Hawaii is one of the most expensive places in the country to depend on a car. When fuel costs, maintenance and repair charges, insurance premiums and parking fees are factored in, the average person who commuted to work by car in Honolulu last year spent about $12,710, according to the American Public Transit Association. It should be no surprise, then, that transportation costs represent one of the largest items in most family budgets.

But it’s not just the money, it’s the aggravation and the time wasted that also take their toll. If you are stuck in traffic, you are not spending quality time with your loved ones. You are not doing the things you enjoy, or checking off items on your must-do list. You are not doing any of the things that make you happy or give you a sense of accomplishment.

A 2011 article in Slate by Annie Lowrey cited a variety of research, all coming to the same conclusion: spending too much time in traffic congestion causes obesity, physical disabilities, loneliness, divorce, stress, and insomnia. Knowing the financial, emotional and physical price of traffic congestion, what can be done?

Quite a few cars were reverse parked at Ala Moana Shopping Center top deck.  10 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The top deck parking lot at Ala Moana Shopping Center. Transportation costs are a large part of a Hawaii resident’s budget.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

On the cost side, transportation departments are working to make it easier, more convenient, and reliable to get around without a car (or even just one less car per household). Giving up a car can make the difference between buying or renting, or making it possible to afford a college education. Greater convenience can come through major public investments, like enhancing the transit system and improving the roads on which TheBus and TheHandi-Van, as well as private vehicles, travel. But we can also build in more convenience with smaller public and private investments that give travelers more choices – like carshare, bikeshare, protected bike lanes, and more accessible traveler information.

Lower cost “systems management and operations” solutions focus on better coordination between the various pieces of the transportation network, such as coordinating bus schedules to arrive at the station when the train arrives, making the transportation system more efficient and cost-effective. Carshare services provide a privately financed solution that allows consumers to pay for a car for short trips on an as-needed basis when taking the bus just doesn’t make sense — like taking home a big load of groceries. And both the public and private options can be combined with individual decisions, such as living near work or transit.

Or public transportation agencies could just give better real-time info to travelers and operators via smart-phone, text or conventional broadcast channels and let them choose the transportation mode at a given time that makes the most sense from a cost-versus-time standpoint.

There’s an App for That!

Smaller-scale efficiencies that leverage technology can play a big role in reducing the hours and dollars spent in traveling. Simply linking all available parking spaces via an app that lets you reserve a space and pay ahead of time not only saves you time; it keeps your car from circling the streets and adding to congestion.

How about an app that lets you know the time required, and cost, of every trip you might make (via driving, transit, walking, biking, carshare, bikeshare, etc.)? Then people could make the best choice on a trip-by-trip basis. Apps that let you reserve a carshare, a taxi, or a bike at a meeting, right before it ends, or exactly when the next bus or train are arriving, are yet another way we can make travel simpler and more reliable.

Reboot the Commute

These ideas and others are at the heart of an upcoming Urban Mobility Challenge called Reboot the Commute, sponsored by the Energy Excelerator, High Technology Development Corporation, Vinli, the Department of Transportation, Hawaii State Energy Office and Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

Designers, developers, entrepreneurs and others will gather on May 22 and 23 to hear from transportation experts about the challenges facing travelers today. They will then have to come up with a solution or opportunity for a smart application to help solve one of Hawaii’s most pressing transportation problems. These teams will then compete to take their idea to prototype.

We are hoping to see a lot of good ideas come out of this challenge and encourage folks with an interest in helping make travel more efficient to get involved. More information on Reboot the Commute is here.

Read more about the cost of living in Hawaii in Civil Beat’s ongoing series, Living Hawaii.

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About the Author

  • Harrison Rue
    Harrison Rue is Community Building and Transit-Oriented Development Administrator for the City & County of Honolulu. He is leading creation, adoption and implementation of Neighborhood TOD Plans around 19 station areas for Honolulu’s rail line, including revised codes, financial tools, catalytic projects, multimodal transportation and infrastructure improvements, and affordable housing strategies.