Thursday early afternoon after returning from Kapaa after being stuck in traffic for nearly two hours our euphoria suggested by TGI’s editorial titled “Take pride in those million visitors” (7-30-2017) has significantly subsided.
Yes, we retained our pride in our ability to maintain our aloha-spirited attitude that attracts the more than one million visitors and we are thankful to nature for the beautiful environment that we have been sharing with them.
But we are also seriously interested in improving the quality of life for all Kauai residents and that’s why we voice our discontent with the traffic problems so often. The visitors spend a lot of money here, and the services they use will provide employment for many residents. Their large number, however, seriously and negatively affects the traffic on the island, which in turn negatively affects the quality of life here.
What we are complaining about is the lack of proper planning and lack of foresight in the General Plan.
When it comes to rural islands like Kauai, even the wildlife needs to be managed. Wildlife management plans consider measures to reduce animal overpopulation often by allowing shooting a certain number of them. The reason is that their overpopulation negatively affects life for humans here.
Well, aloha means love and our aloha spirit is incompatible with shooting the excess number of visitors, therefore we need to find another solution. Maybe by thinking out of the box. How about keeping the number of visitors but reducing the traffic? Let’s just use simple math.
Based on the figures of the editorial during the first half of 2017, 626,409 visitors came to Kauai, so their total number can be estimated to exceed 1.2 million for the entire year. The overwhelming majority of them will rent cars.
It was also stated that if the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and Kauai Visitors Bureau (KVB) were disbanded, the visitors still would come, because we are already known as the paradise. Perhaps so, but if they could not rent cars, many of those would not come because of our poor public transportation system, unless we do something about it.
Let’s just assume that on the average three visitors use one rental car. That means 400,000 car rentals for the island over the year. Dividing it by the number of days, 365, we can see that every day we will have 1096 rental cars on our roads in addition to the vehicles of the locals. That already explains the traffic congestion!
If by law or ordinance the number of rentable cars were to be reduced by half on this island, it would put only 548 rental cars in the traffic every day as opposed to 1096. Most of the rental cars are reserved in advance so those who cannot rent a car would not come, unless we provide efficient local transportation that they could use instead while staying on Kauai. This of course, should be offered to them by the HTA or KVB ads. So, don’t disband them, instead let them promote a new alternative transportation on our island.
The rental companies with the money that they save on reducing their fleets due to the restrictive measures could operate two or three beach trolley routes to all beaches on the island (with surfboard racks and bike racks) and charging high enough fares (plus selling one-, two- or three-day passes and weekly passes, etc.) they could recoup their lost revenue. They could even combine those with shopping shuttles or run those alternatively.
Or if they are not interested, the county can run these beach shuttles. This would distribute the traffic more evenly, reduce DUIs and would give a relief on the roads to those who have to use their cars. We would save on additional road building which of course would lure new developments that we presently don’t need. The beach shuttle runs are popular and working fine in Costa Rica, at many beach communities in Florida, in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Once you have an effective transportation system to places where visitors and locals want to go you will have passengers. Almost all visitors want to go to the beaches. So, if we provide efficient transportation even some local car user will switch to it occasionally, which in turn will reduce traffic on the roads. Even some rental car users may use the beach shuttles at times.
If we want further improvement in the future while our buses and trolleys are running we can consider plans for building an environmentally clean light rail system to replace most of the buses and trolleys. The money saved on road building could be a substantial start-up capital for it.
Building roads will take years, and their construction will add to the misery of getting from one place to another, plus it’s not guaranteed that they will improve traffic when ready. Restrictions on the other hand could be implemented this year and the beach trolley transportation can be organized within a short time.
It will not be a panacea, because other restrictions and improvements will have to be implemented as well to support our desired rural life style. There will be people who don’t like restrictions, but I think that the number of those who don’t like traffic jams and want a speedy solution far outweigh the former. We have been living with so many restrictions (and some of them are nonsense) why not adopt one that will improve the quality of our life. It should be the choice of the local people and not that of the County Council.
János Keoni Samu is a resident of Kalaheo.