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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Moloka'i-to-Maui ferry ridership off to slow start

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

LAHAINA, Maui — The Molokai Princess made her inaugural run from Kaunakakai on Moloka'i, to Lahaina yesterday with only three passengers aboard — not a good start for the ferry service, but not entirely unexpected.

Eric and Sally Greufe disembark at Lahaina. The Greufes, of Truckee, Calif., were two of three passengers on the ferry's maiden run. Richard Dixon of Moloka'i was the third.

Tim Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I'm surprised we had three people,'' said Dave Jung, president and general manager of Sea Link of Hawai'i Inc. "We weren't sure we would have anybody.''

There was little publicity on Moloka'i about yesterday's ferry launching, Jung said, and it will take time to build ridership.

Sea Link spent the last six months refitting the 100-foot vessel for regular runs between the two islands. Delays involving weather in one instance and engine trouble in another pushed back the launch date several months.

"We just needed to get the service started so we're running,'' Jung said.

The 149-passenger ferry is scheduled for morning and evening commuter runs, with sightseeing voyages planned during the day. Although the commuter service will need some promotion, Sea Link's sister company, Island Marine Activities, already has bookings for the sightseeing cruises.

Alberta Napoleon-Lucas of the state Department of Labor's Workforce Development Division said she's optimistic Moloka'i residents will be able to use the ferry to find work on Maui.

Unemployment on Moloka'i is up to nearly 15 percent following the recent shutdown of the Kaluako'i Hotel & Golf Club, which laid off more than 100 employees. A job fair on Moloka'i in February drew 200 people, many of them interested in working on West Maui and commuting by ferry, Napoleon-Lucas said.

Sea Link announced it will provide free round-trips for Moloka'i residents to interview for jobs on Maui. Moreover, the company is urging employers on the Valley Isle to participate in a program in which they can buy ferry tickets at a discount to offer to employees for free or at a partial rate.

On yesterday's maiden trip, two tourists from California and a Kaunakakai man who came over to visit friends and shop enjoyed a 75-minute crossing on calm seas.

"It was a nice trip. It beats flying," said Richard Dixon, a retired seaman who lived on Maui for 30 years before moving to Moloka'i.

Eric and Sally Greufe of Truckee, Calif., came over for the day to snorkel with friends also from California who are staying on Maui. The couple planned to return to Moloka'i on the 5 p.m. ferry. They said the ferry is an economical alternative to flying on commercial airlines.

"We were thinking about going to Moloka'i earlier in the week, but the ferry wasn't running,'' said Marijean Rees of Tahoe City, Calif., who was waiting for the Greufes at Lahaina Harbor.

The Molokai Princess is backed into Lahaina Harbor upon her arrival from Kaunakakai.

Tim Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

Dixon predicted the Moloka'i community would embrace the service once word gets out.

"We've been waiting five months for this,'' he said, adding that "with the delays, it kind of snuck up on us.''

Since reservations are not necessary, Sea Link officials were unable to provide information yesterday on how many passengers were aboard last night's return trip to Kaunakakai.

Sea Link is charging commuters $15 per round-trip ticket. Rates for the public are $40 one way for adults and $20 for children. A book of six tickets costs $185.

Sea Link operated the Maui Princess ferry service between Moloka'i and Maui for 10 years until October 1996, when state subsidies ended. The new ferry does not receive any direct government money.

Commuter service will run Mondays through Saturdays, leaving Kaunakakai at 6 a.m. and arriving at Lahaina at 7:15 a.m. The return trip leaves Lahaina at 5 p.m. and arrives in Kaunakakai at 6:15 p.m.