Tourism gates have reopened

As Hawaii’s economic engine sputters back to life, we are once again … Maui County is offering a free post-arrival COVID-19 test to visitors as part of …

here they are.

As Hawaii’s economic engine sputters back to life, we are once again welcoming visitors to our beaches, businesses and roadways. Maui’s October arrival numbers are a small fraction of pre-COVID-19 totals, but screening lines at Kahului Airport confirm that even during a global pandemic there is demand to vacation here.

Over the decades, Maui’s reputation as a world-class travel destination has helped it attract world-class travelers. These are not only people willing to pay extra for outstanding service and quality, but also guests who embrace the aloha spirit and island culture. Not every tourist gets it, but enough do to make it fun for the people who check them in to their rooms, serve them meals and take them on adventures.

By the old standards, a good guest was appreciative and polite. They understood Maui is a special place and all of us are lucky to be here. Many of those guests also thought nothing about eating out three times a day, going shopping and treating their party of six to multiple activities and rounds of golf while they were here. They provided the fuel that kept Hawaii running.

In the COVID era, new criteria have been added. Gold-standard visitors don’t spread coronavirus. They obey health protocols and do not put our kupuna or essential workers at risk.

Maui County is offering a free post-arrival COVID-19 test to visitors as part of its “Arrive Healthy, Stay Healthy, Return Home Healthy” program. The incentive of a free Kama’aina First Mahalo Card has not translated into a high percentage of takers.

Though they know it is the responsible thing to do, many guests must ask themselves, why take a test if it is not required? Their best possible outcome is to receive another negative test and a few discounts. On the opposite side, if it comes back positive, their special trip is derailed and they’re on the hook for quarantine.

At least the state and counties will have time to gauge the effectiveness of pre-travel testing and visitor compliance to health protocols. The tourism gates have been opened, but that has not yet translated into packed hotels and beaches. It is going to take time to ramp up as Hawaii and the rest of the world struggle to subdue the pandemic.

It will be interesting to see what sort of visitors we welcome during this ramping up phase. Will it be our old friends, the big spenders? Or will we host a higher percentage of bargain travelers who head straight to Costco after landing and make minimal contributions to the local economy?

Either way, we’ll greet them with aloha, provide positive examples and hope for the best.

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Hawaii airports laying off 662 workers on tourism reopening day

Over 660 Hawaii airport workers will be permanently laid off on October 15, the same day that the state is reopening tourism. They work for HMSHost, …

Over 660 Hawaii airport workers will be permanently laid off on October 15, the same day that the state is reopening tourism. They work for HMSHost, an airport subcontractor that manages concessions, restaurants, Starbucks, bars, pantry, maintenance, etc. at Honolulu International Airport, Kahului Airport, and Lihue Airport.

The State of Hawaii is allowing this subcontractorto permanently lay off nearly 85% of its workforce in Hawaii. There areapproximately 780 HMSHost employees who work at these three airports. UNITEHERE Local 5 represents these workers and approximates that the company will bepermanently laying off 470 out of 550 workers in Honolulu, 140 out of 170workers in Kahului, and 52 out of 60 workers in Lihue.

According to the latest WARN notices issued by HMSHost on August 12, the company was planning on permanently laying off 505 workers in Honolulu, 161 workers in Kahului, and 57 workers in Lihue.

UNITE HERE Local 5 condemns the layoffs and callsout the State and hospitality industry leaders for claiming they want to reopentourism to bring jobs back, yet allowing for mass permanent layoffs at thestate airports to happen.

In August, UNITE HERE released a nationwide report on the handouts that HMSHost received since the onset of COVID-19. HMSHost was on track to receive $475 million in aid in the form of rent relief and other handouts. Despite the massive aid that local governments have provided to HMSHost, the company is still moving forward with mass permanent layoffs.

“In the 22 years that I have worked for HMSHost, Ihave never felt so disregarded as a human being. After putting almost all of myadult life into this company, they are laying us off even though it doesn’tcost them anything to keep us on and call us back in as business increases,”says Jeanine Ng, a server at The Local in Honolulu Airport.

“In the middle of a pandemic when we need healthinsurance most, HMSHost cut off our medical coverage in June. I’ve had to payout of pocket for my medication that I need to live. And now as tourism issupposed to be reopening, they are permanently laying us off and throwing usinto more uncertainty for no good reason,” says Laurie Ann Javierto, who hasworked as a cashier at the Old Plantation in Kahului Airport for 33 years.

Local 5 will continue to take action to helpfurloughed workers and push the state and industry leaders to get it right thefirst time and reopen tourism so that workers get back to work safely.

Security stands by as ride-share rolls at airport

For the start of Uber and Lyft pickups Friday, Kahului Airport rolled out new ride-share signs near the main elevator and at the end of baggage claim.

Makalapua Bancaco searches for a ride on her phone via the Lyft app Friday morning at Kahului Airport. The Lahaina woman and her husband were among the first to catch a ride on the launch of legal Lyft and Uber pickups at Neighbor Island airports. — The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

KAHULUI — Security officials monitored for potential confrontations between taxicab and ride-share drivers during the first legal day of pickups for Uber and Lyft at Kahului Airport on Friday, while local airport ground transportation companies said the impact on business remains unknown.

“The main reason we’re here is due to any confrontation,” said Blake Takayama, head of airport security. “We will be monitoring for a while to ensure things go smoothly.”

Just over a week ago, the state Department of Transportation issued a decision that allowed transportation network companies, or ride-share companies, to start pickups at Neighbor Island airports — including Kahului and Kapalua airports on Maui — beginning Friday. The announcement came less than two weeks after scores of Kahului Airport taxi drivers held a demonstration to protest what they say is lack of state and county oversight of companies that effectively operate as taxis.

For the start of Uber and Lyft pickups Friday, Kahului Airport rolled out new ride-share signs near the main elevator and at the end of baggage claim. Also, there was a new sign to designate the ride-share curbside pickup location, located directly before the taxi staging area, “so it’s a level playing field,” said Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.

“We’re not happy with it,” said airport taxi driver Sun Ko. “We’re very slow right now.”

Kahului Airport taxi driver Sun Ko opens her vehicle for passengers Friday morning. The taxi staging area averaged fewer than half the pickups of Lyft and Uber over a span of two hours Friday morning. — The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

“They’re picking up right there,” she added, pointing toward the neighboring area. “I don’t think it’s right.”

Takayama said he reminded a handful of noncompliant ride-share drivers Friday morning that they are required to display company stickers on the front or back window and that they cannot idle or park near the pickup area, referred to as staging, as taxi drivers are allowed to do.

“Some people are staging, but they don’t know the rules yet,” Takayama said.

Uber and Lyft had more than a dozen pickups between 8 and 10 a.m. Friday, which was noticeably more passenger traffic than the nearby taxicabs. The airport experiences highest passenger volume from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Moniz said.

A Lahaina couple, who returned from a trip to Las Vegas and Oahu, were among the first passengers to use the ride-share area Friday.

“I think it’s a great option,” said Makalapua Bancaco, who was heading via Lyft to Kahului with husband, Cornelio. “You have an option to take a shuttle, the option to take a taxi, the option to take Uber or Lyft.”

Keali’i Pimentel of Kahului, an Uber and Lyft driver, made multiple airport passenger pickups Friday morning.

“It’s been awesome,” Pimentel said in reference to work as a ride-share driver, adding that he’s been with Uber and Lyft for about a year.

The arrival of Uber and Lyft pickups at Kahului Airport adds to the airport ground transportation of more than 120 airport taxi drivers, shuttle services and the Maui Bus.

Roberts Hawaii officials said the ride-share impact on business remains unclear at the moment. The company has the sole shuttle contract with Kahului Airport, and Robert’s Tours & Transportation Inc. manages the Kahului Airport Taxi Service.

“I think we will probably see some type of impact, but I don’t think it will be substantial,” Gary Collins, Roberts Hawaii assistant to vice president of operations on Oahu, said Thursday. “Honestly, I’m not sure how it will play out for Maui. There was an impact for taxis here in Honolulu. . . . It kind of evened out and tapered off.

“There was a lot of hoo-ha initially.”

SpeediShuttle, a privately-owned Hawaii shuttle, tour and luxury vehicle company that started on Maui 20 years ago, said the impact will be hard to gauge because most of its business is done via prearranged booking, often for large groups, such as weddings and corporate functions.

“I don’t foresee it really hindering us,” said Mandy Bal, SpeediShuttle call center, groups and RTS manager. “It won’t impact us as bad as it probably will the taxi stands and the walk-up transfers that Roberts Hawaii has.”

Bal said that its Oahu service hasn’t been impacted “one bit” by ride-share companies.

“There’s no way one company can do it all,” she added. “Everybody gets a piece of the pie.”

Around lunchtime Friday, one-way estimates from the airport to Kaanapali were $87 for airport taxis, $72 for UberX and $64 for Lyft; Wailea one-way trips were $57 for airport taxis, $48 for UberX and $39 for Lyft, according to app prices and the state’s Kahului Airport website.

Ride-share rates may fluctuate and surge based on peak times. Maui taxi meter rates are fixed by the county.

“(Taxi) drivers are at the stand counting pickups,” Pukalani resident Nick Crowley of Maui Island Taxi said Friday afternoon. “It’s basically a TNC pickup every 2 minutes. Mind you, two out of the three options are more money for the consumer. Less of course for the driver.

“The entire airport taxi service of 129 legal operators will be gone if the county just sits and does nothing about this.”

Moniz said it’s too soon to tell how everything will shake out for airport ground transportation companies amid the arrival of ride-share pickups at the airport. He added that Uber and Lyft will report monthly to the state.

“Obviously, the taxi drivers are concerned,” Moniz said. “But there’s enough business to go around. Plus, we don’t know what the real impact will be. It’s still in the early stages.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

Rideshare Companies Ready for Service at Maui Airports

Kahului Airport, file photo by Wendy Osher. The rideshare pickup for TNC companies such as Lyft and Uber will be located between baggage claim …

Kahului Airport, file photo by Wendy Osher. The rideshare pickup for TNC companies such as Lyft and Uber will be located between baggage claim and the car rental counters near the Commuter Terminal.

Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft will now be eligible to pick up customers at neighbor island airports beginning on Feb. 1, 2019.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation announced the expanded option saying designated ride share pick up locations at Kahului Airport and Kapalua Airport on Maui, Līhue Airport on Kauaʻi, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole and Hilo International Airport have been established.

The rideshare pickup for TNC companies such as Lyft and Uber will be located between baggage claim and the car rental counters near the Commuter Terminal.

Amended administrative rules went into effect Aug. 24, 2018 allowing TNCs to apply for a permit from the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation. The rules were approved by Governor David Ige following public hearings held in Honolulu, Kahului, Kona and Līhue in May and June 2018. This was the first time the rules for commercial services at airports had been amended since 2002, before TNCs came into being.

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“The Transportation Network Companies have been well received by the public at HNL and we are pleased to offer the option to neighbor island travelers,” said Deputy Director Ross Higashi, Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation Airports Division.

Nathan Hambley, Uber spokesperson responded to the news saying, “We applaud the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation’s decision to allow rideshare pickups at neighbor island airports. We’re thankful to the riders, drivers and community members who expressed support for this change. It’s good news for Maui, Kauaʻi and Big Island Uber drivers, as well as for neighbor island residents and visitors.”

TNCs must meet specific insurance requirements as specified by state law, pay the associated fees and satisfy other requirements designated in Hawaiʻi Administrative Rule 19-20.1 prior to being issued a permit to operate at the airports.

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TNCs began operating at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu on a trial basis Dec. 1, 2017 and permanent basis Aug. 24, 2018.

Uber, Lyft riding high with rule change

LIHUE — Uber and Lyft are cheering a state change that will make them eligible, as of Feb. 1, to pick up passengers at Neighbor Island airports, …

LIHUE — Uber and Lyft are cheering a state change that will make them eligible, as of Feb. 1, to pick up passengers at Neighbor Island airports, including in Lihue.

“We’re thrilled to be expanding Lyft’s operations to our Neighbor Island airports,” said Rob Mora, Lyft spokesman.

“We applaud the Hawaii Department of Transportation’s decision to allow rideshare pickups at Neighbor Island airports,” said Nathan Hambley, Uber spokesman.

The new rules allowing Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers at the airport is another blow for Kauai taxi companies, which expressed worries about the arrival of the ride-sharing companies in 2017.

Then, some taxi drivers pointed out they have to pay taxes and fees, which drive up their operating costs. Uber and Lyft, some said, create unfair competition because they don’t have to pay those same taxes and fees and can charge lower fares, thus taking away customers from taxi services.

Amended administrative rules went into effect Aug. 24, allowing tansportation network companies to apply for permits from HDOT. The rules were approved by Gov. David Ige following public hearings held around the state in May and June.

This was the first time the rules for commercial services at airports had been amended since 2002, before TNCs came into being.

“The transportation network companies have been well-received by the public at HNL, and we are pleased to offer the option to Neighbor Island travelers,” said HDOT Airports Division Deputy Director Ross Higashi Thursday.

HDOT has established designated ride-share pick-up locations at Kahului Airport, Lihue Airport, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, Hilo International Airport and Kapalua Airport.

These Hawaii airports join more than 350 airports across the U.S. and Canada offering Lyft rideshare services.

TNCs began operating at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on a trial basis Dec. 1, 2017, and on a permanent basis Aug. 24.

TNCs must meet specific insurance requirements as specified by state law, pay associated fees and satisfy other requirements prior to being issued permits to operate at the airports.

Hambley said Uber was good news for Maui, Kauai and Big Island Uber drivers, as well as residents and visitors.

Lyft will now have a designated pick-up location at Lihue Airport.

“We’re thankful to the HDOT team for their collaboration, and we look forward to providing a great rider and driver experience at all the included airports,” Mora said.

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Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.