Cars

Why owning a car in Hawaii is so expensive

Why owning a car in Hawaii is so expensive

Political discussions of Hawaii’s high cost of living often focus on housing, but there’s another unavoidable expense that bleeds thousands of dollars every year: transportation.

After housing, child care and food, the cost of transportation in Hawaii is the biggest monthly expense for many locals, studies show.

And for people who need a car or truck for work or family obligations, the cost is exorbitant, in some ways higher than in West Coast cities like Portland and Los Angeles, thanks to fees state and local governments.

If the high costs affect everyone, they especially hit working families who are struggling to get by.

“The lower your annual income, the more you’re affected by transportation costs, and it’s not just that you’re spending a higher proportion of your income,” said Suzanne Skjold, COO of Aloha. United Way, which analyzed the cost of transportation. and its effects on families.

Even on Oahu, which has a relatively extensive bus system and an ever-improving network of bike paths, many workers simply cannot afford to live in the city and therefore need a car to get there. commuting to work and transporting the children, Skjold said.

“The stack effect is that you can’t put yourself in a position where you’re near work, where you can take the bus, walk or cycle to work,” she said.

“In our current reality, the suggestion that people should cycle to work when they have two kids and need to do their shopping is just not a viable option,” she said.

Afternoon commuters head west on the H1 highway.
Hawaii directs much of its transportation funding to roads, which some say simply encourages more people to drive. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Estimates of transport expenditures vary

If today’s reality means owning a car, it also means spending a lot of money on transportation. It’s hard to estimate how much a family needs to spend on transport to get by – estimates vary – but the data is important to guide decision-makers in analyzing what people need to spend versus what they need.

According to a 2021 study by the Ulupono Initiative, the cost of owning a vehicle in Hawaii is $8,100 per year, or $675 per month, when factoring in various costs including gas, maintenance, and insurance. Ulupono used census data compiled by accounting firm Deloitte – which shows that 80% of Hawaiian households own two or more cars – to assume that most households own at least two cars and therefore face an annual expense of 16 $200, or about $1,350 per month for transportation.

The Aloha United Way is also studying how much Hawaiians need to survive. The organization has a term for people living on a wage-to-earning basis but above the poverty line: ALICE, which stands for Limited Assets, Limited Income and Employed.

Aloha United Way’s 2020 ALICE report estimates that a family of four must spend $675 per month on transportation to survive, while an adult can survive on $283 per month. A previous ALICE report noted that while there was public and non-profit support to help with housing and food costs, there was none for transportation.

A state study has lowered the cost, especially in Honolulu. In a 2021 report examining how much money an Oahu family needs to cover basic living expenses, the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism concluded that many people on Oahu can get by without using a car. As a result, he estimated that a family of four on Oahu with a preschooler and a school-aged child needed only $260 a month for transportation.

The cyclist shares the road with cars along Kalakaua Ave in Waikiki.  3.6.14 ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Experts say investing more in cycle lanes can create alternatives to cars for many people. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In light of the varying numbers, Civil Beat did its own analysis, which didn’t look at the minimum cost to survive, but rather how much it costs to operate Hawaii’s most popular vehicle: the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. The Bottom Line: The estimated cost to own a base model 2015 Tacoma on Oahu is about $6,800 per year, or about $566 per month.

The estimate does not include parking fees or debt payment, but does include registration fees, per average vehicle mileage for Hawaii as of 2018 from the U.S. Highway Administration, and maintenance estimates of a Hartford Insurance/AARP Report.

At today’s prices, for a Tacoma averaging about 21 miles per gallon, the cost of gas alone would add up to just under $200 a month, based on driving about 30 miles a day, the average driven in Hawaii. Notoriously high gas prices in Honolulu on Thursday were around $4.55 per gallon compared to the national average of $3.72, according to AAA.

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Gas isn’t the only thing that costs more on Oahu than elsewhere. The price of registering a car in Oahu exceeds that of many, if not most other locations, costs comparisons indicate. And it’s not just outliers like Alabama, where the state’s annual filing fee is just $23, according to a recent national analysis of tuition fees by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Taking state and local taxes into account, the cost of registering a base Tacoma model in Honolulu is about three times that of West Coast cities such as Portland and Los Angeles.

The estimated cost in Honolulu – which Civil Beat estimates at approximately $383 per year – is based on a state registration fee of $45, a state weight tax of $63.78, Honolulu registration of $20 and a Honolulu weight tax of $255. He assumes the truck weighs 3,645 pounds, as indicated by Edmunds.

Weight listing cost often favors the wealthy

One of the cost-incurring issues for many people is that vehicles in Hawaii are taxed by weight, not value like many states do. So someone driving a 2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck weighing just under 4,000 pounds, with a Kelley Blue Book worth $1,000 to $2,500would pay more here than someone driving a new car, $136,000 Porsche 911 weighing 3,349 pounds.

According to Aloha United Way, vehicles that ALICE households can afford tend to be older and less valuable, with a median value of $4,000 compared to a median value of $12,000 for vehicles owned by middle-income families. .

While proponents of the weight tax say it makes sense because heavy vehicles put more strain on the roads, others say the weight-based tax is regressive because it unfairly burdens workers who own less valuable vehicles, especially those who need a truck for work.

Self check in Hawaii
Hawaii is one of a dozen states that tax auto registration based on weight instead of value or a flat rate. Most taxes based on a package, value or age. National Conference of State Legislatures

Either way, the estimated registration cost for the 2015 Tacoma base model in Los Angeles would be $133, according to information from Los Angeles County Self-Registration Information Pagewhile the truck would cost around $120 to register in Portland, based on the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon Motor Vehicle Code and Multnomah County Department of Transportation. That’s about a third of what it would cost to register the same vehicle on Oahu.

Honolulu is not a total outlier. Like Hawaii, Nevada has substantial fees, especially at the county level. So the cost of registering the hypothetical Tacoma in Las Vegas appears about the same as in Honolulu, according to the National Conference of State Legislaturesthe Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and Nevada Revised Statutes.

But some Tacoma owners say Civil Beat’s analysis underestimates registration costs. For example, Jocelyn Doane, a lawyer in Honolulu, owns a Tacoma stretch cab. She pays $503 annually, including an additional $25 for a specialty plate. Although she said she understood the need to charge a fee, Doane said what she was paying didn’t make sense given how little she drove.

“I drive 15 minutes a day,” she says.

Hawaii’s Changing Economy» is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.