Public Transport Systems and Infrastructure Solutions to Reduce Fossil Fuel Dependence on Hawaii Island (2014)

Client Organization: 
The Kohala Center
Client is confirmed: 
Project Location : 
1/4 Hawai'i Island, HI and 3/4 Ann Arbor, MI
Summary of Project Idea: 

Residents of Hawaii Island pay some of the highest rates for electricity and petroleum products among residents of the United States.  Moreover, the islands of the Hawaiian archipelago rely almost entirely on imported petroleum fuels for both transportation and energy generation.  Though Hawaii Island has integrated more renewable energy onto its electrical grid than anywhere else in the U.S., the reliance on fossil fuel remains high because more than half the energy demand of the island can be attributed to transportation.  Traditionally mass transit systems can be used to increase energy efficiency, as well as energy sustainability; as a result we have designed this project to assess the need for improvements to this system. We will develop suggestions for optimizing the current system, as well as potential alternatives that include the establishment of carpooling and ride-sharing networks that would decrease the number of private vehicles used and thus fuel consumption.

The University of Michigan team was engaged by The Kohala Center to examine and analyze the public transit system of Hawaii Island. The primary objective of the project is to develop a set of recommendations for the County of Hawaii focused on high-impact solutions to reduce fossil fuel use in the island's ground transportation system, while improving accessibility and lowering travel times for commuters. 

Skills/Expertise Needed: 

Analytical/critical thinking

Project planning and organizational skills

Ability to work in a multicultural setting

Knowledge of:

  • Systems and Industrial Ecological Analysis
  • Transport management technologies
  • Land and transport planning
  • Financial analysis of public and private ventures
SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Environmental Informatics
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

This project would provide students with the opportunity to work at an island system level with the opportunity to create a plan that could be adopted by County government and be a model for other rural Hawaiian islands.  There would be access to key government and private sector decision-makers in Hawaii and the opportunity to learn how to practice research and consulting skills in an interesting physical, social, and political environment.  There would be opportunities to present at the annual state-wide professional planners conference.

Funding Sources: 

At this point The Kohala Center has no confirmed funding for the project.  Preliminary work completed by the project team could lead to a proposal for funding to the County of Hawaii, local private funders, and/or federal programs for transport planning.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

A report for The Kohala Center to present to the County of Hawaii Department of Public Works with recommendations as to how to improve and modify its operations to serve public transportation needs and reduce island dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Additional Faculty Advisor(s) and Department(s): 
John DeCicco
Contact full name: 
Elizabeth Cole, Ed.D
Job title: 
Deputy Director
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Jeremiah Johnson
Contact Phone: 
Advisor Confirmed: 
Contact e-mail: 
Additional Faculty Advisor(s) Confirmed: 
Contact information: 
U-M faculty member
Our Organization has been an SNRE master's project client in a previous year
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Jonas Epstein, MS Environmental Policy and Planning 
  • Maite Madrazo, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Trevor McManamon, MS Sustainable Systems
  • Daphne Medina, MBA/MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Xiaofei Wen, MS Environmental Informatics
SNRE Student Contact: Maite Madrazo; Email:
Project Status: 
Past Project