HILO — A $25 increase in vehicle registration fees to pay for removing abandoned vehicles, a charge to drive on certain roads during peak hours and a surcharge on ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are three of a largely transportation-related package the Hawaii Council of Mayors presented Wednesday to legislative money committees.
The House Finance Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee also heard individual wish lists from all four mayors in an atypically short session at the Capitol that lasted just over an hour.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, presenting the Council of Mayors’ priorities, pushed for a resolution requiring counties to report proposed congestion pricing strategies to the Legislature. Congestion pricing is charging a fee for vehicles driving certain roads during peak hours, usually through a computer chip in the car that keeps a record and sends a bill.
“No matter what county you have, we have a huge issue with traffic congestion,” Caldwell said.
The report would be useful in helping to identify zones of congestion, possible pricing options for those zones and possible uses for the revenue generated, he said.
Congestion pricing could possibly save governments money because it could reduce the need for widening roads, proponents say. Opponents worry a surcharge on rush-hour traffic penalizes 9-5 working people, who often are less well-off than other drivers.
“We thought we’d start the dialogue,” Caldwell said, adding, “It can be politically unpopular.”
As far as the request to let counties add $25 to the annual vehicle registration fee to pay to remove abandoned vehicles, Sen. Lorraine Inouye, a north Hawaii Island Democrat who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said the counties already have that authority.
“The burden is on the counties,” Inouye said. “You already can; you can address the problem yourself.”
Caldwell said it’s his understanding the state law allows the counties to charge only $10; not the $25 they’re asking for.
Many people who abandon their vehicles are poor and have to run their vehicles into the ground because they can’t afford newer cars, noted Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami. The problem is then compounded when they keep extra vehicles on their property for parts and then can’t dispose of them properly because they owe back registration on them, he said.
“For some of these folks, they’re doing what they’re doing out of survival,” Kawakami said.
Sen. Kurt Favella, an Ewa Beach, Oahu, Republican, said he himself has a motorcycle that he’s five years behind on registration for.
“I think raising our vehicle tax is only going to increase cars on the side of the road,” Favella said.
Other measures in the Council of Mayors’ package would regulate so-called “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft, and require them to pay fees, regulate electric scooters, change gift certificate regulation to allow them to be reloaded for mass transit and other uses, create a new category of crime for interfering with a driver-less vehicle and upgrading the crime of interfering with a driver of a public transportation vehicle from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim reiterated his top priority of helping make health care more affordable by exempting private health-care providers from the general excise tax.
Hawaii County has the greatest shortage of physicians in the state, 230 doctors — or 44% — of the 528 physicians demanded by the population, according to a University of Hawaii report. That compares with Maui County reporting a 36% shortage, Kauai 32%, and Oahu 16%.
Kim calls it a health-care “collapse.”
“The situation for us is that critical and it’s going to get worse,” Kim said. “Without a good program of health care, everything else is really secondary — it doesn’t matter.”
Kim also asked for the state to consider a hospital in Kona and a corrections facility there so inmates wouldn’t have to travel more than 100 miles to attend trial. And, he asked for the state to help improve state roads such as Highway 130 and state-leased properties such as along Banyan Drive.
“None of it is asking for out and out money,” Kim said. “For today’s help and yesterday’s help and forever’s help, thank you very much.”