By: Tara DePonte
While Hawai‘i is all about beautiful beaches and breathtaking mountains, it’s also about traffic. Lots of it.
And in our growing metropolis of Honolulu, it’s just getting worse.
When the Star Advertiser ran an article in April 2013 noting Honolulu as having the second-worst traffic in 2012 (Los Angeles was ranked #1), you could almost hear a collective gasp around O’ahu: “Has our traffic gotten that bad?”
But despite the worsening traffic on O‘ahu, we Hawai‘i residents love our cars. Besides the freedom to travel from Point A to Point B whenever you want, many find car ownership a necessity for their daily commute, which may include dropping off children at more than one school and stopping at the grocery store on the way home. But while cars may feel like a necessity for some, there’s a growing group of O‘ahu residents that are opting out of car ownership in favor of alternative transport. Increasing traffic, car registration and insurance fees, gas prices, and worsening roadway conditions have me daydreaming of ditching my car too. But with limited bike lanes across our City, a Rail system under construction, and bus schedules to contend with, are there other alternatives?
Enter car-share. I recently experienced the growing car-share phenomenon, Car2Go, first hand while in Portland, Oregon. Car2Go, currently in 25 cities across the globe (half of which are in the U.S.), bills its car-share service as “spontaneity on wheels” and here’s why: Car2Go, unlike other current car-shares, provides the convenience of a fleet of vehicles located across the city at a pay-per-minute rate of $0.41. Members pay a one-time fee of $35 to sign-up and are issued an access card that’s about the size of a credit card. To find a car, a member simply accesses Car2Go’s app on their mobile device, swipes the member card to unlock the vehicle, enters their pin on the vehicle dash, and they’re off! The convenience of a car without the inconvenience of insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking fees. With no “home base”, Car2Go’s fleet of vehicles are constantly moving around the city, which, in Portland, encompasses a fairly large area. The handful of times I used Car2Go while in Portland, a car was available within two blocks and a quick two-minute walk. Because of this convenience, city-dwelling members across the globe are ditching car ownership for the on-demand car-share service and an increasing number of city-based companies are utilizing Car2Go for cross-town meetings.
A few of us from the office recently attended a car-share forum organized by the Hawai‘i Energy Policy Forum (HEPF) at the Hawai‘i State Capitol to learn more and show support from the planning community for an expanded car-share service in Honolulu. The forum panel included representatives from the Blue Planet Foundation, City and County of Honolulu, Enterprise Car Share, Car2Go, and Eco Cab. According to Blue Planet Foundation’s presentation at the Forum, if you were to line-up all the cars in Hawai‘i end to end, you’d have a chain of cars from here to Denver! The discussion was lively and it was a packed room of over 50 attendees who, overwhelmingly, showed support for the expansion of car-share in Hawai‘i. We learned that while folks in Honolulu are eagerly awaiting the expansion of car-share, a $3 flat car rental fee on the books—for both traditional daily car rental and car-share services—is pricing car-share out of affordability for users. For example, if someone were to use Car2Go for a 5-minute trip to the grocery store, a $2.05 car-share rental would actually be charged as a $5.05 trip with the $3 car rental fee that’s currently part of State law. For a segment of the population, that makes car-share a far less attractive mode of alternative transportation. As such, HEPF is aiming to get the word out about car-share and enact changes to this law in this legislative session. Car2Go is geared-up to launch a fleet of 150 vehicles on Honolulu’s roadways.
Back to traffic: Will car-share serve to reduce traffic in Honolulu? While I haven’t read any definitive evidence either way, I do think a thriving car-share system in Hawai‘i may make a segment of drivers think twice about owning their own car, which, in turn, may make people think twice about using vehicles at all, opting for mass transit alternatives instead—which could result in traffic reduction. At a macro-level, this could mean Honolulu residents would be able to spend less on car maintenance and fees and more on goods and services such as housing and food. What car-share will do for Honolulu is provide another means for us to get around this beautiful city… a convenient, flexible, and inexpensive means at that.
*Update: HEPF has posted the January Forum presentations and their Transportation Working Group documents here.
**Update: Good news, Car Share enthusiasts! Senate Bill 2731 passed the end of April 2014 stipulating a specific “car-sharing vehicle surcharge tax” of $0.25 per half hour. For most who utilize car share for short trips, this is far less than the $3 per rental tax (no matter the length of time of the rental) that was previously in effect. We’ll continue to keep you posted!