About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

It’s one of the last places to draw locals into Waikiki, and it just seems fair.

Earlier this year about 2,200 digital parking meters, many of which were in Waikiki, weren’t working — and parking was free for months.

Yes, months of free parking on the congested streets of Waikiki!

That was a boon for people like me who surf in town. I imagined languid sessions, not worried about losing track of time and getting stuck with a $35 parking ticket.

I didn’t anticipate what actually happened: I couldn’t find an open parking stall.

That was never a problem before. I would normally get to Waikiki before sunrise and find a stall, no problem. Now that parking was free, people parked their cars overnight.

People who work in the neighborhood, who normally paid for parking or had to pay meters every few hours, could now leave their cars for entire shifts — or longer.

It made the parking situation for users like me — people who just wanted to surf or grab an acai bowl — worse.

I don’t blame workers and residents for taking advantage of the free parking. Those few months really showcased the overwhelming need for affordable parking in places like Waikiki and downtown, especially now when more companies have cut back on parking benefits for their employees and parking costs have exploded.

That’s what makes the parking situation at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor so important. There’s an opportunity to create a solution, as the state looks at changes to the way 900 stalls are currently assigned.

Right now the DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is proposing to modify the current parking, which it says is split evenly between permitted, paid and free stalls.

The parking area at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor is under review by the state. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The state agency is proposing that either all permit-based and free parking stalls be converted into paid stalls or it will get rid of all permit parking stalls and reduce the free parking to 125 stalls fronting the Hilton Lagoon. It also wants to raise the hourly parking rate from $1 to $2, and change the parking time for free spots to three hours from six.

This proposal will likely be discussed at the Board of Land and Natural Resources meeting next week.

But, according to Kate Thompson with Save Ala Wai Surf Parking, there are solutions that would benefit everyone, including residents who feel they are increasingly being pushed out of Waikiki.

The group, along with the Oahu chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, has been lobbying to keep the stalls free, citing concerns about the financial impacts on the community and making access to public and cultural ocean resources more difficult. The boat harbor was designated a non-commercial harbor in 1957, reserved for public use.

She says one solution would be to implement a smart-parking system, which would allow residents to park for free. Hawaii-based Parklinq has already developed and installed this kind of two-tiered parking system at the Maui Ocean Center and Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui. This would allow the state to garner more revenue through paid stalls while allowing residents to park for free.

At the same time, the state could designate a part of a parking area currently reserved for boaters but rarely used as a paid lot.

People — namely those who work in Waikiki and need parking — could pay a reasonable monthly fee to park in this lot during the day. That way they don’t take up the free stalls, which should be for recreational users.

But, she adds, all this would only work if the area is properly managed and staffed.

“Right now there are no parking attendants, no one walking around marking tires or looking at (permit) stickers, no one has the capacity to give tickets,” she says, adding that vehicles are being towed without first getting citations. “It’s a mess.”

Opponents of the state’s proposed changes are frustrated that eliminating or reducing free parking stalls at the harbor is still on the table.

In February, Senate Bill 1034 was passed in a joint committee hearing. The measure would permanently make at least 300 parking stalls in and around the harbor free for people who want to access the ocean or perform Native Hawaiian cultural practices, but it was never scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee by the March 2 deadline.

So here we are again.

I would hate to see the harbor, really one of the last places in Waikiki where you can park for free, turn into another metered lot. It’s sad to think even fewer locals will venture into a neighborhood that was once the playground of Hawaiian royalty, a place that now only visitors get to enjoy.

I see both sides of this — but there’s a third to consider: How can we get locals back into Waikiki? How can we convince them to spend the day at Kuhio Beach, walk along Kalakaua Avenue, grab dinner at one of the dozens of great restaurants in the neighborhood?

Maybe you need to offer cheap — if not free — parking.

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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

If the parking fees are used to maintain the parking stalls, it makes sense to set the fee amount to what is needed to maintain the stalls. Some civil servant or consultant probably determined what was needed and set the amount.

Averagejoe · 2 months ago

Years ago I was stayng temporarily in my boat at Ala Wai harbor while visiting from neighbor island. While I recall the permanent slips had a reserved parking spot, the temporary slips did not - even though I was paying the harbor for my slip - and I had to move my rental car every night to the pay parking lot, even though the spot near my boat sat empty all night due to overnight prohibited. One afternoon it was raining and took an early nap and overslept, woke later that evening to find my car had been towed, it had only been about half an hour past the time. The tow trucks cruised around at the cut off time and made $ off that system. It cost me hundreds of $ and half of the next day to go get my rental car out of impound. The whole thing left a bad memory of that experience and a system that did not make any sense, especially for temporary harbor customers.

Chris · 2 months ago

The only solution to parking issues is to provide options so people don't need to drive. More bus routes, more busses, more protected biked lanes, and allowing boards on busses will reduce the demand for parking. There is physically not a enough room for us all to store a vehicle at the destinations we want to visit.

CATipton · 2 months ago

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