- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - A ferry that runs between Molokai and Maui is reducing service in an attempt to stay afloat.

Lahaina Cruise Co. President and Senior Captain Dave Jung said ridership has plummeted in the last six months, which he blames in part to competition from airlines that are able to offer cheaper and faster interisland trips.

The company plans to ask the state Public Utilities Commission to allow changing the ferry schedule from two daily roundtrips to one per day, Wailuku newspaper, The Maui News (https://ow.ly/KKq5X ), reported Tuesday.

The PUC regulates ferry fares, but airline fares aren’t subject to the same oversight, Jung said.

A one-way ferry trip costs $62 and takes an hour and 45 minutes. Hawaiian Airlines has fares as low as $59 and Mokulele Airlines’ fares are as low as $54. A flight takes about 20 minutes.

“People are going to go where prices are cheapest,” Jung said.

If the PUC doesn’t approve the service reduction, the company may suspend all ferry service between Maui and Molokai, he said.

The ferry that departs Molokai’s Kaunakakai Harbor at 5:15 a.m. averages only 15 people per trip, “which doesn’t cover the cost of fuel,” Jung said. Many of the passengers on that boat are commuters who live on Molokai but work at Maui’s hotels and resorts.

Jung said the company subsidizes fares for commuters so they only pay $25 roundtrip. “It’s a great community service and a great benefit, and it (commuter fare) needs to stay low so it’s worth it for somebody to be a commuter,” he said.

Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat on the county council, called the ferry a lifeline that must continue. Jung has been meeting with council members and the mayor’s administration about a possible county subsidy for the ferry.

“Will he need the state or county to step in for some sort of subsidy? I’m not sure,” Crivello said. “There’s no guarantee we have the kinds of funds that he needs to sustain that operation.

Possible reduction in ferry service would hurt student athletes, said Lee DeRouin, athletic director at Molokai High School. The school uses the ferry for 95 percent of its games, he said. Just one daily trip would mean the students would have to spend an extra night on Maui, at an added expense. Airline change fees become costly because which players can attend games is often decided at the last-minute, he said.


Information from: The Maui News, https://www.mauinews.com

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