Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What’s Rail’s Return on Investment? Priceless

A radio show host continued his attack on Honolulu rail this morning as the lead-in to an on-air “discussion” among three mayoral candidates. The host’s assault on the project sounded more like a ratings-builder than a serious approach to hosting a discussion on rail and other election issues. Objective it wasn’t.

Be that as it may, the host’s key point deserves attention. What’s the payback on the public’s investment in rail? he asked – repeatedly. His position is that there is no payback.

He couldn’t be more wrong. His body of case-building “facts” aside, the payback is so obvious that he just can’t see it – maybe because it requires an ability to see the Big Picture that a myopic perspective doesn’t allow.

A Priceless Payback

The payback on the investment is Traffic-Free Travel through our city! An economist can probably put a dollar figure on that, but for those who avoid hours of sitting in traffic congestion each week, the value is incalculable.

The payback also is reduced dependence on the private automobile for significant numbers of our citizens. Reducing that dependence will increase their ability to commute completely free of traffic congestion.

The payback includes a rationale way to develop our city – transit-oriented development – for all the decades of the 21st century. That’s a return on investment that will benefit all the generations that follow our own. Transportation equity – giving the elderly and low-income populations fast, frequent and reliable movement through the city – is a huge payback on the rail investment.

Important or Not?

Just ask the residents of metropolitan areas where an option to sitting in traffic exists if any of this is important. Go no further than the East Bay communities near San Francisco.

Commuters heading into the city can either drive over the Bay Bridge or ride the BART train beneath the Bay. Choose the former and you’re caught in miles-long traffic jams that don't end once you're across the bridge. Take the train and you completely bypass all of that.

Do you suppose trains users value the payback on BART? Of course they do, and to suggest otherwise is complete folly. Yet the radio host wants you to believe there is no payback.

Rail’s return on investment is detailed in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, and everyone can find the project’s value statements in the FEIS. There are tens of thousands of words there, but we’re choosing just one to summarize:

The payback is Priceless – something the radio host can never acknowledge on his station, which ranked 17th among Honolulu radio outlets, 6 am to midnight, persons 12 and older, in April 2010 (Arbitron Ratings Data).

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