Friday, September 26, 2008

‘Love My Car’ but Rail Will Avoid the Hassle

We go back to Comment #7 by "anonymous" beneath the September 22 post for a second dose of clear-headed thinking. Granted, some of the comments that day took issue with the thrust of this blog – that rail will give those who choose to ride a reliable and comfortable way to commute without enduring traffic.

But Comment #7 says in 40 words what we tried to say in far too many: Rail travel will be all about choice. Here’s the complete comment:

“This is all about choice. I love the convenience of my car but I want the choice to get places without being required to buy, insure, maintain, fuel, store and spend a big portion of my life driving an automobile.”

Exactly. This person agrees with the general notion that nearly everyone shares: The private automobile is a great tool that allows drivers to go where they please. Most of the time, the car also delivers the occupant to the destination when they please. But here’s where the car-only argument breaks down.

‘When’ or ‘Where’ or Both?

Commuters who travel between the ewa plain and downtown Honolulu aren’t in control of the “when.” Ask commuters who travel that route during weekday drive time; ever-increasing traffic gives them no certainty about their time of arrival. That translates to impaired mobility and no real freedom of movement through our city.

Those who demand complete control over the “where” will continue to drive their cars during drive time, and that will be fine for them. Knowing they can go anywhere they want in their cars may be such a powerful concept and perhaps even a necessity in their lives that rail just won’t work for them. The “where” will be so powerful a draw that they’ll be willing to give up on the “when.”

But commuters for whom “when” is more important will take the train. Virtually all of rail’s future riders will have an uncomplicated “where” issue; they’ll simply want to go between points A and B – the stations near their homes and workplaces we wrote about in the September 22 post.

It will be important for them to know before they even leave on the journey exactly when they’ll arrive, because the train will travel reliably on time. As we’ve said here repeatedly, grade-separated transit is the only mode of transportation that guarantees a time of arrival.

In other words, rail commuters will control both the “where” and the “when.” Those for whom the "where" is still an overriding concern will likely continue to drive their own cars, and that's OK. It'll be up to them, and equally OK should be an option for other commuters to take the train.

As "anonymous" in Comment #7 says, it’s all about choice.

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