Friday, August 29, 2008

Hot Seat Revisited: Dissecting Slater

Let’s roll back the calendar a couple days and examine some of the positions advanced by long-time transit opponent Cliff Slater as the guest on the Honolulu Advertiser’s “HOT SEAT.”

One of the first questions sent by a reader addressed the spike in transit ridership due to historically high gas prices. Slater’s answer: “Ridership is only up 3 percent over last year across the nation despite what the city says…. Over the long haul transit continues to lose market share.”

But it’s not the “long haul” that’s at issue. As gas prices passed $4 per gallon and approached $5, people reacted and rode transit. Demand for oil is increasing, the supply will diminish, so businessman Slater surely can see the consequences – higher gas prices and more transit ridership. The “new haul” favors transit as riders say the high costs of driving, maintaining and parking their cars make transit attractive.

But if Slater has his way, Oahu commuters – unlike those who switched to transit on the mainland – won’t have a fast, convenient and affordable transit alternative to gas when the price creeps up to $10 per gallon someday.

And that’s a key difference between the pro- and anti-rail people. Rail supporters don’t expect everyone will ride the train; in fact, they know a large majority of day trips will still be by car. When Honolulu’s system is up and running, rail will be an option available to those who don’t want to drive.

But the anti-rail faction in essence is demanding that NO ONE rides the train. Slater’s choices for future commuters are the freeway, toll lanes or surface streets and roads. His vision for Oahu is continued reliance on gas-guzzling cars and buses, with no room in the mix for a renewable-energy-powered train that bypasses all surface traffic.

Population Growth & Ridership

Another reader kept the focus on record transit ridership levels across the country. Slater’s answer: “Both locally and nationally ridership has been drifting sideways while the population keeps increasing. Check APTA figures and the census data for population…..”

For as long as we can remember, Cliff Slater has been banging away on this comparison between population growth and transit ridership and concludes each and every time that transit is a bust because ridership allegedly isn’t growing apace with the population.

Suburbia is where growth is happening near major urban centers, right? Anybody visit Sacramento lately? New communities are everywhere; e.g., a tremendous amount of open space out by the airport and between Arco Arena, home of the NBA Kings, and Sacramento’s former “city limits” is now filling up with housing – all built conveniently along the major highway and feeder roads.

Sacramento is expanding its transit system, but highway commuting understandably is growing faster than transit commuting. According to Slater, that means transit is a loser, when in fact, it’s simply a reflection of how urban centers have expanded. Ask Sacramento residents if their city needs and relies on transit, and the answer is a resounding Yes!

We could go on, but Labor Day weekend has started according to our watch. We hope anyone still interested enough in this debate to read critically about it will do that with the Slater HOT SEAT column. As we noted near the end of the session, transit opponents have a consistent mantra: “My way IS the highway – and too bad if you want rail.” That’s the definition of inflexibility.

Have a good stress-free holiday, everybody.


aullman said...

Mass transit can offer relief for commuters facing the high cost of gas, but it will take years for the system to be built.

There is another option for office workers which can be implemented immediately without the need for huge capital investment or infrastructure.

Most office workers could just as easily work from a remote location as long as they had proper facilities and support from management.

Facilites can be leased from a Remote Office Centers, so the only thing needed is suport from management. Remote Office Centers lease individual offices, internet access and phone system to workers from different companies in shared centers located near where people live.

The concept is new, but there are already centers in many cities. A quick search of "Remote Office Centers" (in quotes) can be used to find a facility by city.

Commuters need immediate relief from the high price of fuel. There is no reason that most office workers need to be in a centralized facility when they could just as easily work remotely.

This is a new century, with new issues and a chance for new solutions. High speed internet, teleconferencing and VOIP did not exist in the 70s during the last great energy crisis. They all exist now, and it is pretty easy to take advantage of the technology which would allow many commuters to skip the commute.

Doug Carlson said...

Certain "aullman" is correct in that a new century has new ways of working. But the old one -- going to and from work -- isn't going to disappear. People need alternatives to traffic now and will need them even more decades from now, when traffic can only be worse.

Bring on the Remote Office Centers -- and bring on rail transit.