the St. Regis in Princeville, which runs about $90. A ride to Poipu is around $50. The shortest ride she’ll give is from the airport to the courthouse, which costs $5.70.

Myers said there are about 50 taxi companies that are registered to do pick-ups at the airport, and she estimates about 40 additional taxi companies that do pre-arranged pick-ups. The difference is that those registered with the airport pay a monthly $150 fee for access to special parking areas where they wait for passengers. Pre-arranged services have to pay 3 percent of their fares to the airport and pick up passengers on an on-call basis.

Myers said she does both to make ends meet at her business.

“I’ve been told that there are more rental vehicles on the road than resident vehicles and the traffic is so, so horrible,” Myers. “I don’t see how they could do it, but I would love it if they could restrict rentals. It’d be great for us.”

Myers said there are some hotels on Kauai that rent out cars for daily excursions and there will always be a need for rental cars because visitors like to explore the island at their own convenience.

“They want to see this island and we want them to because they’re putting money into the economy,” Myers said, “but if we could have less, that’d be wonderful.”

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