Privately run marinas should be the goal

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 11/30/02)
By Ray Pendleton

A newspaper article by Honolulu businessman Cliff Slater caught my eye recently.

Slater made critical comparisons between government run and privately run services and it occurred to me that while he used trash collecting as an example, it might be interesting to compare public and privately run recreational boat marinas in the same manner.

To begin with, he noted that it is essentially impossible to measure the efficiency of government agencies because they are monopolies with no competition with which to compare them.

In Hawai`i, unlike most states, our government holds a near-monopoly on marinas with very few exceptions. Among them are the two-year-old Ko `Olina Marina, a couple in Keehi Lagoon and three or four private yacht clubs on O`ahu.

And, in fact, it was when the state finally compared its newly proposed mooring rate increases with the rates at Waikiki Yacht Club that it decided to reduce some of the charges before they were made effective.

Still, as Slater pointed out in his column, without competition, government services are provided to the public without variety. It's a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Several years ago, in a meeting with a state harbormaster, I was told that when it comes to marina facilities in Hawai`i, "boaters here don't need a Cadillac, they like Chevrolets."

My response was that boaters should be given the opportunity to have a choice between luxury and utilitarian. And the only way that was likely to happen was if private enterprise managed our marinas.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture the competitive process at work if different companies ran the state's marinas on O`ahu.

Because each would be operating with a profit motive, they would be inclined to offer whatever facilities and services they thought would attract a sufficient portion of the boating market to allow them to survive and prosper.

In Waianae, for instance, with its harbor a favorite for trailer boaters and fishermen, an emphasis would be placed on maintaining efficient boat launching ramps, cost-effective moorings and convenient fish-handling facilities.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Ala Wai boat harbor - as a major focal point in the world-famous destination resort of Waikiki - would surely be transformed into a state-of-the-art marina.

A private company taking over the Ala Wai would quickly look to providing the kind of amenities found at better marinas throughout the world.

Included in these would be new docks, better security, more and better restrooms, showers and laundry facilities, holding tank pump-out stations, and last but not least, customer oriented employees.

At the middle of the spectrum, Keehi Lagoon would become a midrange marina complex. Boaters who may have been priced out of a newly upscaled Ala Wai, would, no doubt, be highly sought after by companies that were able to offer less expensive accommodations due to Keehi's more industrial location.

In each marina, there could be entrepreneurs willing to provide whatever it takes to attract the customers they must have to stay in business.

To paraphrase Slater, one of these days Hawai`i may get competitive marinas and we'll wonder why we put up with the nonsense of state-run marinas for so long.

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