HPD cites safety, cost in phasing out 3-wheeled vehicles
|||Ford fights suits over cruiser safety|
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
They may look cute. But the Honolulu Police Department's three-wheeled scooters are unsafe to drive and will be pulled from the streets of downtown Honolulu and Waikiki by August.
The decision was based on several factors, including safety and cost. Making the switch to cars on the 10 beats now patrolled by scooters will save the department $441,600 a year in hazard pay alone, said Assistant Chief Stephen Watarai, commander of the department's Central Patrol Bureau.
"We found they turn over easily," Watarai said. "In the year 2000, we had six of these in accidents, where they toppled over. Some people had broken legs. One officer, his hand was almost severed."
Officers who use the scooters receive a 20 percent boost in pay.
The decision to phase them out followed months of discussion, Watarai said. The vehicles just were not practical.
The top-heavy "Go-4" vehicles cannot be used in a high-speed pursuit or be used on freeways, he said. Their top speed is limited to 27 mph, and they have no place to carry a prisoner.
"They are exposed to the elements, the weather, and that creates another problem," Watarai said. "We are putting in the mobile data computers in all vehicles and since they aren't waterproof, it damages the computers."
Only 20 of the department's 80 Go-4s are in use. All of the older Cushman vehicles have been taken out of service.
The Go-4s have been hampered by mechanical problems and high maintenance expenses since they were first introduced in the early 1990s, said Bill Rhoden, the police department's maintenance department supervisor.
"It's always been a maintenance headache," Rhoden said. "I really don't see any strengths to them at all, to tell you the truth. We've had quite a bit of expenses that has occurred with these things."
Twice last summer, problems forced the fleet off the road. Police Chief Lee Donohue took them out of service after two officers were involved in accidents because of steering problems.
The officers lost control of their scooters when the steering mechanism between the two back tires snapped.
Problems with rubber suspension bushings also affected alignment. If not replaced, the rear axle could have fallen off.
"It wasn't as unsafe as people made them out. But the chief said, 'I want them 100 percent safe,' and I appreciate that," Rhoden said. "It made a nightmare for me, though."
Parts are often expensive and available only from Germany. For example, a windshield wiper motor costs $187, while one for a Crown Victoria costs about $50 to $75 and it can be purchased at any Honolulu auto parts store, Rhoden said.
"I don't think the officers have seen the checkbook," Rhoden said. "They don't see what is paid out. Big, big bucks."
The Go-4s, like the Cushmans before them, were used in Waikiki and downtown because their small size made them easier to maneuver through traffic.
At one point last summer, the department purchased a $24,500 Chevrolet Tracker to see if would be a good replacement for use on narrow streets, but it did not meet the needs of officers and was turned over to the city motor pool.
Kimo Smith, O'ahu chapter chairman for the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers, said he'll miss the scooters. He patrolled Chinatown on a Cushman more than a decade ago.
"I am going to be sad to see them go," he said. "It has been a part of the fleet. There are uses for them. I think a lot of people will be sad to see them go."
Watarai said the Go-4s will be used by parking enforcement officials whose daily use of the scooters is more low-key than that of patrol officers.
"Admittedly, it is an unusual vehicle for a police officer to use," Watarai said. "They are cute, and the tourists like to take pictures of them."
But for nearly the same amount of money, the Crown Victorias offer more, Watarai said. A new blue-and-white, complete with three-year warranty, costs $30,950 while a Go-4, with its one-year warranty costs $24,711, he said.
"It is a more versatile vehicle, and we get more for the bucks," Watarai said. "We would be fiscally irresponsible if we didn't consider that."
Reach Mike Gordon at email@example.com or 525-8012.