Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bombardier Seeks Hearing on Ansaldo Contract; Challenges Await HART as It Readies ‘Stand Up’

Borrowing military jargon for the formal activation of a unit, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) will stand up tomorrow, Day 1 in a new era of transportation planning, construction and operation.

The City’s Rapid Transit Division will complete its transfer tomorrow from the Department of Transportation Services to HART. Nine board members will meet officially for the first time to consider a number of issues requiring board action (see agenda, below).

Voters approved HART’s creation in November’s election by a margin of 64 to 29 percent. Some observers, including the City Administration, believe the majority thought they were creating a semi-autonomous agency that would operate more or less independent of control by the Administration and City Council.

Not completely independent, of course, since the Charter amendment included provisions for appointments to HART’s board of directors by those two branches of government, as well as Council approval of certain HART spending.

However, the Council inserted language into legislation to fund HART’s budgets for the fiscal year beginning tomorrow that gives the Council final approval authority over all HART spending, including its capital budget and the billions of dollars that will be spent to build the Honolulu rail project.

Mayor Peter Carlisle vetoed the budget bills because of the new language, and on Monday, the Council voted unanimously to override the vetoes. Carlisle said he would reserve a final decision on whether to file a lawsuit over the issue until after HART’s board has an opportunity to consider its alternatives. That opportunity arrives tomorrow when the board will consider adoption of HART’s FY2012 operating and capital budgets.

Bombardier Acts

Meanwhile, Bombardier Transportation has requested a hearing with the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs over the awarding of Honolulu rail contracts to Ansaldo Honolulu. The City last week rejected protests by Bombardier and Sumitomo Corporation of Ansaldo’s winning bid. (July 1 Update: Sumitomo Corporation also has requested a hearing with the DCCA.)

Here’s the complete agenda for the HART board’s inaugural July 1 meeting, which will begin at 8 am in the Mission Memorial Annex Conference Room just diamondhead of City Hall:

I.   Swearing in of Board Members
II.  Call to Order by Chair Pro Tem
III. Opening Remarks by Board Members
IV. Public Testimony
V.  Items Requiring Board Action
     a. Adoption of Board Rules and Operating Procedures
     b. Election of Board Officers
         i. Chair
        ii. Vice Chair
     c. Appointment of Executive Director
         i. Selection Process for a Permanent Executive Director
        ii. Appointment of an Interim Executive Director
     d. Adoption of HART Financial Policies
         i. Initiation of Independent Financial Audit
     e. Adoption of HART Procurement Policy
     f. Adoption of HART Ethics Policy
     g. Adoption of HART Transparency Policy
     h. Adoption of FY2012 Operating and Capital Budgets
         i. Public Hearing
        ii. Decision-making
VI. Items for Discussion
     a. FY2012 Business Plan – Draft Business Strategy
     b. Selection of the 9th Voting Board Member
     c. Setting the Board Meeting Schedule
VII. Adjournment

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

City Council Still Holds Cards on HART Spending

WANTED: Legal Negotiator. Primary responsibilities: to be determined. Experience required: resolution of high-visibility stand-offs and stalemates. Recruitment bonus: 10 points for candidates with proven mat skills.
This imaginary posting for an imaginary job opening at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) might well be pertinent before long. The City Council yesterday unanimously overrode Mayor Peter Carlisle’s vetoes of bills giving the Council ultimate authority over HART’s operating and maintenance and construction spending.

The Mayor says that rather than file a lawsuit over the Council’s actions, which he says violate the City Charter, he’ll let the HART board of directors decide what it wants to do about the issue.

“I’m going to sit there and see what HART does,” Carlisle said in a press conference. “Then I will evaluate what I do after all of those cards have played out. Let’s see what they do first and then see whether it’s appropriate for me to defer to them or to look towards other legal avenues.”

Voters in November approved an amendment to the City Charter to create semi-autonomous HART. The Carlisle administration says the intent was to insulate the Honolulu rail project from politics and politicians, but the Council disagrees and inserted language into HART’s budget bills that gives the Council final approval over HART spending.

HART officially becomes an agency of the City and County of Honolulu on July 1, and HART's budgets are on the agenda of the board’s first meeting on Friday.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Big Week for Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit

11:45 am Update: The City Council overrode Mayor Carlisle's vetoes of HART's capital and O&M budgets this morning. The vote was 9-0 on both measures. The Mayor will hold a news conference soon; we will update Yes2Rail when that happens.
4 pm Update: According to Civil Beat, Mayor Carlisle will leave it to HART to decide what to do about the Council's provision that it authorize all HART spending, rather than take the issue to court at this time.

The new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) springs to life on Friday. Under normal circumstances, that would be the highlight of just about any week or month – but not this week.

The City Council has called a special meeting for today for override votes on Mayor Peter Carlisle’s vetoes of the Council-approved HART budget bills, which included wording that would give the Council approval over HART spending.

That wasn’t the voters’ intent, Carlisle said in his veto message, when they overwhelmingly endorsed a City Charter amendment creating semi-autonomous HART last November. The Star-Advertiser carried the Mayor’s commentary yesterday in which he argued that the Council’s attempt to control HART spending violates both the will of the electorate and the City Charter.

“The new HART board takes over the transit project on July 1, this coming Friday,” Carlisle wrote. “Allmembers have given every indication that they take very seriously their fiduciary duty to build and operate the rail transit system openly, honestly and responsively to the people. Therefore, for these reasons, the Council should heed the voice of the people and keep the politics out of HART.”

The Council’s special meeting is scheduled for 10 am (HST) to take action on all the vetoed budget bills: “Pass Final Reading, the Mayor’s Veto to the Contrary Notwithstanding.”

Overriding the vetoes would set the stage for lawsuits on the issue, which both sides of the dispute have vowed to pursue unless an acceptable compromise can be achieved short of the court room.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ansaldo Choice Upheld; FTA Reaffirms $55M

The city has rejected challenges to the selection of Ansaldo Honolulu to design, build, operate and maintain the Honolulu rail system. Two losing bidders had filed the protest, and one of them already has said it will file an appeal, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

In other news of the day, Hawaii’s congressional delegation jointly announced that the Federal Transit Administration’s funding of the rail project in the current fiscal year will be $55 million, which a joint press release said “is identical to the amount requested in President Obama’s FY2011 budget.”

Senator Daniel Inouye’s statement said:

“I am very pleased that the federal government recognizes the importance of this critical transportation project. Federal funds are hard to come by in the current budget climate and the fact that Honolulu will receive everything the President asked for is very encouraging. This project will bring welcome relief to thousands of commuters who are forced to spend hours in their cars on congested roadways. We have planned this project and debated its merits for decades and we must press forward. I remain committed to this project and will continue to do everything I can to direct federal funds to the work and ensure its timely completion.”

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who represents Hawaii’s 1st District (primarily urban Honolulu), added:

“These funds are not only a reflection of the federal government’s continued commitment towards the Honolulu Rail Transit Project, but it also shows that President Obama and Congress understand how much Hawaii needs this mass transit option. This project will ease gridlock on Oahu’s roadways and help create jobs for our residents. Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation will continue to work to support this project.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ex-Governor Uses Familiar Anti-Rail Message on Congestion but Leaves Out ‘The Rest of the Story’

We can report with certainty that former Governor Ben Cayetano and anti-rail leader Cliff Slater are not the same person.

We know this because they both attended an event today and were visible sitting about 100 feet from one another. (To be completely forthright about it, they've appeared together on other occasions, too, including their March 29th press conference [at left] when they announced their lawsuit that's intended to block the rail project.) It's just that their denunciations of rail sound so similar that we half suspected some quick-change artistry was in play. For example:

As we’ve written here numerous times, Mr. Slater obfuscates Oahu’s future traffic congestion issues and rail’s positive effect on reducing congestion by stopping short and failing to tell the whole story. You can see him at work in a July 2010 interview posted at Civil Beat’s website. As he explained to the online news site, he begins his audience presentations on the Honolulu project as follows:

“Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Here’s how Governor Cayetano put it today in his talk at the Hawaii Venture Capital Association’s monthly luncheon:

“There will be more traffic congestion with rail than what it is today. Shouldn’t we have been told that (before the 2008 vote)?”

As one audience member said after the event broke up, “I wanted to put up my hand and say, ‘I knew that!’” It’s highly probable that most people knew that in 2008 and know it now. As Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka told the City Council last July, “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.”

It’s therefore surprising to hear someone so much “his own man” as the former Governor essentially channeling Mr. Slater’s “whole argument” argument, which isn’t the whole argument at all. Mr. Yoshioka went on to tell the Council:

“I think the difference (with Mr. Slater’s interpretation) is, is that without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail, and I think that’s the whole point of the discussion would be. It’s not appropriate to compare what the future is with rail with what it is now, but it is to compare what the future would be with or without rail. That’s the comparison that should be asked, and that’s not what Cliff Slater was just talking about.”

By not making an appropriate and logical comparison, it wasn’t what Governor Cayetano said today either.

Rail’s Primary Justification

Earlier, Governor Cayetano asserted (paraphrasing) that rail supporters’ main rationale to build rail “is that it will create jobs,” and he continued: “An alternative form of transportation should be where the focus should be.”

We agree with him that rail’s primary function will be as an alternative to driving – a fast, frequent, reliable and safe traffic-free way to travel through the urban corridor. That’s what the project’s goals say it will be; those goals say nothing about building rail to create jobs.

Opponents frequently criticize rail as nothing more than a “jobs project,” an accusation that appeals to those with a dim view of labor unions, and some supporters indeed have said the project will create thousands of construction and other jobs. It’s a true statement.

But to suggest that creating employment is the proponents’ primary justification for rail – something Governor Cayetano asserted today – is as misleading as giving only half the story about future congestion and leaving out the most critical piece of information.

Will jobs be created in building rail and afterwards? No question. Will traffic continue to grow with population growth on Oahu? Of course. Will there be less congestion on our streets and highways with rail than there would be without it?

We think most people, after just a little thought, would conclude that rail will have a positive effect on future traffic congestion when an estimated 40,000 car commuters get out of their cars to avoid the daily highway grind and adopt rail transit as their primary travel mode.

We just wish rail’s opponents could see what the late Paul Harvey made clear to most of us in his daily radio program – that “The rest of the story” is often the most important, informative and compelling part.

Editorial: ‘Let HART Do its Work’

Today’s Star-Advertiser with its editorial advising the City Council to let go of its control issues hit carports, sidewalks and vending machines a few hours before today’s Big Projects panel discussion at the Plaza Club. More on that below.

The editorial reaches a logical conclusion: Voters want the Honolulu rail project managed without interference from the Council and Administration – i.e., without interference from politicians.

Voters overwhelmingly approved creation of a semi-autonomous agency, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, last November after a campaign built around removing rail from quixotic political influence.

The largest project in Hawaii’s history needs stability, the editorial notes, not over-grasping control by politicians who can’t or won’t recognize the will of the people in numerous elections (all anti-rail candidates lost last Fall) and polls (QMark’s May survey being the most recent).

Today’s editorial says in part:

“The whole reason for taking control of the dedicated transit fund away from a political body is to keep decisions in the hands of those not seeking campaign contributions and to ensure that they’re based on professional reasoning, not politics.This model has worked well for entities such as the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and for other mass-transit jurisdictions around the country.”

The issue appears headed for the courts unless the Administration and Council can find some common ground that meets the Mayor’s requirement for HART to have control over its own budgets.

What’s with Big Projects?

Today’s luncheon panel discussion is sponsored by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association and ThinkTech Hawaii and is billed as “a close examination of what it is about Big Projects that makes them so problematic in Hawaii.

We have a few ideas about that and will get into them after the event, which we’ll attend, but we’re thinking already that stacking the deck doesn’t contribute to reasoned outcomes.

Moderating the discussion will be Tom Coffman, who was a panelist at the League of Women Voters’ anti-rail event two months ago, and former Governor Ben Cayetano, a plaintiff in a lawsuit intended to block Honolulu rail.

By eliminating balance in this event, the sponsors couldn’t have been clearer about what they think of the Honolulu rail project.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

With Friends Like This: Vanpool Rate Soars

Rail is not a transportation option worth pursuing on Oahu, according to rail opponents. Instead, they propose a number of alternatives – more highways, flyovers and High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, overpasses, underpasses, tunnels, more buses, staggered work hours, carpools, bridges over Pearl Harbor, etc. – anything but rail.

We've found that the more visibility their proposals receive, the better rail looks, so we'll highlight some of these suggestions in depth in the days ahead. Among them will be proposals offered last week at a “town hall meeting” in West Oahu by rail opponent and highway advocate Panos Prevedouros, a University of Hawaii civil engineering professor.

But first….a major change in a ride sharing program that seems certain to discourage participation.

The state Department of Transportation announced earlier this month that it will end its funding support for the Vanpool rideshare program. Vanpool Hawaii said today it will continue the service by charging more for each passenger – 252 percent more.

The current monthly rate is $65 per person, but beginning August 1, the rate for each rider in a six-passenger van will be $164. (A story in the June 23 Star-Advertiser adds additional information.)

It’s hard to imagine that nearly tripling passenger costs will encourage ride sharing. An equivalent increase in the price of gasoline to $10 per gallon would change commuting habits, so it'll be no surprise if Vanpool participation declines after August 1.

Where Vanpool's switchers will go we don’t know – some to TheBus, others to their own cars.

More vehicles on the highways can't be good news for congestion, of course, so if Vanpool ridership does decline, we hope participants pick TheBus, the only public transit service available until Honolulu rail can provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe congestion-free travel through the city.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another Poll Post: The Next Generation Speaks

We simply can’t get enough of the QMark opinion survey findings on Honolulu rail – you know, the one showing a 57-to-40 percent split in favor of rail, with majority support for rail in each and every City Council district among respondents who expressed an opinion.

Before that poll recedes much further in the rear-view mirror, we have to mention the generation split on the project. Quoting QMark’s report: “Younger segments of the population tend to view this project more favorably.” The chart shows the percentage of the total number of rail supporters and opponents from each age group. (See "Comments" below for more on these numbers.)
Not surprising actually, since the younger generation doesn’t have as much gasoline in their DNA as earlier generation(s) that considered the automobile the best invention ever. The impression one gets from watching the City Council hearings is that members of the older generations seem emotionally attached to their cars and would have us believe you just can’t get along without one for all of your transportation needs. 

The younger generation seems less so inclined – and it’s no surprise that younger adults embrace the environmental and economic advantages of riding public transit more readily than their elders, who seem less inclined than young people to recognize the threats of global warming, sea level rise, species extinction and all the rest. (We could have found proof of that with a Google search, but we’re a little pressed for time this afternoon.)

He’s Just One, but….

We did find plenty of anecdotal evidence, however, including the Kids vs Global Warming group founded by Alec Loorz when he was 12 years old. Four years later, he’s suing the government over global warming.

“I think that the time has now come for the young people to stand up and hold our government accountable, Loorz says. “We are going to have to grow up and live in that future. We’re going to be affected more than anyone else by climate change.”

Honolulu rail will reduce the amount of energy required for transportation needs by 2030, and there will be less air pollution, too. We like to think Alex Loorz would support our rail project if he knew about it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lifting Comments from Their Footnote Obscurity

After writing this blog for three years, we have to acknowledge that Yes2Rail’s best writing is in the comments left by others. It’s time to highlight recent ones, with links to the posts that prompted them.

June 17 – What a World! Comment by sumwonyuno:

What is reality? It's not your own experience, but society's collective + what we cannot yet comprehend.

There are actually people out here that do all their family errands by bus, while caring for kids at the same time. Just because someone can't imagine doing it themselves doesn't mean there's no one out in that position. They're those faceless people waiting at the bus stop while the privileged ride around in their own cars.
The car-centric rhetoric sounds good, but it's not the only understanding out there. Cars, highways, and suburbs are results of our technological society, not the drivers. Yes, it has changed habits and has economic benefits. But we are chained down by the limitations of this 1950's ideal.
Is it just supply not meeting demand, or is it insistence of an unsustainable path?

June 10 – Rail ‘Controversy' Comment by Dean Senui:

(quoting blog entry) “HOT lanes keep traffic moving by charging ever-increasing tolls to enter the roads until only a relatively few well-to-do drivers can afford to pay the toll."

Catering to the wealthy minority isn't exactly government "for the people." 

What (Panos) Prevedouros and others aren't addressing is how to move a lot of people efficiently without cars. 

In their scenarios, it doesn't matter how many new highways are built. There are some simple inescapable facts that limit their proposals: the increasing cost of fuel and auto maintenance, the available space to park all those cars at their destination, and the increasing cost of that parking.

The "no one will ride it" excuse doesn't wash because the bus system currently gets heavy ridership.

They need to look 20 years into the future. We need to become less dependent upon fossil fuels while moving people efficiently. That plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy economy. People can't work if they can't get to their jobs.

And people won't diversify their spending if most of their money goes up in smoke just driving to work.

June 6 – 57-to-40 Split Comment by Henry Carsten:

Anonymous (whose comment criticized the project) is not considering older people with doctor appointments, lower-wage earners who just want to get to their jobs without spending a huge portion of their income on cars, people who can't drive for various reasons, and younger people who don't yet have their licenses.
Not everyone can afford the gas, maintenance, monthly payments and parking fees.

May 27 – Worst in Senior Safety Comment by ojisan:

Yes, pedestrian has a right of way!
But they don't look to the left and right before crossing any street. It's the same with the kids. I've seen many pedestrian entering the crosswalk totally oblivious to the on coming traffic and maintaining their zombie walk as though it's a school hallway.
Good drivers exercise defensive driving. Good pedestrian should practice defensive walking to avoid permanent disability. 
Btw, I thought using hand-held cell phone was illegal. They're doing it all over the place! When they use their cell phone, depending on which side of the ear the thing is stuck on, that side of the cell phone is a definite BLIND SPOT. They won't see the pedestrian crossing. Period!

Period indeed! And we’ll close with an emphatic appreciation of every reader, especially those who are moved by what they read here to leave a comment. We might just make this a monthly feature in the blog's fourth year: The Best of Yes2Rail – from the comments section, of course.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What a World: Transit’s Zen Lessons Ridiculed

Sometimes you just have to laugh when talk radio turns to rail. Today, for example, the morning show host ridiculed zen.

Actually, it wasn’t exactly zen – just the zen lessons learned from riding transit by blogger Leo Babauta, whose site is one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet, according to Time Magazine.

Star-Advertiser reporter Gene Park’s column today features Babauta’s June 10th post, Lessons We’re learning Riding Mass Transit. Babauta’s family has been walking and riding transit almost exclusively for a year in San Francisco -- “…one of the best things ever for us,” he said.

He wrote about the seven zen lessons he’s learned from riding transit, including how to wait, how to live sustainabiy, how transit can be more convenient than cars and how to deal with humanity. Regarding the humanity lessons, Babauta said:

“We’re often shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, which is something you never experience with a car. We deal with smells, with annoying people, with those who talk loudly, with the mentally challenged, with plain crazy people. In other words, with people. And this is a great thing. We learn that we come in all shapes and sizes, that life isn’t perfect picket fences you see on TV, that the world is real … and that’s OK. We’re learning to celebrate differences.”

“That’s a Virtue?”

Talk radio is probably society's least likely place to stumble across zen-like lessons, so it wasn’t surprising this morning’s host ridiculed Babauta’s column. Here’s a close paraphrase:

It’s interesting that the most ardent supporters of transit really have to really go deep to justify their views. Riding the bus teaches you about humanity? There’s some humanity I don’t want to be around in the morning. That’s a virtue? That’s a virtuous argument? If you ride the bus you can be next to a guy who hasn’t bathed in seven days. Well, there you go…. He also embraces other transit riders, including the smells. Embraces the smells…(laughs)…with annoying people, those who talk loudly, the crazy people… He says cars have disconnected people from each other, from community, from nature…(laughs).

Babauta's zen lesson that transit can be more convenient than cars also didn’t sit well with the radio host.

"Sure, it’s nice to be able to hop in your car and go somewhere quickly, no matter the weather. That’s convenient. But there are inconveniences with cars that we forget about: the frustrations of parking…, traffic jams, rude drivers, car accidents, flat tires, car maintenance, having to stop for gas, having to actually drive instead of relaxing on the trip…. I’m not judging cars, but all of that, if you think about it, makes riding on a bus or train actually seem nice."

The talk show host wasn’t buying it:

Automobiles are the source of the expansion, one of the great revelations of our tech society, that has advanced our society. I know you get caught at the H-1/H-2 merge, but that’s not the fault of the cars. That’s the fault of the engineers who should have designed a way around it…. (Rail) is all about going from point A to point B. I bet they have to take a shuttle to the rail stop or take the bus. They get on, then get off, then go straight home. There’s nothing here about picking kids up at school, going shopping….. I don’t disagree that for those who can’t afford a car transit is a lifeline, but this blogger veers away from reality. It isn’t necessary to free us from the automobile to solve society’s problems.

We won’t belabor the point made frequently here at Yes2Rail that rail isn’t for everybody, especially those who want to/need to make three or four stops after work for laundry, groceries and their kids' soccer practice. But rail indeed can provide congestion-free commuting between points A and B here on Oahu, just as it does for millions of commuters in cities all over the world.

We’ve bookmarked Babauta’s website and will be a regular visitor, and we’ll continue to listen to talk radio, too. After all, Sun Tzu was incorporating zen principles when he wrote his famous tract about understanding who you're up against.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scientific Opinion Polling Out of Favor in District 1

57% Support • 40% Oppose
That was the finding of QMark’s public opinion poll on the Honolulu rail project that was conducted last month among 900 Oahu residents – 100 in each City Council district. QMark abides by opinion survey principles, adheres to the tenets of the American Marketing Association and prides itself on the accuracy, veracity and objectivity of its surveys.

When QMark’s research says 57 percent of Oahu residents support the Honolulu rail project, you can believe it's an accurate reflection of what Oahu residents think – accurate to within 3.2 percentage points, the margin of error in a survey of 900 respondents.

In light of last night’s generally anti-rail community meeting sponsored by the City Council’s representative from District 1, the poll’s results in that district are of special interest. The scientifically sampled residents of Ewa, Ewa Beach, Honouliuli, West Loch, Kapolei, Kalaeloa (Barber's Point), Honokai Hale and Nanakai Gardens, Ko'Olina, Nanakuli, Wai'anae, Makaha, Keaau and Makua told QMark said they support rail by the same 57-to-40 percent split found in all of Oahu.

Dismissing the Poll

Hawaii News Now quoted the Council member who represents District 1 on June 1 about the just-released survey’s results:

“We have some 54,000 registered voters in District 1 alone and to take a survey of 100 and claim the vast majority support rail, I beg to differ. I think this poll is very skewed." The member said his own poll would have asked his constituents different questions: “Right now the question should have been specific: Do you favor rail going from a corn field to a shopping center? Do you believe the GET should be extended beyond the year 2022 if we don’t have enough money? Are you in favor of paying 4.25 interest in floating bonds?”

Rule #1

We don’t know the wording of the basic principle of public opinion polling, but surely it goes something like this: “Do not influence the poll’s outcome by the questions you ask.” QMark’s survey technique passes that test. The company's report on its May survey says pollsters began their dialogue with the 900 respondents to the survey with this truthful statement and no other commentary:

“The City and County of Honolulu is moving forward with the development of a 20-mile rail transit line that will connect West Oahu with Honolulu International Airport and Ala Moana Center.”

The survey report continues: “Residents were then asked to rate their overall level of support for this project and were instructed to quantify their perceptions using a standard four-point rating scale with they strongly support this project assigned a value of four and they strongly oppose it assigned a value of one."  The 57-to-40 percent split in favor of rail was the response.

Stopping Short

Those who don't believe District 1’s support for rail sometimes accuse the City of lying to the public or withholding information that, if released, would have been injurious to the rail project.

For example, the Council member quotes Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka as saying “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.” That quote is used as something of an indictment; it’s from Mr. Yoshioka’s 25-page letter of June 11, 2010 responding to Cliff Slater of Stop Rail Now and

Rail opponents don't include Mr. Yoshioka’s entire quote, however. They stop short and therefore deliberately leave out the essence of Mr. Yoshioka’s response. The graphic immediately below is lifted from Mr. Yoshioka's letter, which is found on pages 1251-52 in Appendix A of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. (The Appendix is a big file; be prepared for a long download.) If the graphic is too small to read with comfort, click it to enlarge.
Here are the crucial sentences in Mr. Yoshioka’s response that are never mentioned by rail opponents : “The comparison that is key to the Project is that rail will improve conditions compared to what they would be if the Project is not built.” And: “Accordingly, traffic conditions will be significantly better with the fixed guideway compared to the No Build Alternative.”

Ignoring the entire quote follows Mr. Slater’s lead in obfuscating rail’s positive impact on traffic congestion. As we’ve noted at Yes2Rail repeatedly since last July when Mr. Slater sat for a video interview with Civil Beat, promoters of the “traffic will be worse with rail than without it” argument are deliberately confusing the public on the issue. Mr. Slater also stops short in discussing rail. Here’s what he told Civil Beat about how he begins his presentations:

“In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Of course, it doesn’t do anything of the sort. Mr. Slater and those who follow this truncated argument leave out the rest of the story – that traffic would be even worse without the rail system. When asked by the City Council last July to respond to Mr. Slater’s summing up of the argument, Mr. Yoshioka responded:

“No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.”

The Bottom Line

Every City Council district, including District 1, registered majority support for rail in QMark's poll after years of opponent campaigning that ignored rail’s positive contribution in reducing future traffic congestion. In other words, even with opponents describing rail in the worst possible light (see Mr. Slater's Civil Beat video), Oahu residents overwhelmingly support the Honolulu rail project. That's a reality that the politicians who run the City and County of Honolulu presumably can't ignore.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Take Transit Tomorrow on ‘Dump the Pump Day’

Hawaii average gas prices have been in a steady fall for the past month, so today’s slight bump upward goes against the trend. The Hawaii statewide average price of a gallon of regular gas of $4.036 is nearly 3 cents higher than yesterday’s average, according to the AAA.

But don’t let the slide from Hawaii’s all-time record of $4.594 on May 6th stop you from trying to save money by buying less gas this week. Tomorrow will be observed as the 6th annual “National Dump the Pump Day” by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), an opportunity to get to know Honolulu’s bus system, one of the nation’s best.

As APTA says at the event’s website, public transit helps riders save money, helps the environment, reduces dependence on foreign oil and improves residents’ quality of life.

We noted earlier this year that Honolulu residents can save more than $11,000 per year by riding TheBus instead of owning and driving a car. Honolulu ranks just behind Philadelphia and ahead of Los Angeles in the annual savings-with-transit hunt – 7th in the nation. Check out the rankings in APTA’s Transit Savings Report.

APTA can also tell you how much you can save with transit based on your car’s gas mileage and the price of gasoline, as well as your carbon reduction with transit using APTA’s Carbon Savings Calculator.

As APTA likes to say, “Public Transportation Takes Us There.” Try it tomorrow on “Dump the Pump Day.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mobility and Access – 2 Key Honolulu Rail Goals

We often accentuate mobility when discussing Honolulu rail’s four goals, but there’s another goal that deserves attention as a benefit of effective transit systems – improved access.

The Human Transit website discussed both concepts earlier this year and noted that beyond mobility – a measure of one’s ability to move through a community efficiently – access is the measure of what your mobility is meant to accomplish.

Jarrett Walker uses an example of a resident who wants to shop at a grocery store 3 miles from home and can do so relatively quickly because transit provides mobility to the store although the trip itself may take 5 miles due to the bus route's configuration. What the shopper really wants is access to that favored store. Having it right next door would be preferable to having it 3 miles away or even 5 miles by bus.

A community requires good mobility to avoid wasting time in traffic congestion, and transit-oriented development (TOD) improves access, Honolulu rail’s third goal: “Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center.” Walker writes:

“So transit can improve access two ways: (a) by providing personal mobility and (b) by influencing development to create denser communities where less mobility is required to do the same things.” TOD around the system's 21 stations will provide improved access to goods and services for residents throughout all the decades during which rail will serve the community.

Dropping in on the Human Transit site regularly could be a habit that improves both one’s understanding of transit in general and the Honolulu rail project itself.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Whoa!! Horse Trailer Flip Stalls Freeway Traffic

Along with death and taxes, another certainty in life is that something will happen in front of you on the freeway when you’re pressed for time that will prolong your commute to or from work.

Maybe Oahu’s biggest prolongation ever happened on September 5, 2006 – “Black Tuesday” – when an excavator being transported on an Army flatbed truck slammed into an overpass on the H-1 freeway. Tens of thousands of homeward-bound commuters were stopped for hours, and some spent the night in Waikiki hotels rather than wait out the hours-long traffic jam.

The mini-gallery in the column at right shows various H-1 blockages, and we’ll have to add another one to the list. A gust of wind yesterday is blamed for flipping a horse trailer on the westbound H-1 before the Pearl City off-ramp. Several lanes were closed during the cleanup, and the injured horse later died.

The late-morning Sunday mishap was probably more inconvenient than aggravating, since it didn’t affect many if any commuters, but it did serve as a reminder that highway traffic is inherently vulnerable to delay – both frequent and unanticipated.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic is common on the H-1 during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and even noontime traffic bogs down far too often. As traffic worsens with Oahu’s inevitable population growth, Honolulu rail’s commuting alternative will become ever more important and valuable.

Grade-separated transit is the only commuting mode that allows users to accurately predict their time of arrival at their destination before they even leave the station. You can’t do that consistently if you drive or take TheBus; there's just too much usual and unexpected traffic congestion.

Honolulu rail’s trains will operate on a timetable. That’s something you can count on.

Check this out: The comments below Yes2Rail posts are worth reading, since they often contain valuable lessons and insights. Friday's post has a couple we'd bring to your attention.

Friday, June 10, 2011

3671 Words Help Keep Rail ‘Controversy’ Going

We do the counter-intuitive thing again today of referring visitors to the website that’s a favorite repository of anti-rail commentary. Hawaii Reporter carries a commentary today built around the recent QMark public opinion survey on rail that we’ve been covering in our past several posts.

Under the headline “Controversy Over Oahu’s Rail Project Continues,” the writer – a Hawaii Reporter intern and student at the University of Southern California pursuing a journalism and multimedia degree – devotes nearly 3700 words keeping the “controversy” alive by quoting anti-rail activists who predictably fill the space with more anti-railisms.

Let’s remind ourselves at this juncture that the QMark poll found 57 percent of the 900 respondents said they support rail and 40 percent said they don’t. The margin of error was +- 3.27 percent according to standard opinion survey principles. Maybe a 57-40 split qualifies as a controversial project, but it’s still a solid majority.

The writer does a reasonably good job summarizing the poll’s findings, and unlike most of the rail-related commentaries posted to Hawaii Reporter, his tone comes across as objective. It’s his choice of quote providers that leaves an impression that the piece is heavily weighted toward skepticism.

Still Banging Away

Cliff Slater and Panos Prevedouros are quoted, of course, and we can’t let the opportunity pass without noting that they’re banging away at rail using the same kettle drums they always pound.

Mr. Slater repeats the same old refrain that traffic will be worse after rail is built than it is today, going so far as to cite the letter from Department of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka again – the same tactic he used before the City Council last July. Mr. Yoshioka’s response: “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today.” We really do hope visitors to Yes2Rail read several of our July 2010 posts to get a flavor of Mr. Slater’s obfuscation campaign on rail, including how he dumbs down the traffic issue.

Dr. Prevedouros is quoted in the Hawaii Reporter about his preferred alternative to rail – High Occupancy Toll (HOT) roads. As we noted in October 2010, HOT lanes keep traffic moving by charging ever-increasing tolls to enter the roads until only a relatively few well-to-do drivers can afford to pay the toll. There’s nothing equitable about HOT lanes, yet here he is again, promoting an alternative that can’t possibly be what Oahu needs in this and future generations.

Please do read today’s commentary at Hawaii Reporter and then visit one of our first posts here at Yes2Rail of 2011 – a review of the rail project’s goals.

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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oahu Traffic Emerges as Public Enemy Number 1; QMark Poll Shows 62% Agree that Rail Will Help

Once you get past the basics of QMark’s recent poll of Oahu residents on the rail project – the support/don’t support split is 57 to 40 percent – the poll provides insight into the respondents’ major concerns about mobility on the island.

Traffic congestion tops the list. According to the survey report, which is available online:

“Seventy percent of those who indicated they support this project say they do so for the simple fact that something needs to be done to address the traffic problem on Oahu.”

The natural follow-up to that response was to ask respondents if they felt the rail transit system would have an impact on future traffic congestion on the island. This graph displays their responses:
Sixty-two percent of those polled said rail would greatly reduce congestion or have a positive effect on traffic, compared to a little more than a third of respondents who anticipate little or no effect.

The meaning of "great," “some” and “little” for respondents is of course subjective, but it’s easy to conclude that reducing the number of cars each day from streets and highways by 40,000 vehicles will be a significant factor in reducing congestion.

One of rail’s four major goals is to improve corridor mobility as measured in 2030, the benchmark year. Here’s what the Final Environmental Impact Statement's Section 7.2.1 says about current and future congestion (the FEIS is available online in the project website's Library):

“Just as mobility and congestion have worsened over the years, conditions in 2030 will be worse than today. Despite implementation of the planned $3 billion in roadway improvements identified in the Oahu Regional Transportation Plan 2030 (ORTP), the No Build Alternative still would not relieve traffic congestion for drivers or improve mobility for transit riders compared to today…, and vehicle hours of delay (VHD) would increase under the No Build Alternative compared to today.

FEIS Continued:

“The project will increase average transit speeds by approximately 25 percent compared to the 2030 No Build Alternative, leading to higher transit ridership and travel time savings for existing and new transit users. Transit travel times between major destinations will decrease up to 60 percent compared to the No Build Alternative….
“Increases in transit ridership will benefit highway users as well by removing drivers from the roadways through better transit service. The Project will reduce traffic congestion and improve mobility compared to the No Build Alternative…. Daily (Vehicle Miles Traveled) will decrease by 4 percent. (Vehicle Hours Traveled) will decrease by 8 percent, and VHD will decrease by 18 percent.”

Whether they’ve read the FEIS or just have a gut feeling, the survey suggests most Oahu residents appreciate that Honolulu rail will have a positive effect on traffic congestion. It’s a reasonable conclusion when a completely grade-separated and therefore traffic-free option is available to residents.

Thanks to QMark’s poll, we know that most Oahu residents get it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rail’s Majority Grows When Economy Is the Issue

As predicted when the QMark poll was released last week showing a 57-40 percent split in support of Honolulu rail, the best the opposition can do is attack the QMark messenger and the concept of public opinion polling itself.

Opponents insist it isn’t possible to know what all of Oahu is thinking by polling only 900 people, thereby ignoring decades of science behind opinion surveys.

QMark’s Barbara Ankersmit spoke with Civil Beat about how the poll was conducted to arrive at the 57-40 support totals. She said that result was derived from the first question in the poll: “Would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the development of the rail transit system that I have just described.” She said the question was asked without any “positioning."

“That is the fair way to do it,” Ankersmit told Civil Beat. “We got the numbers (demonstrating) support before we showed any benefits. Because that first question is totally unbiased and we had not read arguments one way or the other, that was how we determined support.”

It’s the Economy, ------

Pollsters then drilled deeper to determine the participants’ attitudes regarding specific issues. Quoting from the survey report posted online at the City’s rail website, “…respondents were presented with the idea that the rail transit project will bring jobs to Oahu and help the overall economy of the island.”

When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with that assertion, 70 percent of the 900 participants either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed. Those who disagreed either somewhat or strongly were outnumbered 630 to 243 regarding perceptions on rail’s economic impact.

Even as they acknowledged concerns elsewhere in the survey about the most expensive project in state history, an overwhelming majority of Oahu residents who were polled by QMark said rail will help the economy. That amounts to a resounding rejection of the opponents’ ongoing campaign against the project.

Monday, June 6, 2011

57-to-40 Rail Split Isn’t Exactly ‘Razor-Thin’ Edge

Former Congressman Charles Djou is seemingly everywhere with a commentary critical of the City’s rail project, which he consistently opposed during nearly all his time on the City Council. The piece has appeared in the Star-Advertiser, at Hawaii Reporter, Hawaii Free Press and is quoted today by Volcanic Ash columnist (and rail critic) Dave Shapiro.

Mr. Djou accuses both the Hannemann and Carlisle administrations of allegedly ignoring the sizeable minority (as reflected in the passage of the 2008 “steel-on-steel” Charter amendment) and not convincing rail opponents to support the project.

As evidence that community outreach has been inadequate, he cites the recent Star-Advertiser rail opinion poll, which we noted revealed a fundamental lack of understanding by the newspaper and its pollster about rail’s goals (warning: our May 16 post contains red-lettered “shouting”). We’ve been around enough opinion surveys to know when the questions are unassailable, and the newspaper poll’s weren’t.

“This (the S-A’s results) spells trouble for the future of rail. As long as the city relies on a razor-thin majority favoring rail, it will subject success of the project to the whim of just 2 percent of the electorate changing its mind,” Mr. Djou writes.

More Like 17 Percent

Mr. Djou didn’t mention the City-sponsored poll by professional survey company QMark in his June 3 piece, probably because he likely submitted it before the QMark results were announced.

Had he known about the 57-40 basic split between those who expressed support for rail and those who opposed it, it’s doubtful the “razor-thin majority” phrase would have found its way into print.

As a staunch defender of the democratic process, Mr. Djou presumably would acknowledge that a 17-percent margin constitutes a near-landslide, if not an outright mandate to build Honolulu rail.

QMark polled 100 residents in each of the nine Council districts; pro-rail support ranged from 50 percent (a majority of those who expressed an opinion) in District 5 to 68 percent in District 8. District 4, which Mr. Djou represented on the Council, registered 55 percent support for the project.

Support Is Growing

The headline on Mr. Djou’s commentary at both Hawaii Reporter and the Star-Advertiser is City Should Work Harder to Build Consensus on Rail. With the QMark poll showing an even bigger pro-rail percentage than the 2008 Charter vote, it looks from here like the City has been doing its job. (The entire poll can be read at the City's rail website.)

When asked whether they understand the proposed rail system, 68 percent of the 900 who were polled said they feel either very well or somewhat informed. Only 30 percent responded that they are somewhat or very poorly informed.

Just how much of that minority constitutes the unyielding opposition that has fought rail for decades isn’t known. What is known is that Mr. Djou’s continued support of the democratic process would help move the rail project toward its successful completion.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Council Approves Rail Bond Float with an Asterisk

Chris Ballesteros again told the Council (as he did last July) that the vast majority of his generation want Honolulu rail to be built.
If we can elevate (like Honolulu’s future rail system) above the issue of who will control the Honolulu Authority on Rapid Transportation (HART), the rail project as a whole advanced yesterday.

The City Council approved floating $104 million in general obligation bonds to cover a projected cash shortfall in general excise tax receipts at some point during construction. The City says it would be a short-term obligation.

The Council also OK’d HART’s operating and capital budgets commencing July 1, when HART actually begins operating under a board of directors. All three measures were passed with an amendment to the original bills that gives the Council final approval authority over HART spending.

The control issue eventually will be sorted out, perhaps in court, but the issue we’ll focus on today is the continuing assertion by rail opponents that rail would be a failure because future traffic congestion will exceed today’s levels.

Inevitable Growth

Among the testifiers yesterday was a leader of the Stop Rail Now group formed in 2008 to fight the “steel-on-steel” charter amendment. Voters approved the measure, but the group’s members have continued to fight rail using the old argument that rail’s not worth building if traffic will be worse in 2030 than it is today.

The response is obvious: Oahu’s population is not going to sit at current levels for the next 20 years. If it did, congestion would indeed decrease with rail in operation and 40,000 fewer cars on the road each day.

But Oahu’s population forecast is for 200,000 more residents in 2030 than 2005. More than 90 percent of the new residents are expected to live in or adjacent to the corridor between urban Honolulu and the Second City on the ewa plain.

Traffic will grow with population growth; it’s axiomatic. Highway users’ concerns will be addressed with $3 billion in road improvements already included in the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range transportation plan. Rail will be the only component of that plan that will be completely unaffected by surface traffic.

A Familiar Response

The response to the anti-railer refrain hasn’t changed during all the months and times it has been used. Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka used the succinct version last July before the Council when he said, “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today….”

Mr. Yoshioka expanded on that theme during yesterday’s Council meeting by focusing on levels of service, which he explained are graded from level A, the best, to F – like a report card:

“One of the things about level of service F, there are different kinds of level service F. There’s level service F that you experience congestion on the highways, and at a certain level, although we don’t like it, it’s tolerable. But there are other types of level service F that drive people crazy. They start doing strange things, and that’s when it takes half an hour to move two blocks. Now, that kind of level service F drives people crazy, and you know, I think there is a difference. And what we’re trying to make sure that, although we have congestion, we’re trying to manage that congestion and also provide mobility for the city (emphasis added). That’s a key component of the way Oahu was envisioned to develop, and that’s what enables us to keep the country country, preserve agriculture and focus development.”

What Mr. Yoshioka doesn’t say in public but we can is that rail opponents who use this congestion argument are dumbing down the rail debate by suggesting rail will have no positive benefit to the community. That is easily refuted; rail will reduce the number of cars on the road by attracting 40,000 drivers onto the system each day for reasons involving cost and convenience.

Even Cliff Slater had to admit it at the July Council meeting linked above, but the word that never seems to pass Mr. Slater’s lips is “mobility.” His preference to address congestion growth is more highways and toll roads, which of course do nothing to assure mobility through the urban core. Cars and buses inevitably must return to surface streets at the end of their HOT lanes run, and that dumps them right back into congestion.

Mr. Yoshioka noted yesterday that mobility – one of the project’s key goals – will be enhanced by building Honolulu rail. Indeed, riding the system will be the only way to guarantee a time of arrival at your destination. When you step onto a train at the Downtown Honolulu station, you’ll get off at the Kapolei station 37 minutes later – every day and every time you ride.

The Stop Rail contingent will be with us no matter how heavily it is outnumbered by rail supporters – 57 percent to 40 percent according to the latest QMark poll – and so will their congestion argument. It’s up to the rest of us to see it for what it is – shot full of holes big enough to drive their luxury cars through.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Public Opinion Poll Shows Residents Appreciate Rail’s Ability to Address Growing Traffic Problem

The QMark poll of residents’ attitudes on rail, discussed previously on Wednesday and Thursday this week, reveals something about the average person’s ability to appreciate fundamental rail transit issues about rail transit that are lost on rail's most partisan critics.

The latter believe rail will be a failure because it won’t reduce congestion from current levels. Given the facts of life and human reproductive patterns that dictate population growth, they create an impossibly high standard for rail to meet. Rail transit can’t possibly meet it, so they insist the project shouldn’t be built.

Professor Panos Prevedouros and Cliff Slater, Oahu’s two leading anti-rail activists, have promoted this perspective for years. Mr. Slater even told Civil Beat in an interview that he bases his anti-rail presentations on this shaky foundation.

The poll suggests that average citizens appreciate rail’s potential to help address Oahu’s growing traffic problem, if not solve it. This chart represents the relative weight of the responses when citizens were asked if they felt rail transit would have an impact on future traffic congestion. More than 60 percent of the respondents foresee a positive future rail effect on congestion. Just over one-third expects little or no effect.

The rail project has never asserted rail will “solve” Oahu’s traffic problem. What it will do is provide an alternative way to travel through the urban core that’s completely unaffected by traffic. So many residents will choose to ride the system that congestion on the urban core’s thoroughfares is expected to be reduced 18 percent by 2030.

When asked why they support or oppose the project, 70 percent mentioned traffic congestion and the need to do something about it. About 15 percent said rail will be a more reliable and faster way to commute, and another 13 percent said rail will benefit the island by taking cars off the road and lessening our dependence on foreign oil.

In other words, citizens understand rail’s potential to address the traffic issue. The anti-railers’ extreme partisanship won’t allow them to acknowledge that in the slightest unless they’re under duress.

“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….,” Mr. Slater told the City Council last July.

According to the QMark poll, Oahu citizens don’t disagree either.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Honolulu Rail Survey’s Most Remarkable Result: Every Council District Registered Majority Support

The QMark opinion poll on community attitudes toward Honolulu rail is chock full of nuggets, each worthy of its own post. We’ve already covered the basics – a solid 57-percent majority supports the project – and we’ll dig into the detail in the days ahead. From our perspective, here’s the most penetrating result:

A majority of residents in every City Council district who expressed a “support/don’t support” opinion to the pollsters said they support rail.

The above table from the QMark report (posted online) shows the breakout for all nine districts. With the “Don’t knows” included, the “strong support/somewhat support” ranges from 50 percent in District 5 (Manoa, Makiki, Kakaako, etc.) to 68 percent in District 8 (Moanalua, Halawai, Aiea, etc.)

Express Yourself

When the “Don’t knows” are excluded and only those who expressed an opinion are analyzed, the percentages showing majority support naturally increase.

District 5’s support becomes 52.1 percent, and District 8 rises to 69.4. Even with the “Don’t knows” included, the support for rail found in QMark’s scientific opinion survey is remarkable. While the greatest support is in districts through which the system’s 20-mile route will pass, even the districts far from rail registered majority support, which in District 2 (Mililani, North Shore, Upper Windward Side), District 3 (Kailua, Kaneohe) and District 4 (East Honolulu, Diamond Head, Waikiki) ranged from 51 to 55 percent. So it doesn’t matter where the typical neighborhood is on the island; residents everywhere show majority support for the rail project.

The survey examines attitudes about traffic, the economy, anticipated ridership, energy and the environment and several other factors, and we’ll get to them in future posts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Opinion Survey Finds 57% Support Rail Project; Scientific Market Research Can Withstand Attacks by Opponents Who Have Failed To Persuade Public

They have their anti-rail champions – the same people who’ve fought Honolulu rail for decades. They have their favorite anti-rail conservative radio talk show hosts. They dominate the comments columns below rail-related stories and editorials in the newspaper and attack the views of rail supporters.

The opponents have all that, but they don’t have what counts in the end: They don’t have public opinion.

Polling results released today by Mayor Peter Carlisle are stunning in what they reveal about the public’s ongoing support for Honolulu rail and the failure of opponents’ highly visible anti-rail campaign.

Conducted with strict adherence to scientific polling principles, local firm QMark’s survey of 900 Oahu residents – 100 in each City Council district – shows that fully 57 percent say they support rail’s construction.

Here’s the breakout: 30 percent “strongly support” rail and 27 “somewhat support” it. Those figures outstrip the 25 percent who “strongly oppose” and 15 percent who “somewhat oppose” the project. Overall totals: 57 percent yes, 40 percent no, and 3 percent had no opinion or declined to answer.

The telephonic survey, including mobile phones, was conducted May 9-20. Its margin of error is +/- 3.27 percent with a 95 percent confidence level, which means that at a minimum, the poll finds a 54-to-43 percent split among those who were questioned in support of Honolulu rail, a solid majority. At the other end of the error margin, 6 in 10 Oahu residents support the project. The entire survey -- questions, methodology, everything -- is available at the rail project's website.

The Comeback

We can imagine how anti-railers will deal with this news. They’ll attack the poll and polling in general and deny that a 900-person sample can accurately reflect the views of the entire population. They’ll demand another vote on the ballot in their determination to push these latest results aside.

They’ll laugh off the poll, attack it, denounce it and anything else they can to ignore market research’s validity and ubiquitous use in American political life. But they won’t be able to ignore the depth of experience public opinion polling has in this country and around the world.

Here are some web-based resources that validate public opinion research: American Association for Public Opinion Research; Marketing Research Association; The Gallup Organization, and Wikipedia.

Long-Term Support

The survey’s results are close to the 2009 poll that also was conducted by QMark among 900 Oahu residents. It’s remarkable that after 18 months of ongoing criticism by opponents and media coverage tinged with negativity, support for Honolulu rail remains within the margin of error of the 2009 survey.

The 2011 results are revealing across a broad front of issues related to rail. Oahu residents express support for transit-oriented development as a rational way to direct future growth. They also recognize that rail will be an alternative to being forced to contend with traffic congestion that will continue to grow through the years.

The poll’s results are ripe for deeper examination, and we’ll do that in the days ahead, but here’s a point to end today’s post: The results are a repudiation of opponents’ simplistic anti-rail campaign that has deliberately attempted to confuse and obfuscate the issues.

Campaign Failure

As we’ve noted here repeatedly, anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater has built his campaign around trying to convince the public rail shouldn’t be built because traffic will continue to grow through the decades. His Civil Beat interview in July 2010 and his comments before the City Council the same month were grounded in this assertion: Rail will fail because traffic will continue to grow.

Here’s Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka’s response at that July 14th Council meeting: “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news. I think what the difference is, is that without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail…. Slater even had to admit as much.

He should admit this, too: Campaigns built on half-truths and obfuscation are bound to fail. Mr. Slater’s attempt to position rail transit as not worth building because population growth will inevitably result in more traffic was transparently flawed from the start. Most people are too akamai to fall for that line.

Oahu residents overwhelmingly support Honolulu rail. We’ll examine the poll’s detailed results in the days ahead.