Saturday, October 16, 2010

Anti-Railers Help Make Case for Honolulu Rail

Call it crazy, but we continue to use rail opponents’ own statements to build support for Honolulu rail. We’ve done it with Cliff Slater, and we’re doing it again today with University of Hawaii professor Panos Prevedouros’s latest contribution to Hawaii Reporter.

Dr. Prevedouros uses various metrics, goals and scores to grade rail vs High Occupance and Toll (HOT) lanes and concludes, no surprise, that HOT lanes are far and away superior to rail.

I’m reminded of a book published decades ago, “How To Lie with Statistics.” We’re not implying anything shady by Dr. Prevedouros – just the human tendency to search out and rely on information that allegedly supports his pro-car, pro-highway sentiments. Let’s examine those sentiments.

Tolls Discourage Use

Dr. Prevedouros relies on a report produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center titled Performance Driven: New Vision for U.S Transportation Policy. We're delighted to reproduce here the graphic from the Center’s web page on the National Transportation Policy Project; we take special pleasure in noting the dominant feature in that photograph -- grade-separated fixed-guideway rail! (Observe the bumper-to-bumper traffic below it.)

Dr. Prevedouros provides brief system descriptions of Honolulu’s rail project (which is 99.9 percent finished with its pre-construction phase) and HOT lanes (which haven’t begun in any respect whatsoever). He says “low and solo occupancy vehicles pay a graduated toll (e.g., from $0.50 to $5.00).”

He calls the toll “congestion insurance” that “guarantees 50 mph travel at all times.” Of course, Dr. Prevedouros can’t guarantee any such thing, since vehicle accidents and unforeseen impediments to smooth traffic flow happen all the time on highways, HOT or not. But let’s ignore that and continue with his next quote:

“Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”

Stop right there. Do you get this? The principle behind HOT lanes is pricing the privilege to ride on them at every-higher levels at the lanes’ entrance until only those who can afford to pay the toll enjoy the benefit. Vehicles presumably can travel relatively congestion-free on HOT lanes (when there are no accidents) only because most people decline to pay the high tolls. They're left to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the other highways.

Let’s cut to the rail project’s goals again – specifically the “transportation equity” goal in paragraph 1.8.4 of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. Here’s the first sentence:

“Equity is about the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.”

Who benefits from HOT lanes? That’s pretty clear – car owners and those who can afford to pay the toll. Who doesn’t benefit includes everybody without the resources or physical ability to drive, own a car or afford toll roads. Broadly speaking, large numbers of Honolulu’s elderly and low-income residents would be excluded from HOT lane use.

We’d go on, but we’ve already made a solid case against HOT lanes by examining only the first couple paragraphs of Dr. Prevedouros’s piece. Besides, the Hawkeyes are beating Michigan on TV, and the Giants are up next. We’ll pick up with more words by Manoa’s traffic-not-transit expert soon enough.

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