Mauna Kea Pilot Summit Shuttle Service Project Proposed

Nov 14, 2020

HILO — A Big Island nonprofit organization has proposed the development of a regular shuttle service to the top of Mauna Kea.

A meeting Tuesday of the Maunakea Management Board included a proposal to operate shuttles to the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

The proposal developed by Hui Hoolako, which promotes projects to help preserve Hawaiian home lands and Native Hawaiian life, envisions a daily shuttle transporting visitors from Daniel K. Inouye Highway to the summit with a stop at the visitor information station halfway up the mountain.

Hui Hoolako representative Pomai Freitas and John McBride, owner of Hawaiian Village Tours, said the high level of traffic to the summit damages the environment and the mountain's infrastructure.

“You see people taking their rental cars to the summit on two-wheel drive, and what that means is they’re just chewing up the pavement,” McBride said. “And then you have their rental cars breaking down all the time, and they have to get towed.”

The proposal recommended a first phase with limited service between the visitor station and the summit during sunset hours, when traffic is typically busiest.

The first phase of the service could replace 47 visitor vehicles with four shuttle vans, they said.

Subsequent phases would add daytime service between the information station and the summit, along with sunset and daytime service between the station and the intersection between Inouye Highway and the Mauna Kea Access Road.

The proposal includes a fee schedule between $20 and $70 for round trips and cheaper rides during off-peak hours.

The pilot program would last five years with estimated annual revenue ranging from $410,000 to $1.4 million, they said.

The proposal is based on assumptions including a return to visitor numbers equal to those prior to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. McBride said the uncertain future is ideal for testing a pilot program.

“There’s low traffic right now, so we can build a fire that we can control instead of waiting for everyone to come back and being thrown into a fire we can’t control,” McBride said.