Thursday, June 9, 2011

Honolulu Rail Survey Sparks Debate Elsewhere

We’ve spent the past week examining sections of the recent QMark public opinion survey on Honolulu rail that produced an overall 57-to-40 percent split in support of the project. The survey has attracted interest elsewhere, including at Progressive Railroading's website.

The summary produced a short but lively dialogue that approximates what we read locally about the rationale to build Honolulu’s 20-mile elevated system. Larry Kaufman of Denver, CO responded to a rail skeptic who noted that freight rail pays for itself and so should mass transit: “Is it so wrong to ask of a public transit system to be self-supporting and free of tax-payer money after initial construction?” Here’s a good chunk of Mr. Kaufman’s response:

“Your question/comments on transit being self-sustaining and any comparison with freight rail demonstrates that you have no comprehension of economics or this particular issue. Transit is subsidized because the public through its elected representatives has determined that it is an acceptable way to use public money.
“If you were to set fares to cover the full cost, you would price it out of the range of the very users for which it is intended. The issue really is the nature and amount of the subsidy. You reveal your antipathy toward transit by your rhetorical questions. As for freight, which is something about which I do claim considerable knowledge, it pays its way for the simple reason that it is privately owned and requires no direct subsidy from taxpayers. It sets its prices to cover the full cost of the enterprise and provides a level and amount of service that owners of freight are willing to pay.
“If you are old enough to remember the railroad industry before deregulation in 1980, you know that one of the greatest costs driving major railroads toward bankruptcy was the requirement that they provide commuter and long-distance passenger service and that their stockholders provide the subsidy.
“There is one thing we agree on. You say ‘It all has a cost that the tax-payers have the right to demand that public services make use of their money wisely.’ We have a right to demand the wise use of our money, just as we do when office holders choose to spend it on things you may consider essential and that I may consider frivolous. Ain't democracy grand? Sorry, (skeptic), but just the way you phrase your questions and concerns leaves me persuaded that no amount of logic or rational thought is going to change your mind.”

Mr. Kaufman’s last line certainly applies to those on Oahu who are unalterably opposed to rail transit. They’re not going to change their minds no matter what, but as the latest QMark poll suggests, many more residents now support the project after sifting through the endless arguments on Honolulu rail.

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