October 21, 2008

The Top 99 Reasons to Support Rail Transit for Honolulu

With less than 2 weeks to go before Election Day 2008, the presidential race has shifted much of Hawaii's attention away from the heated debate over Honolulu's proposed rail transit system. But hey, who can really blame anyone for being more interested in watching clips of Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Palin on SNL than having a discussion about trains, traffic and elevated roadways? Even so, the mayoral race between pro-rail incumbent Mufi Hannemann and anti-rail underdog Ann Kobayashi has been grabbing some recent headlines as the issue of rail transit has become the central issue at stake in this election. As an alternative to Hannemann's $3.7 billion, 20-mile rail system, Kobayashi unveiled her own plan last week, a $2.5 billion, 15-mile double-decker freeway for buses that she's calling the "Ez-Way." As a longtime rail supporter who is tired of endless bickering and feet-dragging that has delayed the project for decades, I am hoping (perhaps naively) this election will provide a decisive vote to settle this controversial issue once and for all. It's time to let the people decide.

If you haven't been following the recent developments in the battle over rail, you need to know that there will be a question on the ballot asking voters to select "yes" or "no" on the establishment of a steel-on-steel rail transit system (Charter Amendment #4). Unlike other confusing ballot measures, a vote of "yes" will actually mean yes to rail, whereas a vote of "no" will in fact mean no. Isn't democracy so much more fun when the whole yes/no thing is cleared up? If you are already determined to vote against Honolulu's rail project, I'm not expecting any of my "propaganda" to change your mind. However, if you are still undecided about whether to vote for or against rail, let me attempt to persuade you with a few of my reasons, well, 99 of them to be exact.

Why does Honolulu even need a rail system in the first place?
1. As it stands right now, Honolulu's traffic jams have been ranked among the worst in the country. It often takes 2 hours to travel 20 miles on the H-1 freeway.
2. The bottlenecks on the H-1 are projected to become 30% worse by 2030 if nothing is done.
3. The status quo of minor freeway adjustments is not working. Even rail opponents like Panos Prevedouros and Ann Kobayashi agree that something major must be done to address traffic congestion. Doing nothing is not an option.
4. The H-1 freeway has already exceeded its full capacity and will not be adequate for the projected population growth in West Oahu.

5. Currently, there is no viable alternative to cars and buses, which are both at the mercy of unpredictable traffic congestion, road work, accidents, weather conditions, fallen phone poles, rubbernecking, road rage and every other factor that slows down our roads.
6. Honolulu is city that is about 25 miles long and 3 miles wide. The geographic landscape (limited space along a narrow urban corridor) coupled with our high population density make Honolulu well-suited for a rail system.
7. Unlike Kobayashi's Ez-Way, which will create new traffic bottlenecks without taking any cars off the roads, rail will reduce traffic 11% by the year 2030.
8. Unlike the last-minute EZ-way proposal, the rail project has already been scrutinized, debated and approved by the Honolulu City Council and a panel of engineering experts.
9. According to a recent study, Hawaii has the highest cost of vehicle ownership in the nation, around $12,000 per year. People are looking more and more to public transportation as a cheaper way to get around.

How will Honolulu's rail system address our transportation problems?
10. Rail can carry passengers more efficiently than highways. Each train can carry more than 300 passengers - the equivalent of more than 200 cars or 6 lanes of highway.
11. A fully-elevated rail transit system will be able to move thousands of people per hour without taking away our limited highway and road space.
12. Once the full system is up and running, rail will provide about 88,000 passenger trips per day.
13. Rail will completely remove over 25,000 vehicles from the roadways each day.

14. Unlike cars and buses on the Ez-Way, rail cars on the transit line will travel completely unaffected by road congestion on the streets below. Even carpools and buses will have to exit off the elevated Ez-Way back onto surface streets at some point.
15. Unlike the Ez-Way, the 20-mile rail guideway will have 19 stops between Kapolei and Ala Moana Center. By contrast, the Ez-Way only covers the distance between Pearl City and Chinatown with just 4 or 5 entry and exit points.
16. Unlike the Ez-Way, fixed rail can accommodate shorter trips between any of the 19 transit stop and removes these people out of congestion.
17. Unlike the Ez-Way, rail will move people in both directions simultaneously.
18. Even those who don't ride rail will benefit because of reduced congestion on the roads. This includes our emergency responders as well as loved ones who might live on a different side of the island (presently or in the future).

What kind of reliability and mobility will rail provide?
19. Even during rush hour, rail will transport people from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center in 39 minutes, sidewalk to sidewalk, or from Pearlridge Mall to downtown in 19 minutes. Cars on the Ez-Way won't be able to do this because it can take that long just to find a parking space!
20. Unlike buses, rail will be on time, every time. There is a major difference between a crowded rail car and a crowded freeway: reliable travel times. A full rail car in rush hour will still travel at about the same speed (unaffected by road conditions) as an empty one. The same cannot be said about cars and buses stuck in a gridlocked freeway bottleneck, construction detour, accident scene or Ez-Way off-ramp merging with local streets.
21. Since there will be only 3 minutes between rail vehicles during peak hours, riders won’t have to check the schedule to catch the next one.

22. Rail transit is a safer form of transportation than motor vehicles or buses due to a lower rate of injuries and fatalities.
23. Steel-on-steel is by far the safest, most dependable, widely-used and cost-effective type of rail technology on the market today.
24. Unlike the Ez-Way, the rail line has the future option of being extended to UH Manoa and Waikiki.

How will rail improve the quality of life on Oahu?
25. Less time spent in traffic will allow people to spend more time w
ith their families.
26. Rail will help to encourage the next generation of children and grandchildren to consider living and working in Hawaii.
27. Riding the rail will be an affordable form of transportation for those who don't own a car including low-income families, the elderly, college students and persons with disabilities.

28. Rail riders will have reduced stress from not having to fight traffic or find parking.
29. Rail riders will get an extra fitness benefit from walking to from transit stops each day.
30. Rail will have accessibility and assistance devices for elderly and disabled passengers.
31. As the number of elderly persons over age 65 in Hawaii doubles in the next 23 years, rail will help them to remain independent without having to own a car.
32. The level platforms at rail stations will make it convenient for the elderly and disabled to get on and off the train without difficulty.

33. The monthly transit pass will work system-wide for both bus and rail with free transfers between systems.
34. Each family in Honolulu that can live with one less household car will save an average of $935 per month or $11,215 annually according to the APTA. For those who drive less, rail will help them save on the cost of owning a vehicle such as gas, maintenance, insurance and parking (see #9).
35. Rail will make it easier for locals and tourists to visit cultural attractions, museums, concerts, shopping/dining areas, sporting events, graduations and leisure activities without having to worry about traffic or parking.
36. Employees and college students at HCC, LCC, HPU and UH-West Oahu will have easy access to their respective campuses via rail.
37. Rail will benefit future generations of Oahu residents islandwide, not just MY neighborhood, MY lifestyle and MY commute.

How will Honolulu's rail system be paid for?
38. Unlike the Ez-Way, the transit tax to pay for rail is already in effect. This tax, which has a 15-year lifespan from 2007 to 2022, is prevented by law from being used on anything besides rail.
39. Unlike the Ez-Way, there is a $1 billion contingency buffer already built in to the rail project’s budget. Essentially, the Ez-Way costs the same as rail, but with no way to pay for it.

40. Unlike the Ez-Way, Honolulu's rail project qualifies for federal funding from the FTA (Federal Transit Administration).
41. Unlike the Ez-Way, the rail project's detailed budget has met strict FTA regulations.

42. Unlike the Ez-Way, the rail project has already completed a comprehensive 120-page Alternatives Analysis which determined that rail was the most cost-effective option.
43. Unlike the Ez-Way,
rail has been guaranteed federal funding by the U.S. House Transportation Committee chairman Jim Oberstar, who has pledged $900 million for Honolulu's rail system saying "I'm going to make it happen because it's got to happen" adding that "it is essential to undertake this project."
44. Contrary to anti-rail speculation, the rail project will not raise anyone’s property tax or income tax.
45. Contrary to anti-rail speculation, it is short-sighted to make a judgment on the 15-year lifespan of the 0.5% GET increase based on the last few months of economic upheaval. Like all taxes, the amount obtained from the GET will fluctuate with the economy.
46. Even if the slumping economy does in fact lower total tax revenues over the 15-year period from 2007 to 2022, it could also lower construction costs since labor tends to cost less when business is slow. If needed, the contingency buffer (see #39) could also address this.

So who else even wants rail besides Mayor Hannemann?
47. Recent polling shows that a clear 2-to-1 majority of all Oahu residents want rail, not just those living in West Oahu. For all of its vocal lobbying and media publicity, the "Stop Rail Now" petition could barely muster up 35,000 valid signatures (putting them well short of their goal of 44,525), even after hoodwinking some rail supporters to sign it on the basis of "letting the people decide."
48. A majority of the City Council supports rail.
49. A majority of the State legislature supports rail.
50. All 4 Hawaii members of U.S. Congress (Inouye, Akaka, Abercrombie & Hirono) support rail.

51. The federal government, even after the recent financial bailout, has continued to allocate money for new rail systems.
52. Steel-on-steel rail technology was selected by an independent panel of engineering experts assigned to evaluate Honolulu's proposed transit system.
53. Rail transit is supported by four former Hawaii State transportation directors, all of them civil engineers.
54. The editorial boards of both major Honolulu newspapers (Advertiser & Star Bulletin) has endorsed rail.
55. The
Oahu chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed rail for Honolulu because of its environmental benefits.
56. The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has endorsed rail because of its benefits for the elderly.

57. Hawaii's labor unions strongly support rail because of the new construction jobs it creates.
58. This week, the rail project was endorsed by The Hawaii Business Roundtable, an organization comprising fifty chief executives from the state's largest businesses who collectively employ over 67,000 people.

But who cares if there are a lot of people who want this silly train. Shouldn't we still be very very afraid of risky-scary-evil-catastrophic-apocalyptic rail?
59. Contrary to anti-rail speculation, the rail cars will not eat your children or cause the sky to fall. Ask anyone whose ever ridden a rail system and lived to tell about it.
60. Regarding the issue of "risk", Ann Kobayashi's Ez-Way proposal has far more unanswered questions regarding cost, ridership, noise, mobility, funding sources, environmental impact, long-term sustainability and public support.

How will rail help Hawaii’s struggling economy?
61. The rail system's construction will create over 11,000 new jobs in Hawaii over 8 years.
62. The FTA’s New Starts program is expected to bring in $900 million of outside money into our local economy. (see #43)
63. According to the APTA (American Public Transportation Association),
every dollar taxpayers invest in public transportation generates 6 dollars or more in economic returns.
64. Transit-oriented development or TOD (the creation of shops, services, and housing in the vicinity of transit stations) will attract new investment and create even more jobs.
65. The jobs and businesses created by TOD will help fund state and city services.
66. The reduction of employee commute times and easing of parking pressures will benefit local businesses and their customers.

How does rail benefit the environment?
67. According to the U.S. Department of Energy,
rail consumes 37% less energy per passenger mile than single-occupant cars and trucks.
68. Rail will give people an incentive to drive less and ride public transportation more often, which generates 95% less carbon monoxide than personal vehicles per passenger mile traveled.
69. Rail will help to reduce our dependence on foreign oil since it can be powered by renewable energy such as H-power, wind, solar and biofuels.
70. Rail will cause less air, water and noise pollution than buses or the Ez-Way.

71. Rail will reduce automobile dependency will in turn reduce the need to build more environmentally unfriendly highways.
72. Contrary to anti-rail speculation, rail will not require HECO to build another power plant.
73. Rail will help make Honolulu a more pedestrian and bike-friendly city.

How do we know if people will ride the rail?
74. According to the FTA,
Honolulu already has the fourth-highest public transportation ridership-per-capita in the entire nation and it's still rising. Once people try rail for themselves, transit ridership will increase even further.
75. Even though the bus has an on-time rate of only 60%, there are still approximately 230,000 daily trips taken on Oahu's bus system. The bus system is filled to capacity during peak hours.

76. Both locally and nationwide, people are driving less and using public transportation more.
77. There is a financial incentive to ride rail in order to save on gas, parking and car maintenance expenses (see #9).
78. People will ride rail to avoid the stress and frustration of sitting in gridlock because unlike sitting in traffic, you can read, sleep, use your laptop or relax while riding the rail.

For those who don't ride the bus right now, why would they choose to ride rail?
79. Unlike buses, rail cars will always be on time since they don't have to fight through any traffic bottlenecks.

80. Rail offers a smoother ride than buses.
81. Rail offers a quieter ride than buses.
82. Commuting times with rail will be faster than with buses only, which will attract new riders to public transportation (see #18).
83. Some will ride rail for environmental reasons (see #'s 67-73).

Why isn't the bus system enough to handle Honolulu's public transportation needs?
84. The president of Honolulu’s bus system strongly supports rail as a complement to the bus system.
85. Honolulu’s crowded streets do not have the capacity to accommodate a new influx of buses.
86. Adding more buses onto our congested roads will only make gridlock worse and cause even more bus delays. Without rail, traffic will worsen faster which will result in slower, more unpredictable commute times that will deter potential riders.
87. Elevated bus roadways, such as the EZ-way, cost more to build per mile than rail.
88. Elevated bus roadways take up 25% more room than rail guideways.

How much will it cost to operate and maintain this rail system?
89. Operating and maintenance costs, after subtracting fares, are estimated to be about $40 million per year, which is about 2 to 3% of the City's budget.
90. Unlike the EZ-way, which would not generate any revenue, the rail system will recoup some costs through transit fares.
91. Rail transit will cost 40% less to operate and maintain per passenger-mile than buses
92. Rail cars last longer than buses and steel wheels hold up much longer than rubber tires.
93. Rail requires fewer drivers per passenger and rail transit's modern electric-motor technology is more energy efficient than the diesel engines used in buses.

How will rail lead to more sustainable urban growth?
94. Transit-oriented development, because it uses space much more efficiently that car-oriented development, usually results in more face-to-face interaction with others as well as neighborhoods that allow small business, culture and the arts to thrive.
95. Rail will encourage people to live and do business near the transit stops. By contrast, no one wants to live adjacent to a freeway.
96. Rail will help to “keep the country, country” by focusing development away from agricultural and conservation lands including the North Shore and Windward Oahu. TOD will actually to preserve the beauty, history and culture of "Old Hawaii."
97. Rail will contribute to an improved infrastructure to support West O‘ahu’s growth.
98. Transit experts almost universally agree that car-oriented development leads to urban sprawl much faster than TOD, which helps to foster communities that promote more walking, biking and other transportation habits that are more sustainable in the long term.
99. Rail will not magically fix all of our problems, but i
t will be the centerpiece of an integrated multi-modal transportation plan, which includes TheBus, TheBoat, bike lanes, walking paths and, of course, roadways for those who will continue to use their private vehicles.

After over 40 years of public discussion on this issue, the possibility of rail has never been closer. Public support for rail transit in Hawaii has never been stronger. Studies have been done, debates have been held, polls have been taken, legislation has been passed, a transit tax is being collected and vigorous protests have been mounted again and again. Mud has been slung and names have been smeared. Politicians and citizen pundits alike have debated the issue ad nauseum on TV, radio, newspaper editorial pages, press releases, internet message boards and blogs like this one. Everyone with an opinion on rail has had a chance to express it. The public has had plenty of time to become informed and engaged on both sides of this issue.

Just about the only thing that has NOT been done yet is to put the issue to a decisive island-wide vote at the ballot box, which is exactly what will happen on November 4th, as it should be. All of the intense scrutiny, discussion, lobbying and debate are signs of a healthy democracy, but it's time to make a final decision that actually means something. The time for rail has come!


Cheryl said...

Go Rail Go!

Anonymous said...

Aloha Dan S.,

In response to your comments:
1. Mufi was called out at a rail hearing and admitted that in order to fund the rail he would need to raise the property taxes. This raise in property tax could be as high as 40%.
2. Being that you are a grad student I won't question your knowledge, but over time inflation is only going to go up, and when inflation goes up so will the cost for the rail. This past raise was proof. One would be a fool to think that the price for the rail will be the same in 20 years.
3. If the rail were to expand to the airport how would we fund it? Should the rail go to UH Manoa, how will we fund that? I think it goes back to #1.
4. Is there any proof that the rail will be quieter? I've heard from friend who go to schools in the cities that have an elevated rail system and they said it's pretty loud.
5. Rail is a political platform not a long term solution. The long term solution would be to fully develop Kapolei into the next big city.
6. I don't think we could maintain the rail on a $2 per person fare. I honestly think that in 20 years bus fess are only going to go up so so would the rail fare right.
7. I guess we agree.
8. Ok so Honolulu is the urban core but why can't Kapolei be the next core city? Wanna talk about change of thinking, this is it. Your point is based on people from all over the island coming into Honolulu so shouldn't the rail be state wide not just from Kapolei then? The problem is people from the West side commuting into town. And I think there is plenty incentives to have businesses in Kapolei especially if we can develop a top notch new private school there so parents won't have to go into town to drop off their children.
9. My point is to develop Kapolei, so how are we going to do it? We need to hire workers right? And if we want to get it up and running wouldn't we want to hire more? Say more than 11,000 people? And once shopping centers and businesses are built isn't that going to allow for more jobs?
10. Buddy, what are you going to do after you get off the rail? How are you going to get to the rail? The bus right? Don't you think we are going to need more buses to support all the people riding the rail?

I want to thank you for commenting on my blog and for referencing your blog.

I hope this further clarifies my points. Again I've been trying to gather as much information from both sides as I could and one day it all made sense that the rail is a bad thing for Hawaii.

The Common Loon said...

Thanks for commenting, David.

I think your objections regarding the cost can be answered by #'s 38-46 of my 99 reasons. Regarding property taxes, I would love to see Mufi's quote you're referring to because I don't think it exists except in anti-rail mythology. Fear of new taxes is often used as an anti-rail argument, but fear is not the same as fact.

If you want to adjust the budget for inflation in the future, that's fine as long as you do it to both side of the equation or else you're comparing apples to oranges. Either way, the rail budget is a balanced one that has been FTA approved.

I'd be curious to know where your friend with the loud elevated rail lives. If it's in Chicago or New York, those are very loud systems built 50 years ago with much older technology. Modern rail is not silent, but if we're used to the noise levels of buses, we can handle the sound of rail.

If "rail is a political platform" as you say, it's certainly a very risky one since Mufi has been taking a lot of heat for sticking his neck out on rail. The politically advantageous thing to do would be to not rock the boat on this controversial issue. Instead, he is pushing the project full steam ahead because it's the right thing to do, which isn't always politically popular.

I agree with you about developing Kapolei, but traffic in Honolulu is caused by cars from all over the island, even though Kapolei gets unfairly scapegoated for causing more than their fair share of it. Drivers from Kapolei have the worst commute, but that doesn't mean they cause all the congestion. Rail provides an option for anyone who travels along part of the 20-mile route in either direction. See reason #15.

Regarding getting to and from the rail stations, I think people will find a way to get there if it saves them time, money and stress. Buses and rail will be a terrific tandem. One does not negate the other. See reasons #74-83.

A couple of questions for you:

1) Do you support Ann Kobayashi's Ez-Way plan? If not, what is your alternative?

2) Do you think the results of the Nov 4 vote should decide the issue or rail once and for all? In other words, should we "let the people decide" this time or decide the issue some other way such as...?