Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oahu Citizens Want To Save Time/Money, Too

It’s been a week since Honolulu rail won a decisive victory at the polls, but that hasn’t stopped the anti-railers from continuing to question just about everything about rail – from its value in reducing street congestion to its ridership estimates.

A common theme is their incredulity that Oahu residents will actually use rail. We’re so attached to our cars, their reasoning goes, that the thought of people walking, driving or taking TheBus to and from train stations is beyond their comprehension.

Here’s a typical post at Civil Beat's rail discussion page (available I think only to the online news site’s subscribers):

“Would Kaimuki-based employees honestly give up their cars and use the Rail? Anyone at CivilBeat HQ (in Kaimuki) wanna chime in on that one? How do you feel about coming in from Kapolei to Ala Moana on Rail, waiting around for a Bus, and then walking a big – versus jumping into your car and going point-to-point? Be honest with yourselves. At what point are everyday people with disposable incomes willing to give up the convenience of their cars for Rail?”

Let’s Consider That

Putting aside for the moment the obvious fact that commuters do this all over the world in big cities and small (New York and Charlotte, for example), why wouldn’t Oahu commuters want to do the same if their circumstances were helped by multi-modal transportation?

Note the qualifier – “if their circumstances.” Not everyone will use transit, and we can’t say it often enough. People living in Hawaii Kai on Oahu’s east end or in Kaimuki itself obviously won’t fit the anti-railer’s scenario. But we can imagine someone living in Mililani or Kapolei with an office in Kaimuki doing exactly what the skeptic described.

Let’s say the Kapolei resdident even works at Civil Beat and commutes with his or her laptop computer, intending to arrive around 8 am. The 42-minute ride from Kapolei to Ala Moana could be spent reading on-line or in-hand media, writing an article, telephoning, emailing or just thinking about what the day ahead will bring. All of that could continue on the 15-minute bus ride from Ala Moana to Kaimuki.

Compare that to either having to leave before 5:30 am to beat the traffic on the H-1 freeway or sitting in traffic congestion for at least an hour during the height of drive time. According to this website, the average per-mile cost to drive a car is $0.96. Let’s throw out the accident cost and assume it’s surely offset by the higher cost of gasoline in Hawaii.

A rough calculation by Google.maps for the distance between Kapolei and Kaimuki says it’s a 50.2-mile round trip, which according to the above website’s formula means the per-day cost to commute by car on this route would be $48.19.

That is a considerable expense! Consider then that a commuter who uses TheBus and Honolulu rail for that commute would pay one fare each way – whatever TheBus’s fare is. There will be no additional cost to transfer between TheBus and train.

Saving $200 per Week

It’s hard to imagine why a commuter who needs to travel only between point A to point B in the morning and back again in the afternoon wouldn’t seriously consider using multi-modal transportation. The savings would be impressive – obviously.

But let’s consider another snippet from the anti-railer’s quote – “people with disposable incomes.” He’s clearly oblivious to one of the rail’s goals – to provide transportation equity to all people, including the low-income, elderly, car-less and handicapped. He’s probably right that many well-to-do people will want to continue driving their cars, but it’s also not hard to imagine even the wealthy giving serious consideration to using transit if it would save them more than $10,000 per year.

We’ll say it yet again: Rail won’t be for everybody, but it will provide safe, fast, frequent, time-saving and cost-effective travel through the urban corridor for anyone whose circumstances make rail a good choice. And it will be a choice. Enough Oahu residents will make it for Honolulu rail to be a success.


Anonymous said...

Anti-railers love to comment about how inconvenient it will be to step off a train and wait for that connecting bus. What they glaringly overlook with this generalized assessment is that once you have rail in place, the bus fleet will not diminish in size. What you have is shorter bus feeder routes that will improve bus frequency as each bus takes a shorter amount of time to complete its route. A solid, high frequency bus service, especially during peak hours, makes that train/bus transfer seamless.

I guess the next counterpoint they will bring up is now you have to walk up or down the station stairs to which I only have one reply - LAZY. The arguments at this point become irrational with those folks.

Doug Carlson said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Yes, they'll complain about access at the stations, too, even though escalators and elevators will effortlessly take them up to the platforms.

The kicking and screaming probably will continue right up to the time they actually start riding the trains themselves....

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug, I like to add that while escalators and elevators may factor into the energy usage of the system, there are many modern features that limit the power consumption. Many international airports such as Narita have escalators that have sensors installed X feet in front of it so when there is no motion after a certain time, the escalator shuts down to reduce power usage.

Same Anonymous