HA‘ENA — The end of the road is just the beginning for nonprofit organizations Hui Maka‘ainana o Makana and The Hanalei Initiative, which took over management and operation of the North Shore Shuttle from Waipa to Ha‘ena State Park last Sunday.
The hui obtained a one-year permit to oversee and manage the park’s reservation and shuttle system in late June from Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks.
The group then subcontracted the system to the THI, which had previously operated a shuttle in conjunction with a for-profit entity. According to THI, an efficient shuttle service is an important way to combat traffic congestion and overcrowding, which have pushed locals out of the park.
“What’s good for the community is good for the visitor, and what’s good for the visitor is good for the community,” said Joel Guy, executive director of THI. “That’s our goal: to try and create an area the visitors are happy to be at, and the residents have a chance to go back to a place that’s so special to them.”
Before the historic April 2018 rains, nearly 3,000 visitors flocked to Ha‘ena each day. When the Kuhio Highway access reopened in 2019 following the closure of the only road in and out, the park limited its daily maximum capacity to 900 individuals, and put the shuttle service in place.
“That ran for 10 months before COVID shut it down,” Guy said. “In that time, we moved about 70,000 people into that park via shuttle, and we removed about 35,000 cars from the road out here.”
The hui’s new involvement improves the shuttle service by simplifying users’ experience, according to Guy.
“Now we run the door (to the park) and the shuttle, rather than just the shuttle,” he explained. “When you integrate the two, the user experience is far superior, because you’re not looking at two different whole worlds. The private contractor had different refund policies. It was just super-confusing.”
THI hopes the newly-streamlined system and an emphasis on customer service will help solidify the shuttle as the default mode of transportation for visitors traveling to and from Ha‘ena State Park, thereby further reducing traffic on Kuhio Highway.
“Back in ‘65, ‘66, you could remember a car going by your place every four hours. I’ve seen this place change a lot,” said Sherman Maka, a shuttle employee. “This, I think, is a good thing, starting by keeping as many cars as we can out of the road.”
Waimea resident Klayton Kubo paid multiple visits to the park in recent weeks, and was impressed with the shuttle’s impact.
“We went twice: once when the shuttle was not running and yesterday,” Kubo said on Monday, noting non-residential traffic noticeably lessened when the shuttle was operational, which improved access for locals like himself.
But shuttles alone are not enough to combat Ha‘ena’s traffic and crowding woes, as visitors continue to park illegally and risk a $235 fine. According to Guy, concentrated enforcement of no-parking laws is essential to the successful remediation of the situation.
“Nobody’s really enforcing right now. Although yesterday, we did see some tickets (issued by the Kaua‘i Police Department), which was really exciting,” he said. “The struggle is, how do you have a dedicated person to continue to do that? Because that’s not sustainable for KPD. They just have too many things going on.
“Enforcement’s huge, shuttles are huge, and then parking management is huge,” Guy said. “That’s how this works. Otherwise, it doesn’t.”
Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.