Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Get Ready for the Anti-Transit Invasion: ‘Hired Guns’ Will Be Here Soon, so It’s Time To Examine Rail’s Blending of Efficiency and ‘Experience’

It’s not too soon to start anticipating what we’ll hear from the four late-February visitors who’ll tell us why Honolulu shouldn’t build its rail transit system.

We know that’s what they’ll say in their two public appearances in late February because (1) they’ve been invited here by our local anti-rail minority, and (2) anti-transit advocacy is how they’ve been making a living for years.

One of the four will be Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, which describes itself as “a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”

Mr. O’Toole believes rail transit systems are failures if they don’t cover their costs, and since no transit system in the United States makes a profit, he thinks they’re all failures. Transit systems also have to pass his “Cable Car Test,” and as you might surmise, they don’t. He authored a study headlined Defining Success, the Case Against Rail Transit. Rail proponents might want to scan it to be prepared.

Academics such as Mr. O’Toole whose research is supported by the libertarian-leaning free-market Cato Institute and others churn out studies like his Defining Success analysis using all sorts of metrics to make their case. Of course, other researchers guided by different philosophies and principles view transit systems far differently than Mr. O’Toole and the other highway advocates.

The ‘Human Transit’ View
Jarrett Walker, a Portland-based transit consultant, has a perspective that was highlighted in a Slate.com piece last week headlined What’s the Best Way To Get Users To Embrace Mass Transit – Make it pleasant or make it efficient? (The Economist posted a column yesterday with reflections on this article.)

Walker hosts the Human Transit blog, which has favorably mentioned Honolulu’s future rail project several times (search for “Honolulu” at the site). The Slate article by Tom Vanderbilt contrasts Walker’s view that a system’s efficiency is critically important with that of Darrin Nordahl, who argues that the “ride experience” itself may be more important in convincing drivers to become riders.

Says Nordahl in his 2009 book, My Kind of Transit, “…the ride itself must offer an experience to passengers that they cannot get within the solitude of their cars.” Walker’s new book, Human TransitHow Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, emphasizes other aspects of the transit experience that contribute to a system’s success.

“In most debates about proposed rapid transit lines,” he writes, “the speed of the proposed service gets more political attention than how frequently it runs, even though frequency, which determines waiting time, often matters more than speed in determining how long your trip will take.”
Best of Both Worlds?
One conclusion to be drawn from the Slate article is that Honolulu’s future rail system could very well satisfy both Nordahl and Walker. Passengers riding 30-plus feet above surface streets certainly will experience travel in ways that will be completely foreign to drivers down there on the roads. Views in every direction will be extraordinary, and it’s likely sight-seeing visitors to the islands will be heavy users during the mid-day hours between the morning and afternoon peak commuting periods.

As for convenience, Honolulu’s trains will arrive every 3 minutes during those peak hours, a frequency that will virtually eliminate a sense of “having just missed” one’s ride. Another will be along in 3 minutes or less, so the Honolulu system’s efficiency also will be extraordinary.

Rail opponents locally are counting on their late-February “hired gun” imports to create a cloud of doubt around the Honolulu project. The rest of us need to keep their views in perspective as the opinions of consultants who oppose big government spending programs unless the spending somehow supports highway travel.

For every one of their ilk who believes America would be better off without rail transit, you’ll find millions of rail commuters around the country who can’t imagine a more preposterous idea.


Anonymous said...

What else does the white man want from Hawaiians they locked up our queen,take and sell our land now they want to put stupid looking rail on Hawaiian land these people have no respect for other races and cultures they need to go away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Doug Carlson said...

We've published your comment, although the temptation to delete it before others could read it was great. We'll let it stand here for others to "appreciate" where you're coming from and decide for themselves if your contribution is the level at which the conversation on rail should be conducted.