Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who’s Deceiving Whom? Rail Critic’s Illogical Conclusions Undermine His Familiar Refrain

A misinformation campaign is rolling along out there about Honolulu rail, and it's not being run by rail supporters. Faced with evidence their anti-rail efforts have failed to push opposition above 40 percent as revealed in three scientific opinion surveys, opponents have launched a new round of misinformation, innuendo and misstatement.

Civil Beat, the online subscription news service, observed yesterday that Sunday’s Star-Advertiser commentary submitted by plaintiffs in a lawsuit intended to stop the project – we’re calling them the Gang of Four – “is ripe for fact-checking. You’ll see the results of those investigations on the site in coming days.”

That’s a welcome development, inasmuch a morning radio host, who channels Gang of Four leader Cliff Slater, has said the commentary will be the centerpiece of how the general public understands the rail project. Civil Beat’s investigation will make a contribution to the public’s understanding of just what is what.

Maybe the website can prime its fact-checking pump with our own observations in Yes2Rail’s Sunday and yesterday posts about the commentary’s numerous misleading statements. And while they’re at it, CB might check the latest anti-rail piece by Dr. Panos Prevedouros, published yesterday at HawaiiReporter.com

Greece = Oahu?
The term that popped up as we read Dr. Prevedouros’s commentary, based on a vague recollection of its meaning, was non sequitur – “an inference or a conclusion that does not follow from the premises.”

His latest premise is that if freight trains have failed in Greece, Honolulu’s urban passenger train will fail, too. More precisely, he says trains killed Greek’s economy and we can expect the same result here.

We don’t know much about Greece’s economy beyond what we read in the media, and it does look like a mess. But Dr. Prevedouros’s assertion that trains killed Greece would seem to be a stretch; Greece’s generous social benefits network that allows public workers to retire while still relatively young is often reported as the culprit.

As for his opinion that rail will do the same to Hawaii (the non sequitur part), that’s just what it is – the opinion of a man whose career is mostly about highways and why communities should build more of them, a civil engineer whose own biographical website doesn’t even mention the word “transit.”

Dr. Prevedouros is a highwayman, through and through, and to better understand where he’s coming from, you need to appreciate the meaning of his preferred alternative to Honolulu rail – “managed lanes,” a concept he and Mr. Slater advocate.

A Preference for Tolls
The theory behind managed lanes – let’s call them what they are, toll roads – is that traffic flows faster on managed toll roads, which allow their users to avoid gridlock congestion, the bane of drive-time commuting. The theory may actually work in practice in some places. Here’s how:

According to Dr. Prevedouros’s HawaiiReporter.com commentary last October, managed lanes keep traffic flowing by managing down the number of vehicles on the lanes. As he put it, “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”

In plain language, it means only those who can afford to pay tolls that are automatically increased in real time derive any benefit from managed lanes (the highway sign in the photo shows an  access charge). Without an affordable alternative, everybody else has to slog along in highway congestion. As we wrote back in October:

“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 (high-occupancy) lane use.”

Dr. Prevedouros’s Monday commentary includes this: “Trains went obsolete for a reason. You can’t solve 21st century mobility problems with 19th century technology.” Does he think Oahu residents are that gullible? Trains are not obsolete; thousands of them move freight and passengers all over the world every day. Perhaps less relevant for moving people in 21st century urban environments is another 19th century invention – the one-passenger automobile!

Finally, both the Gang of Four and Dr. Prevedouros blame Honolulu rail’s public information effort for convincing the community to support the project. Maybe that’s a back-handed compliment, but it looks more like the last refuge for the anti-rail camp to further obfuscate their own inability to persuade.

They've failed to convince Oahu residents to oppose rail after campaigning against grade-separated transit for literally decades in Mr. Slater’s case. They’ll keep trying, and the public had best be prepared for more of what they’re dishing.

(This post has been added to our "aggregation site" in its Dr. Panos Prevedouros section.)

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