Monday, June 26, 2017

Super-long Commutes in Hawaii?

Recently I received this question from a The Pew Charitable Trusts investigating journalist: "I noticed that Hawaii had a big increase – an almost 40% in increase in commutes of 90 minutes or more between 2010 and 2015 (American Community Survey) – I saw you quoted in a business journal on a similar issue, how driving is on the upswing in Hawaii, and wondered if you could comment on why this would be a bigger issue now in Hawaii, and growing so fast."

I replied as follows:

Tourists and tourism jobs generate a lot of travel.  In Hawaii tourism roughly accounts for one third of the local economy. Travel was down mostly due to the recession... in 2008-2010 tourism and all related sectors of the economy were hit hard; see linked report for some numbers:  A major recovery was observed in 2015-2016 and this came with a strong growth in travel.

Another large contributor was gas price. In 2010 gas prices jumped from approximately $3.50 to $4.50 (in Hawaii). Sharp increases in trip cost resulted in sharp changes in trip making (curtailed trips and more car pooling). The price in 2015 was "normal" at $3.25 or under. See link.

Indeed, hotel pay is modest and these workers tend to live far from Waikiki and downtown Honolulu (in more affordable, remote towns) which come with 75+ minute commutes.

The 90 minute cutoff creates a "definitional" problem by itself.  During recession times, traffic is lighter and fewer trips take 90+ minutes, even from far out locales. When the economy is booming and traffic is heavy, even suburbs that are closer to Waikiki will experience occasional 90+ minute trips, thus in good times the 90+ count goes up much more.

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