Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Group Launches New/Old Anti-Rail Campaign that Recycles the Familiar Points You've Already Heard

• JULY 14th UPDATE: Honolulu families can save $11,268/year on average by giving up one of their two cars and taking TheBus -- details at end of this post.
You’d think the anti-rail contingent would have found new material with which to fight Honolulu rail after all these years, but it’s evident they’re still using the old arguments from the early 1990s.

An ad in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (posted also on rail opponent Cliff Slater’s website) recycles the same arguments that have failed to win over the public.

A scientific opinion survey conducted in May by respected polling firm QMark of Honolulu found that 57 percent of the 900 respondents said they support rail and only 40 percent don’t. That’s close to a landslide, even with the 3.2 percent margin of error.

Despite those and earlier polling results that were similar, anti-railer in chief Cliff Slater continues his decades-long fight to stop this project and has convinced others, including a former governor, to join him in a lawsuit to stop rail.

Dissecting the Ad’s ad copy includes “5 reasons to stop their $7 billion elevated rail.” The ad makes an obvious mistake before it even gets to the 5 reasons. The project’s financial plan says rail will cost $5.3 billion, not a figure 32 percent higher. The ad inflates the project cost by nearly a third – hardly a good precursor for what follows, which is:

Reason #1: “Rail is about politics. Rail has nothing to do with traffic. It’s about land owners, developers, contractors, politicians and union leaders. It’s THEIR train!”

Quite to the contrary, Honolulu rail is all about traffic and how to avoid it. Without grade-separated rail, there’s no way to restore mobility to our city with an alternative to driving that completely bypasses surface traffic. Congestion is certain to increase in the decades ahead, which leads directly to:

Reason #2: “Traffic congestion will be worse. The City admits in its Final EIS that, ‘Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today.’”

Mr. Slater believes this reason is his ace; he plays it often, but as we pointed out last July when he showed his hand, this argument is more joker than ace. OF COURSE traffic will be worse in the future. Families will have babies, people will move here and Oahu's population is expected to be 200,000 more in 2030 than 2005. Strangely, Mr. Slater believes the City’s truthful response about future traffic conditions is an admission that rail will fail.

Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka dealt with Mr. Slater’s assertion before the City Council this way a year ago: “No kidding, in the future, traffic will be greater than it is today….the difference is that without the rail, in the future traffic congestion will be much worse than with rail….”

Even Mr. Slater was forced to admit as much at that same Council meeting: “We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all.”

Reason #3: "It’s likely to cost $7 billion, not $5.3 billion. The City says the rail project will cost $5.3 billion. It doesn’t tell you that a federal study concluded there is a 50% percent chance it will cost $7 billion.”

We haven’t searched out Mr. Slater’s source, but if we read this right, there’s an equal chance the project will not cost $7 billion. Saying something’s so doesn’t make it so; children learn that at a young age. (See sumwonyuno's comment at the end of this post for an in-depth response to Reason #3.)

Reason #4, “We can’t afford it,” and #5, “It would be an eyesore,” reflect the ad sponsors’ opinions, but that’s all they are. Assuming a $1.7 billion cost overrun as #4 does is nothing but speculation, just as #5 conveys their personal opinion of how the overhead line will look.

The City’s environmental impact statement readily acknowledges the project’s visual impacts; there’s no denying them, but project supporters respond with two primary points:

First, the visual impacts should not stand apart from the significant benefits rail will deliver to Honolulu citizens – restored mobility with fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through the urban core. Second, Honolulu rail’s profile will be dwarfed by the many buildings already in place and new ones that will be built in decades ahead.

Reasonable people can disagree on the guideway’s impacts; it’s somewhat more difficult to disagree with the concept of restoring a community's mobility -- something we've lost. Honolulu rail will give significant numbers of Oahu commuters an alternative mode of travel that completely avoids traffic while ensuring transportation equity for all of them.

Donations Accepted

The ad goes on to describe the lawsuit Mr. Slater and friends have filed to stop the project and then gets to its true purpose – an appeal for contributions. “It will help us continue the legal fight to keep the monstrosity out of our city.”

In other words, the ad sponsors want to maintain the status quo, which includes gridlock for thousands of commuters along Oahu’s southern corridor; lost productivity at work and with families; continued dependence on the private car for commuting to and from work, and no economic revival for our construction sector.

One more thing about QMark’s poll and the company’s report: “Younger segments of the population tend to view this project more favorably.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs listed in the newspaper ad don’t speak for Generation Next – the relatively younger demographic that will use rail for both transportation and as a rational approach to community growth for decades to come. Honolulu rail will be THEIR train, too.

APTA Releases Car Costs

The cost of owning and driving two cars instead of one has increased since we last reported in October 2010 on how much a family could save by giving up one of those cars and taking TheBus.

According to the American Public Transit Association (APTA), Honolulu ranks seventh among major U.S. cities on the savings to be realized by relying on only one car instead of two -- $11,268 annually. APTA calculated the potential savings in each city based on today's local gas prices and parking rates.

With Honolulu gas prices averaging between $3.933 for regular and $4.115 for premium today, the potential annual savings here is nearly $500 more than last Fall. Expect those savings to increase if the price of oil continues the trend of the past few weeks (see chart).


sumwonyuno said...

Governor Cayetano has been against rail since at least the 70's, when he was a State Senator.

As for the $7 billion dollar, it's a misinterpreting a graph on the Jacobs Engineering report back in July 2009. Basically the right interpretation is that projected risks in cost go down when there is more concrete info (e.g. contracts, closer to actual construction, etc.).

That 50% likelihood of $7 billion was only relevant when the project was early in the planning stage (< 2009). Now that the City has contracts and the project is on its way to final design, the risks are reduced.

The project's cost contingency is dependent on the (best-practices) projected risk. It's a likely upper bound on reasonable estimates. Risk assessment is not a magic number, but likelihood estimates within a range.

Anything else is just gut feeling or putting faulty numbers together.

Doug Carlson said...

Good observation, sumwonyuno, and stated plainly so the rest of us can understand it....not that the anti-railers will let up on their obfuscation campaign!