Hawaii grants rate hike to ground transportation firms


HONOLULU -- About 500 Hawaii firms that offer tour buses, vans and limousines will raise their rates 8% Jan. 1. It marks the first time the state granted the companies a rate increase since Jan. 1, 1996. The companies had asked for a 12% increase but settled for 8%.

Hawaii's ground transportation industry is regulated by the state public utilities commission. A spokeswoman for the state's largest ground tour operator, Roberts Hawaii, which has a fleet of 600 vehicles, said the increase will ultimately be passed on to the customer.

Hawaii's land transportation providers will raise their rates 8% Jan. 1. Above, a Roberts Hawaii bus in Waikiki. But it's hard to tell how much prices will rise because the increase is only in the cost of the transportation and does not include admission prices to attractions and food prices that are included in tour packages.

A Roberts Circle Island Tour by bus on Oahu, for example, currently costs $42, and that price could go up a couple of dollars at the most, the spokeswoman said. Many land tours in Hawaii are embedded in larger vacation packages sold by wholesalers on the mainland.

A Classic Custom Vacations spokeswoman said her company sells quite a few bus and van tours of the islands but that the increase in prices "is minimal and will be passed on to the consumer."

The vast majority of land tours in Hawaii are sold during tour company briefings upon arrival in Hawaii or at tour desks in hotel lobbies, and that's where visitors will see some price increases at the retail level, tour company officials said.

Few land tours are booked in advance by travel agents on behalf of their clients, the Roberts spokeswoman said. But she said that if tour prices rise, the agent will get a larger commission for booking them.

Mike Carr, president of Polynesian Adventure Tours, which has 120 vehicles in the state, said it's about time he was permitted to raise his rates. "We haven't had a general rate increase since 1996 and since then our costs have increased," said Carr.

"Unlike the hotels, we can't arbitrarily increase our rates. I frankly am not sure that this increase is enough to cover our increase in costs." Carr said there was some discussion in the tour bus industry as to whether now is the right time to raise rates, especially with Hawaii tourism hurting badly. "The fact that Sept. 11 [terrorist attacks and the ensuing fallout in tourism] happened is tragic, but we have to do this and we are fully justified in doing it," said Carr.

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