Trolley Folly

Has the Kaimuki Trolley left its heart and its tourist in Waikiki?

May, 2001

Trolley service from Waikiki to Kaimuki (and back again) may be the greatest thing that East Honolulu commuters and Waikiki tourists have never heard of. Despite the involvement of the city, private enterprise and community organizations, little or no marketing dollars have been spent on the service and the trolley may be riding off into the sunset—with only a few riders.

The city subsidized a $450,000 grant for two 30-passenger trolleys in a one-year pilot project beginning last August, with each trolley traveling a 3.7-mile daily route (11 stops altogether) between Koko Head Avenue in Kaimuki and Seaside Avenue in Waikiki. The service runs continuously from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week at a cost of a dollar each way.

The purpose for starting the service was twofold: 1) to provide locals with convenient transportation into Waikiki (it takes two to three transfers on the city bus); and 2) to lure adventurous tourists into Kaimuki.

DJ Colbert, owner of the Kaimuki-based Prosperity Corner, agrees with Bedish. Colbert, whose store provides healing therapy and New Age products, says that she’s seen increases of up to 80 percent in store volume as a direct result of the trolley. “In 45 minutes, 10 people who arrived on the trolley spent $700 in my store,” says Colbert. “But it’s very difficult to keep this profit scale without any help.” Fearing the eventual demise of the trolley, all she’s asking for is a little cooperation.But according to trolley supporters, getting the word out has been an arduous task. “It hasn’t been the easiest process because you have the city, Trans Hawaiian (Transportation)—who owns the trolleys, and GEHCA (Greater East Honolulu Community Alliance),” says Joan Bedish, spokesperson for the New Kapahulu Business Association. “Just trying to get all three organizations together is a difficult problem.”

According to Bedish, it was never made clear which organization would handle marketing for the trolley. “There was always a feeling that Trans Hawaiian was supposed to be doing marketing, but it wasn’t resolved in everyone’s minds,” she says.

Reggie DeSilva, new projects and customer relations manager for Trans Hawaiian, says that while the company has met with Japanese travel agents and various concierges to promote the trolley, it has spent nothing on marketing and does not have an allocated budget for it either. According to DeSilva, ticket sales in February averaged $125 per day, up 25 percent from roughly $100 per day in August 2000. Improvement or not, it is a fraction of the service’s carrying capacity.

“I would say it’s been moderately successful with room for improvement,” says DeSilva. “The visitor side has not picked up quite to where we want it to be yet.” According to Prosperity Corner’s Colbert, the trolley, which averages a resident-to-visitor passenger ratio of three to one, is an ideal way to siphon tourists out of the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and into an old-fashioned Hawaiian community, like Kaimuki. But that hasn’t been the situation, and Colbert, who has spent at least $10,000 on marketing for the trolley, is disappointed and frustrated. Colbert has done television and print ads, hands out fliers in Waikiki, and even covers the $2 round-trip fares for visitors willing to take the venture into Kaimuki.

Colbert says she has done everything, short of begging Trans Hawaiian, to provide discounted tickets to merchants along the trolley route and to make accommodations for advertising banners on the back of the trolleys. “This is a great thing for business and tourists … I can see the logistics of it. But this trolley’s going to come and go and they’ll say no one ever rode it,” she says. “I’m putting my 110 percent, now I want their 110 percent.”


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Jacy L. Youn