Officials estimate 2,500 vehicles are abandoned each year in the county.

Maui has launched a pilot program that will cover the cost of towing and recycling cars destined for the junkyard — or worse, illegally dumped on the side of the road.

Maui County locator map

For years, the county has struggled to get a handle on the constant barrage of derelict vehicles abandoned in remote areas, along busy roadways and in parking lots.

Officials are hoping that by covering the bill to haul them off — which can run as high as several hundred dollars — they can entice more residents to recycle broken-down cars.

People dumped vehicles in the remote Kanaio community in East Maui, requiring a multi-agency effort to clean up the mess in 2022. (Tess Herman/Maui County/2022)

Last month, the county had to haul away 50 vehicles from an illegal dumping ground in West Maui, as Hawaii News Now reported. And last year on the other side of the island, the “great Kanaio car clean-up” made headlines across the state when a team of government officials and tow truck companies hauled away an estimated 175 vehicles wasting away on state land in the remote community. 

The cars and trucks in Kanaio had been piling up there for seven years, state officials said. It ended up taking roughly three weeks — and upward of $300,000 — to haul them all away.

That’s just a small fraction of the 2,500 vehicles that officials estimate are abandoned each year across Maui County.

“People were painting the dead cars on the side of the road with flowers and pretty drawings — like if it’s going to sit here, might as well make it look good,” Rep. Elle Cochran of West Maui said in an interview Thursday. 

An estimated 175 cars were hauled away during the “great Kanaio car clean up.” (Department of Land and Natural Resources/2022)

Before winning election to the House, Cochran served as a Maui County Council member, leading the infrastructure and environmental management committee for eight years. During her time on the council, she said she tried to troubleshoot the longstanding problem but ran into issues that ranged from a lack of attention from top county leaders to a shortage of funding that briefly shut down the county’s existing vehicle recycling program in 2018.

Since then, however, the county has expanded its assistance for residents who want to get rid of their old cars. In 2020, the government made it so that residents could scrap up to two cars a year without ever having to visit a Division of Motor Vehicle and Licensing office. 

The number of staff within the office in charge of dealing with junk cars also grew to four from two. And now, armed with an additional $1.3 million in funding for the next year, they’re hoping to break down one of the last barriers: the cost of towing the vehicle to the recycling facility. 

“We’re expected to have fewer abandoned vehicles with this program because we’re reducing some of the economic obstacles that people face when they have an old vehicle and they just can’t get rid of it,” Tess Herman, who runs the county’s abandoned vehicle program, said during a weekly county radio show on Thursday.

This map shows the service area for the new pilot program. (Screenshot/Maui County/2023)

Under the new Maui County Tow and Scrap Pilot Program that launched this month, Maui residents can call a tow company to haul away their car to the metal recycling center in Central Maui. Those who live in Upcountry or South, Central or West Maui can call D&D Towing at 808-871-1185, and those in East Maui call Maui Tow and Transport at 808-871-9184. 

A similar program is already available on Lanai, and officials are working to launch a program for Molokai in the coming months. But in the meantime, officials are still asking residents to call the county to report vehicles that are abandoned, which are otherwise difficult for county workers to identify.

“We don’t discriminate whether it’s a sports car or an old beauty,” Herman said. “So we rely on our citizens.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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