Kauai and Maui officials are rolling out new services and initiatives to address vexing transportation issues on the Islands.
Hawaii, like much of the country, is suffering from both a rental car shortage and labor issues. As many travelers are discovering, including myself on a recent trip to Los Angeles, finding an Uber or Lyft has become much harder than it was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, Uber announced a $250 million incentive initiative to lure drivers back.
"In 2020, many drivers stopped driving because they couldn't count on getting enough trips to make it worth their time," a statement from Uber on the new program said. "In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them, making it a great time to be a driver."
Meanwhile, the tourism rebound is in full swing in the Aloha State. In June, the most recent month for which data is available, occupancy at hotels statewide was 77%, just seven percentage points below that of June 2019, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Additionally, while vacation rental supply was down, occupancy for available units in June hit 80%, a six percentage point increase over June 2019.
The combination of factors has led to sky-high car rental prices, transportation quagmires at airports and traffic and access issues for Hawaii residents.
To help combat the issue, the Kauai Office of Economic Development launched a website, GetAroundKauai.com, in late July that will provide information on transportation options across the Garden Isle. The website was "created in response to the current rental car shortage on Kauai, but has a broader goal of providing people with the resources they need to make more sustainable transportation choices," according to a statement from Kauai County government.
The launch of the site is part of the first efforts to implement the Kauai Destination Management Action Plan in conjunction with the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Each county is developing its own destination management plan as a guide to addressing the impacts of the tourism industry on the state and its residents.
Part of the Kauai plan calls for the government to "encourage low-impact green rides to improve the visitor experience, reduce island traffic, increase small business opportunities and meet climate action goals."
"Our goal is that this new website will serve as a resource to connect travelers with transportation alternatives, such as airport shuttles, rideshares and bike rentals," Nalani Brun, director of the Office of Economic Development, said. "This rental car crisis can become an opportunity for us to shift away from the mind-set that the only way to get around Kauai is with a personal vehicle."
The website, which officials said would be regularly updated, includes an overview of transportation options, a map with Kauai bus stops and routes, regional walking guides and other tips for how to get around Kauai without a car. Weekly blog posts will educate readers on transportation-related topics, such as how to reserve an airport shuttle, parking permit requirements for Kokee State Park and details regarding vehicle access to Hanalei Hill, where a March landslide closed the highway and where repairs are ongoing.
The website also includes a section on "How to Travel With Aloha," which provides tips and recommendations from a local perspective, including avoiding illegal parking and respecting wildlife and maintaining appropriate distance.
"By providing visitors with this resource, we are connecting them to information they need to prepare for their trip and be a respectful visitor while on Kauai," Brun said.
Maui, which in addition to facing similar rental car shortages and price hikes has also reported traffic issues on the Hana Highway and other areas, has also rolled out efforts to ease transportation woes.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority and the state Department of Transportation have partnered with the commercial transportation company Polynesian Adventure Tours on a new shuttle service from Kahului Airport to West Maui and Wailea. The shuttle was launched as a pilot project in early July to offer visitors an additional option for reaching popular resort areas without a car, and to ease traffic in high tourism areas such as the Lahaina/Kaanapali corridor in West Maui.
The new Maui Aloha Shuttle runs three times a day to both the West Maui and Wailea resort areas, with tickets available for purchase at a counter by the airport baggage claim. It costs $50 for a lift to West Maui and $35 for Wailea stops. Return trips to the airport via the shuttle are also available and can be arranged with their hotels or via the Polynesian Adventure Tours website.
Additionally, officials have vowed to address increasing congestion along the scenic Hana Highway.
"We hear a lot of frustration from residents, and we understand that it's something that we really need to address," Maui County managing director Sandy Baz said during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by state Sen. Lynn DeCoite on July 15.
Residents, irritated by illegal parking and tourists stopping on the windy two-lane road for photo ops, have called for the road to be closed to visitors. The road is partially funded with federal funds, said Ed Sniffen, the deputy director of highways with the state DOT, so the state would have to "purchase" the road back from the U.S. government in order to enact such restrictions.
"We're still investigating those types of options to see how we could potentially take control of that roadway to shut it down to anybody but residents or restrict the access in different areas," Sniffen said.
DOT officials did say they were installing new "No Parking" signs near Instagrammable hot spots where visitors tend to illegally park and communicating with car rental companies to share the information. The department is also contemplating a park-and-ride shuttle service to Hana.
HTA officials in collaboration with travel industry organizations are attempting to direct visitors to guided tours of Hana to help alleviate the issues.
Caroline Anderson, HTA director of planning, said it would both help residents and create a more enriching experience for visitors since "tour guides are trained in providing the necessary information about the history, the culture … the geography of the area."