North Shore shuttle returning

PRINCEVILLE — North Shore residents and visitors will have another way to get around this summer.

Kauai County received $160,000 from the Hawaii Tourism Authority to bring back the North Shore Shuttle program, said George Costa, Kauai County director of the Office of Economic Development.

The program, which originally rolled out in November 2014, will be funded by HTA for three months, during the peak tourist season.

Concerns with parking and traffic congestion are what prompted HTA to fund the shuttle, said Daniel Nahoopii, director of tourism research for HTA.

“There’s not enough parking for residents and visitors to go Hanalei, Ke’e, and anywhere in between,” he said. “There needs to be a way to alleviate congestion.”

If all goes well, he expects the shuttle to start service on July 15.

According to the HTA, visitor arrivals to Kauai have risen 15 percent over four years. Through April of this year, Kauai has seen 372,000 visitors. The increased number of people visiting the island, coupled with 70,000 residents, has put a strain on the infrastructure.

Employees at North Shore shops said they support the shuttle.

“I’ve had so many tourists come in and say, ‘there’s no bus here,’” said Linda Almond, a salesperson at Hot Rocket, a clothing store in the Ching Young Village.

She said bringing back the shuttle is a “grand idea.”

“It would bring a lot of people to the North Shore who don’t rent cars,” she said.

The OED hopes the shuttle will encourage visitors to leave their vehicles at their hotels and take the shuttle into Hanalei and Haena, where traffic is heavy. They are in negotiations with bus companies around Kauai to decide which company will offer the service.

“We’re working on the details and budgets with a few companies before a decision is made,” Costa said.

The shuttle will run from the Princeville Airport and will make designated stops at Princeville resorts, the Princeville Shopping Center, Ching Young Village, Wainiha Village and Ke’e Beach.

The pilot program will have two shuttles. One will serve the Princeville Airport to Ching Young Village loop. The other will go from Ching Young Village to Kee Beach. Both loops will run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and make stops every hour.

A one-way trip for visitors will cost $4, while residents will be charged $2.

“It’ll basically mirror the first shuttle program, except this one will start from the Princeville Airport, with a park and ride for visitors driving from Kapaa, Waipouli, Lihue and Poipu,” Costa said.

In November 2014, the Kauai County Council approved spending $200,000 to fund a six-month North Shore Shuttle program. The goal was to provide more affordable public transportation to previously unserved areas of the North Shore, while also reducing traffic and parking congestion at the end of the road at Ke‘e Beach.

During the six months of operation, about 9,000 people used the shuttle, according to numbers provided by the OED.

In May 2015, the council voted 4-2 to eliminate funding for the service, citing hard financial times, and saying it wasn’t fair to the taxpayers to pay for the service.

Despite the setback, Costa said the team learned from the program.

“We took to heart from what the council said at the time,” he said. “The mission was to go back and seek other partners.”

In addition to contacting HTA, the OED met with the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the state Legislature, Costa said.

“We started with DLNR because much of the impacted area is in Haena State Park, and we felt that DLNR should be at the table with this request,” he said.

After asking DLNR for financial assistance, Costa said he was told to approach the state Legislature because that’s where the money would come from.

“So we met with Senator Kouchi and made a request (for funding). And we also made a request to the Hawaii Tourism Authority,” he said. “Out of the agencies, HTA came to our aid.”

One issue is hikers who use the Ke‘e Beach parking lot to hike the Na Pali Coast or the Kalaulau Trail, said Nahoopii, who also serves as a Kauai liason for HTA.

“Hikers park at Kee Beach early in the morning, and their cars are there all day, which blocks beach access for others,” he said.

Another issue is on-street parking when the North Shore parking lots are full, he said. Because people end up parking on the street, it blocks both residents and emergency vehicles from getting in and out of residential areas, Nahoopii said.

“The shuttle isn’t meant to encourage more visitors,” he said. “It’s a way to open up more resources. We all know summer is an issue on Kauai, so it’s critical we open resources.”

Costa is working with North Shore hotels to step up after the HTA money runs out.

“We hope this can be funded, on a long-term basis, by the visitor industry,” he said.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said getting hotel support is a priority.

“This is a one-shot deal, and it’s up to us to make it work,” she said. “This is an attempt to try to do something out there, and we feel strongly it’s not up to the people who live in the area to continue with nothing.”

St. Regis Princeville officials could not be reached for comment.

Beatrice Morris, office manager of NaPali Catamaran, also in the Ching Young Village, said because the sea tour company is next to the last bus stop, it gets a lot of people asking how to get to Ke‘e Beach.

“We’ve been having more people coming in who are camping at Haena State Park, so it will help those people who are camping there without a car,” she said.

The shuttle is needed for residents, too, Almond added.

“The mantra here is ‘no bus, no go,’” she said.

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