Hawaii’s mayors were keenly focused on transportation during their annual pilgrimage to the Legislature Wednesday, where they sought help on several fronts.

They asked lawmakers to add to drivers’ annual registration a $25 fee to cover the removal of abandoned vehicles. The mayors also asked for help regulating electric scooters in the state vehicle code, plus the authority to charge fees to ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

As rail service approaches, they want state lawmakers to institute a felony charge for criminals who interfere with driverless vehicles.

On behalf of all the mayors, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also asked for a state resolution that would require counties to explore congestion pricing – the fees that some cities have started charging for driving during rush hour in order to help lighten traffic.

“We are looking to use this method to control traffic on each of our islands,” Caldwell said.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell greets Maui Mayor Mike Victorino before joint WAM Finance committee meeting 2020.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, left, greets Maui Mayor Mike Victorino at the mayors’ annual appearance before the Legislature on Wednesday. The mayors are seeking state support for transportation regulation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Ultimately, the counties will need authority from state lawmakers to put together such a pricing scheme, Caldwell said, so it made more sense to involve them earlier.

That way, it’s not “dead on arrival” when the city requests such authority, Caldwell said.

“I think it has to start here.”

Congestion pricing has succeeded in other cities such as London, where car traffic plummeted nearly 40% in the program’s first 11 years and public transit use spiked. But politically, such an idea is a tough sell.

“There’s a lot of political capital here because you’re talking about basically having people pay to travel during peak travel time and to decide not to if that’s not important,” he said.

Approaching Aiea Eastbound early morning commute traffic.
On Oahu, the average distance between people’s homes and available jobs is shortening — but the average commute time is growing longer. An increasing number of people drive alone to work, which is worsening traffic conditions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Honolulu leaders have considered congestion pricing before. Briefly.

In 2007, then-councilman Charles Djou introduced a resolution urging city officials to study whether it would work. Ultimately, then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann shot down the idea because Honolulu commuters wouldn’t have enough alternative options to get around.

On Wednesday, Caldwell acknowledged that currently there aren’t enough options but that at least part of the island’s elevated rail line should be operating once any congestion pricing scheme would take effect.

Harrison Rue, the city’s transit oriented development director, and Jon Nouchi, the city’s deputy transportation services director, traveled to other cities earlier this fall, including London, to see how such a scheme might eventually work in Hawaii, Caldwell added.

Pushback On Proposed Vehicle Fees

Hawaii island Sen. Lorraine Inouye rejected the mayors’ proposal to charge a state fee to cover abandoned vehicle removal. That’s a county-level matter, she said.

“You already have the authority under the current statute,” said Inouye, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. 

Caldwell disputed that, saying the counties could implement a $10 fee, but not one for $25.

Sen. Kurt Fevella said the abandoned vehicle proposal is counter-productive. Taxes on drivers are already so high that drivers fall behind and can’t re-register the vehicle until they pay, leading them to abandon their vehicles, he said. The senator said he owns a functional motorcycle he can’t ride because it’s years behind in taxes he can’t afford to pay.

The counties requested state action on electric scooters, which have caused chaos when they were rapidly introduced in big cities around the world, including Honolulu in May 2018.

During the brief week that Lime scooters appeared on some Honolulu streets, they drew record ridership, company officials reported.

City officials have said they need the state’s vehicular code to be updated before the scooters can return.

“We don’t want to prohibit them,” Caldwell said. “We want to regulate them.” 

The mayors also want rideshare companies to pay their fair share in exchange for using state and county resources, Caldwell said. A bill would allow the counties to charge a per-ride fee like in other cities. Chicago charges 67 cents per ride. New York City charges nearly 9% of the total fare, plus either a $2.75 per-ride fee or 75 cents per person, per shared ride.

Cities around the world are seeing the benefits of Uber and Lyft, but they are using our infrastructure and our assets to make their money,” he said. 

Lime scooters were available for use for about a week in 2018 before the city shut them down. Hawaii mayors are asking state officials to update the vehicle code before the scooters might return. Marcel Honore/Civil Beat

Each county also made individual requests.

Honolulu is seeking the ability to advertise its bids not only in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser but also online; clear up confusion about a retirement system formatting issue; and eliminate Election Day as a state holiday and replace it with a day off every other year, either on birthdays or a floating holiday.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim asked legislators to address his county’s physician shortage by extending a general excise tax exemption to medical services performed within group and private practices. He also requested help with building infrastructure in Puna and addressing housing and homelessness.

After experiencing several natural disasters last year, Kauai’s Mayor Derek Kawakami requested a study of flood mitigation for the Waimea River. He also wants an engineering review of the Kilauea Gym, the island’s highest-capacity and only county-owned shelter on the North Shore. Kawakami said he wants to fortify the structure so it can withstand stronger storms.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said he wants state support to rebuild or relocate Maui Community Correctional Center, where there was a “devastating” riot last year. With an operational capacity of 301 beds, inmate totals have reached nearly 500, and inmates have had to sleep on floors next to toilets, according to the mayor.

“It’s not something I ever imagined would happen,” Victorino said of the uprising. 

He also asked legislators to request a state audit of the State Historic Preservation Division which he said in prepared materials will “improve accountability for archaeologists responsible for surveying developing sites.”

Victorino also submitted a delayed request for general excise tax money for transportation purposes.

“I humbly apologize for taking so long for Maui County, but I too would like to get the GET,” he said. “Give us that opportunity, please … If you gotta lambast anybody, lambast me.”

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