The state Public Utilities Commission on Monday approved a request from Young Brothers to temporarily reduce its weekly barge schedules for Hawaii and Maui counties.
The shipping company announced April 24 that it would seek the change — which went into effect Tuesday following PUC approval Monday — in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and decreasing cargo volumes.
Among the approved changes, weekly sailings between Honolulu and Hilo will be reduced from two to one. Shipments leaving Hilo on Monday for a Wednesday arrival in Honolulu will be temporarily suspended.
According to documents from the PUC, the change was approved for 30 days.
Young Brothers also must file a report with the commission by May 22 that provides additional information to support how the changes correlate to cargo decreases and why the sailing changes will not result in any cargo being left behind; steps or actions the company has taken or will take to inform customers about the changes, address their concerns and minimize customer disruptions; and information regarding “metrics and benchmarks Young Brothers is monitoring and thresholds that might trigger further changes.”
In a May 3 letter to the PUC, Big Island state Sen. Lorraine Inouye of Hilo, who serves as chairwoman of the Senate’s Committee on Transportation and represents a large portion of Hawaii Island, wrote that bi-weekly shipments allow the farmers and businesses in and around Hilo, Keaau and Puna to “efficiently” import and export several containers of fresh produce and livestock each week.
Shipments leaving the Big Island on Monday typically contain perishable produce goods for Oahu grocery stores and weekend farmers markets, but a Thursday departure from Hilo means small businesses and farmers might have to consider transporting their goods at an additional cost to Kawaihae Harbor for shipment, Inouye said.
“If the amended sailing schedule is indeed necessary, I request that Young Brothers maintain the Monday arrival and cancel the Thursday schedule on a temporary basis,” she wrote.
In a phone conversation Tuesday, Inouye said the PUC has no control over the actual sailing dates, but said Young Brothers responded to her request and said they are continuing to work on the logistics.
Inouye said she understands why the PUC ruling was made, but hopes Young Brothers will re-establish a Monday departure instead of Thursday.
“That would help for the one month period for our farmers,” she said. “(We are) always talking about sustainability in the agriculture industry, and so our farmers are working really hard to make that happen and grow more produce for sustainability throughout the entire island.”
And not having Big Island produce distributed throughout the state means Hawaii will continue to import more food from the mainland, Inouye said.
“We’re not really living up to our goal of being sustainable in food production,” she continued. “We need good transportation, and that’s my goal — to make things a lot … better — as chair of the transportation committee in the Senate.”
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.