Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Breaking Through the ‘Nobody Will Ride’ Mindset

We came across a comment on a website the other day posted by someone who charitably could be called a rail skeptic. His several posts suggest he’s really a rail opponent, but he manages to maintain a patina of objectivity. Here’s some of the post:

“Do you know anyone who ride the train? This is just anecdotal, but I’ve been asking people I know, and so far no one has said they will ride the train…. Do you know personally who will be riding it?”

Readers who live in cities with well-developed rail transit systems probably smile when you read this. It’s standard “nobody will ride” fare that can be knocked down fairly easily, especially due to the anecdotal nature of this observation.

He’d find different results if he conducted his survey while walking at car-crawl pace along the H-1 freeway or other congested roads during morning rush hour. (We emphatically are not recommending this!)

He could ask actual cross-town commuters whether they would rather be fighting traffic at a snail’s pace or sitting in a train reading the morning paper while whizzing above surface traffic on the elevated track, making the trip in half the drive time or less.

Cost Per Mile

He might ask those drivers if they know their cost to operate their car. According to the AAA (as reported by a Florida transit website), the composite national average per-mile cost for a car driven 10,000 miles per year is nearly 75 cents.

The average price of regular gas on Oahu is just under $3.50 today compared to a national average about 50 cents below that, so it’s safe to infer that the per-mile cost to drive on Oahu – where nearly everything costs more than the mainland – is higher than the national average.

Fuel costs undoubtedly will rise this decade, so it’s no stretch to envision a $1/mile cost a decade from now when all the expenses of owning, operating, insuring, parking and maintaining a car are included.

Using that figure, a 40-mile round trip from Kapolei to a destination in town will be a $40 expense in that not-distant future. Compare that to riding the train, which will cost the same as TheBus fare when fully operational over its 20-mile length.

The cost of today’s monthly pass (which is what a hardcore commuter undoubtedly would purchase) is $60. Even if the price were to increase by one-quarter by the time the train is operational (that's just a hypothetical guess), the monthly pass would cost $75.

Nobody Will Ride?

A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation for a 40-mile roundtrip five times a week by car at $1/mile for 50 weeks/year (excluding holidays) comes out to a nice round $10,000. That's $9,100 more per year than what commuting by train would cost in 2020 if our pass estimate is correct!

Car ownership costs will increase over the years, and so will traffic congestion despite the investment of $3 billion on improving traffic flow on roads and highways by 2030.

Nobody will ride? The assertion is ludicrous unless Oahu residents lose all interest in saving time and money, and that’s not going to happen. Honolulu rail will be a fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel mode for decades, even generations far into our island’s future.

Rail will be an obvious option for scores of thousands of Oahu residents for the simple reason it will save them thousands of dollars each year. When they factor in the time advantages rail will offer, the savings will be priceless.

1 comment:

Dean said...

What many anti-rail people don't take into consideration that a lot of people today can't drive for a variety of reasons including vision problems, financial situation or other physical limitations.

Too many take a elitist attitude and simply say it's too bad for those who can't. I'm certain they would think differently if they suddenly found themselves without a car.

Mobility via efficient transportation is also an important part of a healthy economy. It enables people to get to their jobs within a reasonable amount of time.