Hawaii’s Great Rental Car Crisis: Will It End?

A severe shortage of rental cars is forcing some potential visitors to Hawaii to cancel their trips or empty their wallets.

The root of the problem is twofold. When the pandemic struck and Hawaii imposed the country’s toughest travel rules, car rental companies like Hertz and Budget began selling part of their fleet and shipping some of their inventory to the United States. American continent, where they could still earn money.

Now that travel restrictions to Hawaii have eased and tourism is back in force, a nationwide shortage of solid-state microchips is making it difficult for automakers to bring new cars to market. In turn, car rental companies are struggling to increase their fleet.

The shortage of rental cars created safety concerns as some visitors took to walking and cycling on busy highways with no sidewalks or shoulders. Brittany Lyte / Civil Beat / 2021

For those lucky enough to land in Hawaii with a rental car reservation, the daily rates are outrageous – in some cases up to $ 700. Some car rental companies in the islands run out of vehicles, even for those who have an advance reservation.

The Consumer Protection Bureau is investigating the possibility of a price increase linked to the sharp increase in car rental rates, but it has not yet come to a conclusion.

Even with the shock of supply, Stephen Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection, said car rental companies are not necessarily justified in raising rental car prices above this. which is generally considered reasonable.

The debacle is also hurting residents, not just tourists.

Jenni Cooney, a pharmaceutical representative in Honolulu, said no rental cars were available last month when she drove to Maui for half a day to meet with a client. Instead, she waited 90 minutes for an Uber.

“I was at the curb with a large group of tourists and everyone was constantly refreshing and refreshing and refreshing the Uber app while trying to take a ride,” she said. “When a person could finally get a ride, the rest of us would cheer them on.”

Standing in the humid air, Cooney said she recalled thinking, “Haven’t airlines and hotels got the memo?” They bring planes full of tourists and many of them have no way of getting to where they need to go. It’s not like we haven’t had time to plan this.

The problem is particularly severe on neighboring islands, where public bus systems and ride-sharing services like Uber are scarce or non-existent.

We welcome them, but do they need a vehicle to go anywhere? Several times, maybe not. – Maui Mayor Mike Victorino

At Lihue Airport on Thursday, several stranded travelers descended on local residents with vehicles, offering to put all the money in their wallets for an elevator to their hotel.

As a last resort, some visitors are driving in U-Haul trucks or hitchhike.

Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director Sue Kanoho said the Garden Isle rental car fleet was down at least 40% from its typical pre-pandemic inventory level.

With the island’s Avis car rental service temporarily closed, other car rental companies in Kauai are sold out until early August.

And, according to Kanoho, the island’s car rental companies have no plans to bring in more vehicles.

“It’s an unintended consequence of the pandemic that we didn’t see coming, and it’s not just Kauai or Hawaii – it’s Arizona, Florida, all of these tourist destinations are in the same boat as we are, ”Kanoho said. “And look, this is serious. It’s going to affect us all in one way or another. “

On Kauai, there are no easy solutions.

The island’s public bus system is designed for residents and does not allow passengers with large luggage to travel.

Some resorts offer their guests an airport shuttle service, which Kanoho said more hotels will have to do.

Hortencia Narayan, left, and Dolores Zambrano, both from the bay area, arrived at Lihue airport on Thursday with no prospect of hiring a car to get around the island. Brittany Lyte / Civil Beat / 2021

Kanoho said she is encouraging more residents to take the opportunity to help stranded visitors by becoming an Uber driver or renting their personal vehicle to visitors through the Turo rideshare app.

But she noted that supply and demand had pushed the going price for a car on the app to several hundred dollars a day – too much for some visitors.

At Lihue Airport on Thursday, Sarven Gobel, 27, of Los Angeles, said he was happy to book a last-minute vehicle rental on Turo for $ 180 a day – a rate he called flight.

Nearby, Bay Area Dolores Zambrano said she had been sitting on a bench outside the Trans-Pacific Terminal for more than an hour trying to find transportation to her hotel – and that ‘she still hadn’t understood it.

“It’s like a five hour flight, so it’s just a lot of trips to come and stay at a resort without a way to get a car,” Zambrano said. “We really like local things and wouldn’t normally be interested in staying at a resort, but we just think that once we find a way to get there, we won’t be able to leave and move around. . “

Without a car, she said she wouldn’t be able to visit any of the botanical gardens and other sites she had built her vacation around.

The problem, Kanoho said, presents an opportunity for tourism industry executives to work on implementing some of the long-talked about visitor management strategies: satellite car rental locations, a bicycle sharing system.

She cautioned hotels and business operators to be proactive in figuring out how to help their guests find transportation.

Sarven Govel, 27, of Los Angeles, said the $ 180 car rental rate he got at the last minute on Turo was a steal compared to the going price for renting a vehicle on Kauai. Brittany Lyte / Civil Beat / 2021

“This is a serious situation and don’t wait for the government to fix it for you,” said Kanoho, who said he informed Mayor Derek Kawakami’s staff of the matter. “You need to make sure that all of your reservations include that, if you want the vacation you think you want, make sure you have access to a vehicle for the hours you need it.”

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he wanted the rental car inventory on Valley Island to remain limited to help manage traffic congestion.

Instead of putting more cars on the road to meet visitor demand, the mayor said he would like to see a proliferation of bus and shuttle services that can transport hotel guests to popular destinations for a fee. fresh.

“I know many residents, including myself, loved going to Lahaina and it took 20 or 25 minutes. Now it takes 40 or 45 minutes, ”Victorino told Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s online interview show“ Spotlight Hawaii ”Wednesday. “We see the change. We welcome them, but do they need a vehicle to go anywhere? Several times, maybe not.

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