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Idled rental cars fill landscape

18,000 cars parked, says airport official

Jammed together like sardines, rental cars sit idle in a former sugar cane field near Kahului Airport on Tuesday morning. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — The sudden drop in visitors to Maui due to the global COVID-19 pandemic has sent rental car companies scrambling to find places to park their idled fleets.

A helicopter flight over Kahului Airport on Tuesday provided by Windward Aviation pilot Don Shearer showed tens of thousands of cars parked like sardines around the airport in former sugar cane fields, along roads and in maxed-out parking lots. There are also cars parked near Costco, behind the former Kmart building and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center parking lot.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said Tuesday that there are about 18,000 rental cars idle on Maui and another 2,500 “out and about.”

“They’re still renting cars,” he said, adding he expected most of those to be turned in soon as well.

For perspective, if the average rental car measures 15 feet in length, 20,000 cars could form a bumper-to-bumper line of vehicles stretching from the airport to Kaanapali and back with more than a mile of cars left over.

Most of Maui’s inventory of more than 20,000 rental cars has been idled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s no certainty when we move on from this,” Moniz said. “We’re kind of winding down now. By April 10, there may only be one or two Mainland flights, maybe none.”

Kihei Rent-A-Car Manager Ryan Simons says rental cars require expenses like registration fees whether they are rented or not.

“We’re not making any money, and they still cost money to maintain,” Simons said. “I’ve heard we have more rental cars on Maui than all the other islands combined. We have 450 for a little family company.”

Simons said Kihei Rent-A-Car currently has about 50 cars rented.

“We’re still here for locals when they need cars,” he said. “I rented a couple cars today to people who are having car troubles.”

He said the drop in business has taken a toll on the company’s employees.

“It’s extremely tough,” Simons said. “Everybody’s furloughed. It’s pretty much just family here. We’re all doing our part.”

Simons said he expects to sell some of his fleet.

“We rent used cars, so we ‘re always selling off older ones as we upgrade our fleet. We have some cars for sale.”

* Matthew Thayer can be reached at thayer@maui.net.

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