About 200 taxicabs call Maui home. For many of these cabbies, Kahului Airport and Kahului Harbor are the island’s biggest cash cows. Travelers from sea and air arrive on the Valley Isle every day and local drivers line up for a piece of the action. But some recent changes at both the harbor and airport have drivers crying foul.
June 20 was a dark day for local cabs. Drivers showed up at work that morning to find that their cabstand at the airport had been moved and a new set of strict regulations at the harbor.
“It’s asinine,” driver Nick Wilson said. “It makes it more difficult for everyone. People are definitely feeling it, making less money.”
Prior to June 20, up to seven taxis were allowed to park within the harbor’s security perimeter and wait for their turn at the stand. Now, just one cab is allowed to wait inside while the rest line up outside the gates on Ala Luina Street, out of sight from disembarking passengers. When the single cab picks up a fare, a security guard signals the guardhouse, which then passes the next cab through.
Ala Luina Street has become a clustered mess of taxicabs and trucks, all lined up awaiting harbor access, said Wilson. More cabs are forced to wait around the corner on Hobron Avenue till their turn comes. Steve Phister, Kahului Harbor Master and district manager of all Maui County harbors, said he enacted the new policy to bring order to the cab queue.
“There was a lot of cheating going on,” Phister said. “It’s like a third world country with all the bickering and complaining. They’re all very untrusting of each other.”
Of all the independent drivers that come into the harbor area, including shuttles and tour busses, the cab drivers are by far the biggest complainers, Phister said. But the biggest problem, he said, is cheating. Drivers would negotiate fares with passengers but duck out of the way when vessel crewmembers (usually only good for a fare to the nearby Maui Mall) would come off the boat.
“It’s a matter of a couple drivers trying to make more money for themselves,” Phister said.
But Wilson argues that since just one cab is allowed inside the harbor at a time, cheating is even more eminent. “We policed ourselves,” Wilson said. “Now there’s nobody there to watch the one driver inside.”
Another problem, according to Wilson, is that boat passengers wander around the busy harbor area. If the cab at the stand gets a fare, there is an inevitable lag time until the next cab can clear security and get inside. Passengers getting off the boat will not see a cab and instinctually begin wandering around.
“That’s what leads to cheating,” Wilson said. “People approaching cabs on the street outside the harbor.”
Phister agreed that wandering passengers are a problem, but said there’s little he can do about it.
“I’m not the sidewalk czar,” he said. “I can’t control where these people go.”
Phister said a large part of the problem is that passengers arrive in Kahului with little or no plans for what they want to do. With around 2,400 passengers per vessel and up to three ships docking every week, more than 7,000 people pass through the harbor gates weekly.
“I want every driver to make a million dollars,” Phister said.“I really do. But we’re trying to strike a balance.”
While Wilson said he understands that Phister must maintain order at the harbor, he believes the new regulations passed in June are a little harsh. One rule even prohibits drivers from “playing catch, juggling, tag, hot potato and playing the ukulele.” The reason? The above activities are potential “security distractions.”
The moving of the Kahului Airport cabstand is another sore point. Formerly located directly in front of the baggage claim exit, officials moved the stand nearly 200 feet down the road to the car rental kiosks. For 13-year cab veteran Sheldon Holokai, the cost of the new location could be much more than a few lost fares.
“It’s very dangerous now,” Holokai said. “There is way more traffic at that end and it’s overcrowded.”
Holokai said his main concern is that a passing vehicle will hit someone. Where as cabs used to pick up passengers curbside in front of the baggage claim, but now they’re forced on occasion to double-park while airport traffic zips by.
“No one’s monitoring the area,” he said. “Sometimes there can be three shuttles parked there and the driver [or potential passenger] will have to walk into the road.”
The airport division of the DOT made the decision to move the cabstand in an effort to consolidate ground transportation services, DOT spokesperson Scott Ishikawa said.
“We’re trying to make sure all companies have the same pick up location and we treat them all equally,” he said. “No one company should have an advantage over another based on the location of their pickup spot.”
Ishikawa said the decision to put everyone together came after complaints from shuttle companies (whose pick up area was also moved a few months ago). To some drivers, it’s no surprise the issue came down to shuttles versus taxis.
“It’s a constant battle at the airport between shuttles and cabs,” Wilson said.
Whether at the airport or harbor, the most alarming by-product of these new policies seems to be lost and wandering tourists walking around two of Kahului’s busiest commercial districts.
“I hope they do something about it before something happens,” Holokai said. “It’ll be a real eye-opener if there’s an accident. I just hope it’s not a fatality.” MTW