Wednesday, May 20, 2009


SAIL AWAY: We couldn’t help but be amused by an article in the Maui News describing the Superferry supporters picking over the bones at the auction of the venture’s paraphernalia

Reporter Chris Hamilton described the paltry pickin’s and said

All who were interviewed said they were Superferry proponents. Although excited by an auction atmosphere, most still called it a glum day. Many people, though, expected Superferry to return in a couple years after the legal wrangling has run its course.

It’s hard to imagine upon what the wishin’ and hopin’ crowd are basing their expectations these days but Monday Dave Shapiro’s post-mortem tried to stare down reality by rehashing one of the original argument for the ferry- that car and passenger transport ferries are successful businesses on islands across the world and so we should have one here too.

In trying to make the case he quoted a couple of US professors, Dick Miller and Betty Sugarman, as saying the state should be establishing an interisland ferry just like they do on the mainland as part of their highway systems

They concluded by saying

"To serve these needs the closest equivalent to a highway system would be inexpensive, reliable, and regular ferry service. It is the state’s job to fulfill this responsibility, just as all states assume responsibility for highways."

Politics, state misdeeds and military madness issues aside, none but the Pollyannas can deny the venture was a dismal failure in a business sense. Even with far-below-cost fares they couldn’t attract enough passengers in the two years they operated to have made money even if they had been charging full fare.

Yet the quotes in Hamilton’s article and comments on Shapiro’s post indicate that people apparently ignore all that and continue to look country and world-wide and say “if it works there it will work here”.

But one fact has seemingly been overlooked since the days almost 10 years ago when this false truism reared it’s ugly head.

Every single successful ferry system in the world connects islands with a continental “mainland” of some sort. All of them have a point of connection or terminus that allows the customer base that includes “the rest of the world”.

And because that’s not possible in Hawai`i without a 2,000 mile ferry link there simply is not a sufficient customer base to make a ferry successful in a financial sense.

That is the fatal flaw in the Superferry’s business plan, one that ultimately brought down the venture and should put a nail in the coffin of any future attempts at reviving the concept of an “H-4”.

Successful ferries in places from the islands around the Seattle, Washington area to Scandinavia all connect to vast continents and customers from perhaps thousands of miles around have access to them if they desire to go to the island destinations.

The number of cars and people that can patronize those ferries in is the tens if not hundreds of millions whereas, even assuming service between all of the main Hawaiian islands, the number of vehicles and adult passengers here tops out at about a million or so.

And don’t forget- in order to forge a dependable convenient “highway” type system, ferries in most places run many times a day making “early morning in, late evening out” a possibility for passengers.

Many factors came up over the years that led to the demise of the Superferry. But those who refuse to learn from the experience would do well to look at those aspects as merely small contributory factors to a venture doomed to failure from the start due to the forced economy of scale that a handful of tiny islands thousands of miles from a land mass presents.

1 comment:

Mauibrad said...

Interesting thoughts. Maybe you are right, that there cannot be a viable interisland ferry system here. Heavens knows it's been tried and failed many times now. I had just assumed that if it were done just exactly right that it could work, but maybe the air transport is just too competitive. The only advantage of a ferry to a plane is for the Oahu people to take their cars to the Neighbor islands, and we don't want or need their cars here. Still I cannot help thinking about all those people in their cars on any given highway on Oahu showing up on a news traffic cam. If only a small percentage of those people actually tried the ferry, it would be viable. Most of them never wanted to even try the HSF. Maybe you are right, Andy.