Why Hawaii Superferry Is Failing

Hawaii Superferry is not sustainable as a passenger ferry. Its problems are much worse than those the airlines are facing. This is because Superferry’s vessel, the Illikai, uses far more fuel per passenger than does an airplane.

Last month, Superferry carried only 29% of its passenger load, according to USA Today. Low ridership occurred in spite of:

  • $49 promotional summer deal.
  • Inter-island air fares doubling in price.
  • Elimination of Aloha Airlines.
  • Smoother summer-time ocean conditions.

Military or bust.

In separate news, the Honolulu Advertiser reported Superferry spent $210,000 lobbying for federal money for new ramps and other improvements that would let Superferry and its sister ship, now in production, dock in more places.

I have long-maintained that a military connection is the only possibility for keeping Superferry afloat in Hawaii. Some say, however, that these ramps will make the Superferry more viable outside of Hawaii.

This places its continued operation here, and our state’s investments therein, at even further risk. Superferry officials, including John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, have long touted the military potential for the Superferry.

The Issues:

1. Fuel. Superferry is a diesel-fuel hog. It uses up to 7,000 gallons of fuel per voyage. At 29% of passenger capacity, Superferry’s fuel cost may be nearly $120 per passenger. Even at capacity (880 passengers plus vehicles and cargo), their cost is approaching $40 per passenger at today’s fuel prices. By comparison, Hawaiian Airline’s fuel cost per passenger is now about $22. As with the airlines, Superferry did not envision $5 gallon diesel fuel. Thus it does not have a financially viable business model and that will not likely change.

2. Comfort. A letter from Superferry, posted last week on Arthur Frommer’s blog, stated:

“Particularly now, during the calmer summer ocean conditions, it is not a seasick-making Superferry.”

From what you’ve previously read and seen here, winter makes the voyage uncomfortable at best, and has caused countless service cancellations.

3. Costs. The $49 promotional fare is valid through September 30. A fare adjustment to bring the fare into alignment with their costs, will in effect, stop most ridership. Also, while car rental companies have now made it possible to bring a rental car aboard Superferry, exorbitant drop fees make it all but impossible to do so other than on round-trip voyages.

4. Perception. Among Hawaii residents, Superferry has not met with wide-scale approval. A Pacific Business News poll last week indicated that only 15% of their business readers have ventured aboard the Illikai so far.

5. Time. The three hours that it takes Supeferry to transit between Oahu and Maui is longer than most people want to spend, when jet travel takes just over 20 minutes.

Recommendation:

  1. Continue to use Superferry through September 30.
  2. Plan to use airline alternatives during the winter months to avoid rough seas.
  3. Watch for further news.

3 Comments

  1. Jeff (6 years ago)

    Thanks for your comments Pua and Mauibrad.

    Brad thanks for visiting our site. I appreciate the good work you do on your website.

    Aloha, Jeff

  2. Mauibrad (6 years ago)

    Nice evaluation, Jeff. You recommend not taking ‘em in the winter and say watch for further news. HSF has to run at 50 to 75% capacity year around with less than two weeks of down days to breakeven. If people aren’t riding it in the winter and/or the Coast Guard won’t let it run in surf of 18 ft plus, then this vessel will never be able to sustain breakeven….unless they can get a bunch of corporate welfare from the federal government in furtherance of government contracts.

    The thing I don’t understand…why would a “conservative Neocon” run a business that relies upon welfare and contracts from the government to make a profit? Can they not make a profit the real conservative way…in the free market without government help?

    Aloha, Brad

  3. Pua (6 years ago)

    With airfares from Hawaiian Airlines being currently at $179 one-way for Interisland tickets, I can’t understand why the Maui vsitors don’t make use of the superferry. The price is right and hey it’s summer and the ocean is calm and peaceful. That’s such a nice relaxing trip versus the hectic atmosphere at the Airports.

    Let’s hope that tourists will make more use of the ferry, so in the end everybody will be happy, ferry company making a profit and passengers saving money on the trip and enjoying Hawaii.