Honolulu is the state’s main transportation hub. Its airport, harbors and roads are among the state’s most heavily utilized. Honolulu suffers from serious rush hour congestion that makes commuting an ordeal for hundreds of thousands of its residents.
While the neighbor islands all have regional airports, Honolulu International Airport is the primary gateway for air travel to the U.S. mainland and the Pacific region, as well as the main entry point for most Hawaii tourists. Read more about Hawaii tourism.
Honolulu’s harbors also receive the tourists who arrive on cruise ships, but they serve a more important purpose as the center of the islands’ shipping industry. Although efforts are underway to make the state more self-sufficient, about 80 percent of Hawaii’s goods are imported, including two-thirds of its food.
Honolulu suffers from serious rush hour congestion that makes commuting an ordeal for hundreds of thousands of its residents. During the 2008 election Honolulu voters approved a steel-on-steel rail system] by a very slim margin, giving the city approval for the Honolulu Rail Project.
The City and County of Honolulu has about 2,000 miles of streets and roads under its jurisdiction, while the state administers 21 roads and highways across Oahu. All but 13 percent of households have cars, contributing to Honolulu traffic congestion problems. Honolulu also has a nationally-acclaimed public transportation system, which the Federal Transit Administration ranks fourth highest ridership-per-capita in the nation.
TheBus, operated by Oahu Transit Services, Inc., has more than 100 routes and serves more than 72 million passengers a year. The city’s Handi-Van service for disabled riders has annual ridership of about 850,000. The average number of weekday trips for TheBus and Handi-Van is 238,800. TheBus fleet includes 531 buses, including 20 new 60-foot articulated hybrid-electric buses. These new buses have 55 seats and can hold 100 passengers. The majority of the fleet consists of 40-foot buses with 37 seats and a 59 passenger capacity.
Compared to other major U.S. cities, Honolulu’s “travel time tax” ranks among the worst in the nation, comparable to Los Angeles, even though Honolulu’s level of total congestion ranks far lower.
Up to 75 percent of Oahu commuters use H-1 during peak periods, causing bottlenecks in several areas. At the Middle Street merge, for example, traffic can slow to 8 mph. During morning rush-hour, the roughly 20-mile drive from Kapolei to downtown Honolulu lasts about 89 minutes — a trip that takes 32 minutes in the opposite direction.
Both the city and state have taken measures to alleviate congestion, including operation of high occupancy vehicle lanes, the movable H-1 zipper lane and using contraflow lanes during designated periods. These strategies have improved traffic flow in some areas, but government leaders have struggled since the 1960s to reach consensus on a rapid transit system that would provide an alternative for commuters and remove enough cars from the road to relieve rush hour congestion.
Any significant solution requires cooperation at every level of government. Jurisdiction over city roads falls under the Department of Transportation Services, while the state Department of Transportation oversees Oahu’s highways, harbors and airports. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Hawaii Division administers approximately $168 million in federal aid annually to help the state and counties — urban Honolulu in particular — deal with congestion, promote safety and protect the environment from negative impacts from traffic.