Monday, September 12, 2011

Letter: ‘What’s Not To Like about HOT Lanes?’ Answer: Just about Everything, Especially Tolls

The last-ditch campaign launched by rail opponents in August to reverse the public’s support for rail continues in dribs and drabs and undoubtedly will be with us for years.

Rail doomsayers – we defined them as doomrailers in July – will be there to remind us of their “better” ideas long after Honolulu rail is successful. One of their “solutions” is HOT lanes.

A letter in the Star-Advertiser today (subscription) complains that “we hear very little about HOT lanes…” and enthusiastically praises them without mentioning three significant drawbacks.

T Is for Tolls
Only drivers who pay a fee are able to use high-occupancy toll roads. As HOT lane proponent Panos Prevedouros famously wrote last year, “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.” In other words, tolls are set at a level that discourages too much usage and thereby keeps traffic flowing for those who can afford to pay.

If you can’t afford the toll, you’ll have no alternative but to sit in the traffic congestion that the well-to-do avoid. As the community's “solution” to ever-increasing congestion, HOT lanes would be a total failure, and that brings us to drawback number two.

E Is for Equity
One of the rail project’s key goals is to provide transportation equity for Oahu residents: “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.”

HOT lanes benefit car drivers and owners while denying access to those without the means to pay the tolls or even own a car. Proponents will argue that buses also can use the lanes, but since access is usually limited to the beginning of the elevated highway, bus riders along the route would receive no benefit whatsoever and would sit in traffic along with the rest of us.

O Is for Over
As the letter writer noted, Honolulu’s HOT lanes would be “built right over the present freeway corridors.” They’d be elevated, just like Honolulu’s rail project that opponents criticize for its potential to impact view planes, but to this writer, elevated HOT lanes are “beautiful.”

Our last word on this letter is that its writer completely misunderstands Honolulu rail. The system will not be the “solution” to ever-worsening traffic congestion; it will be the commuter's alternative to that congestion and the key component of a system that includes the efficient integration of TheBus. And as even Cliff Slater admits, rail will have the positive effect of reducing congestion from what it would grow to if rail were not built.

The experience of other rail systems around the country is that people choose to stop driving and start riding trains for two reasons – cost and convenience. By predicting few will ride Honolulu rail even as traffic congestion worsens and the cost of driving increases, the writer missed the very reasons Honolulu rail will be a success.

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