Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ex-Councilman: ‘Isolated Snapshot’ on Rail Views No Excuse To Abandon Years of Planning, Says Mayoral Candidate Is Encouraging Misinformation; Gas Prices Hit Historic Level for This Early in Year

Today’s Star-Advertiser has two rail-related op-ed pieces (subscription), and we’ll comment on one of them, since it shares our view about problems with the recent public opinion poll on rail that question its validity.

Former City Council member Gary Okino served two terms during years of crucial planning for the Honolulu rail project. He knows rail better than just about anyone, and he’s heard all the vocal opposition’s arguments against rail that nevertheless failed to win a majority in recent elections. (See two Yes2Rail posts on Mr. Okino’s previous outspoken support for rail on public television – February 2010 and October 2011.)

Mr. Okino says the entry of anti-rail Ben Cayetano into the mayoral campaign is “the latest chapter in the effort to nullify the democratic process and thwart the will of the voters…. His candidacy has provided a platform to resurrect the entire catalog of anti-rail misinformation.”

The Survey
Mr. Okino then mentions the flaw in the recent public opinion survey on rail that we previously identified – that it was conducted during the “hoopla” of Mr. Cayetano’s official entry into the mayoral race and in the aftermath the media-fueled brouhaha over the selection of an Italian company to supply the rail car and core systems for the project.

It was “small wonder that support for rail took a dip” in the poll, he writes. “A single isolated shot of opinion should not be seized on as an excuse to second-guess the wisdom of rail transit or the years of planning and input that have gone into making it a reality.”

Elsewhere on the same page as Mr. Okino’s commentary, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts has an “open letter" to African-American young people. “You should know all about (stereotypes)” he writes. “After all, the stereotypes about you are manifold…. Indeed, one is reminded of the axiom that if you repeat a lie long enough, people will accept it as truth….”

The constant repetition of misinformation on rail may be having the same effect. One talking point in particular used by rail opponents is notable not only for its misinformation but also for its lack of intellectual honesty.

It’s logical to conclude that the stepped-up campaigns by the two pro-rail candidates for mayor will have the effect of moving public opinion back into the pro-rail column.

The 'No Information' Campaign

Misinformation is one thing, but no information is another. We’ve been promoting the view that if someone vows to kill the rail project if elected, he or she has an obligation to describe an alternate transportation plan in considerable detail.

To date, that still hasn’t happened in Mr. Cayetano’s campaign. We know nothing more today than we did five weeks ago when he officially announced his candidacy about how he proposes to speed the daily commute for scores of thousands of Oahu residents through the urban corridor – nothing more than vague references to express lanes, buses and San Diego's trolley.

Mr. Okino’s first-hand experience with the detailed planning that’s gone into the rail project presumably motivates him to speak out against the pig-in-a-poke approach pursued by leading rail opponents. He’s been vocal in his support for rail and has appeared twice in the past two years on public TV’s “Island INSIGHTS” programs, linked above.

He and Mr. Cayetano were among the guests on the October 13, 2011 show and had this memorable exchange:

Mr. Okino: “…So the choice of the people will be, 30 minutes on the train (or) two hours in traffic on the freeway. I guarantee you there will be a whole bunch of guys getting outta their cars.”

Mr. Cayetano: “…Are you gonna walk out from your house to a bus stop, wait for a bius, take the bus down to the rail station and then wait for the rail to get on it to get downtown?”

Mr. Okino: “If it takes me two hours to commute by car, of course!”

Historic Gas Prices
Mr. Cayetano finds it hard to believe people would actually walk to a bus stop and take mass transit instead of driving, and in that respect, he would seem to be out of step with an entire generation of younger citizens.

The Star-Advertiser op-ed commentary that kicked off the Gang of Four’s anti-rail PR campaign in August – Mr. Cayetano is one of the Gang – included this question: “Where will commuters park their cars?”

As we noted at the time, anti-railers “just don’t get that cars eventually won’t be a necessity for scores of thousands of commuters who, without rail, would have to drive. Rail will be part of a public transit system….”

Driving will seem even less attractive when gas prices years from now hit much higher levels – higher than even in 2007 when the price of oil hit $147 per barrel in mid-summer.

Already this year, gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been this time of year, according to the Associated Press. The AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report for today says the average price of regular gas in Hawaii is $4.252/gallon. The only other state above the $4 mark is California, at $4.072.

We were tracking gas prices closely last year and reported on March 29, 2011 that Hawaii’s average price for regular was $4.223. It’s nearly 3 cents a gallon more than that today – five weeks earlier on the calendar than last year.

The cost of driving will be another key factor in helping Oahu residents choose rail for their daily commute if they live anywhere within a convenient distance of a station. Maybe that won’t matter to the wealthier members of the community, including leading anti-rail activists, but will it matter to the average man and woman who must take gas prices into account?

We’ll quote Mr. Okino's answer again: “Of course!”

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