Cruising Along: A Blog Looking at Transit in Transition in Honolulu


Cruising Along is an ongoing weekly blog series by Bianca Sewake examining Hawai’i’s alternative modes of transportation.

The first time I waited at a city bus stop, I was 18 years old and 2,600 miles away from my Hawai‘i home, in Seattle, my new home. I don’t consider the first time catching a city bus to be the time with my mom years ago in Honolulu. It’s a blurred childhood memory of how hot it was that day, thinking the bus ride would never end, wishing my mom hadn’t locked the keys in her car so that we didn’t have to spend an afternoon on the bus just to grab the spare car keys at home.

Perhaps that’s why I never cared to consider catching the bus as a mode of transportation. It’s not like I ever had to. Car rides were accessible from family or friends up until the time I got my driver’s license and could take myself around. But as I waited nervously at the bus stop that day in Seattle, checking my phone for the millionth time, the realization of my car dependency kicked in and I silently regretted how ill-informed I was of how a bus system works. My roommate at that time who was also from Hawai‘i and regularly caught the bus figured out the system within our first week living in Seattle, so for my short trip to downtown Seattle, she gave me very specific instructions. How hard could it be?

I ended up getting on the wrong bus that day. I failed to read the bus number, got on the first bus that came. Over time, I eventually got the hang of Seattle’s system, knowing which numbers took me where I needed to go and which ones would bring me back to where I needed to be. Before long, the feeling that I needed a car disappeared. Coming home to Hawai‘i for breaks, however, it felt strange not knowing how to get around with the buses here. But the thought would disappear from my mind when I was reunited with my car—the sole mode of transportation I use in the islands.

It seemed that in Seattle, I made use of a lot of the alternative modes of transportation. Buses, cabs, light rail, rideshares, walking, and carpooling—I’ve done most of it (and I would have biked if I had one). The majority of my Hawai‘i friends use cars or have access to one. But for my friends in Seattle, it’s more popular to use alternative modes of transportation. This got me thinking a lot about why, for a small place like O‘ahu, they don’t seem popular—especially since in 2013, Honolulu Star Advertiser reported Hawai‘i as the second most traffic congested city in the nation, and especially since most people I know have something to say about the amount of cars there are on the road. Hawaii was even reported by USA Today in March 2014 as the top-ranked state for high gas prices, at $4.17 a gallon.

I have a lot of questions about the alternative modes of transportation on O‘ahu,—whether that’s carpooling, biking, or catching the bus. With the arrival of two rideshare companies in Honolulu, Uber in July 2013 and Lyft in June 2014—a sort of cab, but run instead with phone apps and drivers making use of their personal vehicles—I wonder what role it will play in either adding or decreasing our traffic. I also wonder if these rideshares will experience the same heat they did in other cities; according to an article published by Civil Beat earlier this month, rideshares are already upsetting traditional cab companies. There is rumor of 1,700 bikes hitting Honolulu’s streets by next year through a new bikeshare program, but anyone who has ridden a bike—or driven past someone who is—knows that our streets are far from friendly; other towns such as Haleiwa and Kailua fare only slightly better when it comes to clear pathways for biking.

Each week, I will be exploring and examining these transportation methods through first-hand accounts of ride experiments, talking with people in the community, hearing what our city has to say about it, and offering my thoughts, especially since rail will soon be added to this equation.

So come along for the ride. It should be an interesting one.

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