WikiWiki Ferry offers fast, smooth commute

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (02/05/00)
By Ray Pendleton

Whoever named it the WikiWiki Ferry certainly knew what they were talking about.

I'm referring to the boat currently being used in a year-long, high speed ferry demonstration project between Barbers Point and Honolulu Harbor. Take it from me, calling it quick in Hawaiian was an understatement.

I, and about 60 others, boarded the 136-passenger ferry at the Aloha Tower Marketplace just before 4:00 p.m. one day last week. In less than 50 minutes, we were stretching our legs on a dock at the state's deep-draft harbor in Leeward O`ahu.

After a short wait, we were again on board, and within another 50 minutes, we were disembarking back at the Aloha Tower.

Go ahead, I dare you. Try making a round trip in your car from downtown to Barbers Point in rush-hour traffic in under two hours.

Of course, speed is just one of the factors being studied by the state's Department of Transportation (DOT) in this $3 million project being conducted with the Pacific Marine and Supply Co. They will also be analyzing costs, along with passenger comfort, convenience and demand in order to identify the requirements of a viable ferry service for O`ahu.

Perhaps, instead of WikiWiki, they could have named it the Malino Ferry, because the ride is incredibly smooth, even when a 25-knot wind is blowing the sea into frothy whitecaps.

Once the 95-foot catamaran powers up onto its hydrofoils, it begins to fly above the ocean, giving its passengers a level, airplane-like ride.

The flying effect is enhanced by the fact that the ferry's seating is inside an air conditioned cabin on airliner-style recliners, complete with fold-down tables. There are even overhead luggage bins for carry-ons.

For those passengers wishing to socialize, there are several areas aft with seating around larger tables. A small, nearby snack bar provides light refreshments.

Another name for this project might have been the Emi, or Cheap Ferry because the present fare is only $1.50, one way. I am sure, of course, the fare is too low to cover costs, even if the ferry was filled to capacity. But, for the moment, it has to be the best buy in Hawai`i.

Where else can you take a comfortable, two-hour, high speed boat ride, with the potential of seeing Pacific humpback whales, for just $3? It's no wonder about half of the passengers on the trip I took appeared to be visitors.

What bothers me is why there are not more residents of Leeward O`ahu using this wonderful service. Instead of battling freeway traffic back and forth to their work downtown each day, they could be using this no-stress method of commuting.

According to Navatek Ships, Ltd's Eric Schiff, one of the people involved in the project, there are about 100 commuters using the ferry on more or less of a daily basis. Naturally, this is not enough to justify the four-trips-a-day service.

In fact, the ferry is even currently listed for sale as a contingency for its possible replacement or cancellation, Schiff told me.

Other than increased advertising, the only other factor that might fill up the ferry would be having beer and wine available for its pau hana passengers. On the successful ferries plying San Francisco's bay, after-work cocktails have always been a vital part of the evening commute.

For more details about the WikiWiki Ferry service, call 848-6360.

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