Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Media Continue News Blackout on Cayetano BRT Plan, Including Caldwell’s ‘Fantasy’ Criticism

We’re not much into conspiracy theories (except for the blackout in Hawaii of nearly all West Coast MLB teams' games), but the way the media treated Kirk Caldwell’s criticism of Ben Cayetano’s bus rapid transit plan makes you wonder.
Former Acting Mayor Caldwell, Cayetano and current Mayor Peter Carlisle are running for a four-year term as mayor. The primary election is August 11, and unless one of them receives 50 percent plus one of the votes cast, the top two vote-getters will face a runoff in November.

Pro-rail Caldwell’s press release yesterday called for adjustments in the current rail plan. The word on the street is that he’s trailing the other two candidates and faces elimination unless he gets a boost before August, so tweaking a plan that he supports in principle seems to be part of his strategy. (Ironically, the release wasn't posted on Mr. Caldwell's campaign website the last time we checked, so we went to an anti-rail site for a link.)

Another part is attacking presumed front-runner Mr. Cayetano. Although Yes2Rail is not a political blog, we do devote considerable space to what the candidates say about rail and what they don’t say, since the future of the rail project is riding on this election.

Mr. Cayetano said in March that he’d have that plan’s details available for the public to scrutinize by mid-April, but that didn’t happen. Knowing what he’d try to implement after he kills rail, which is his pledge, would seem to be essential information, or so it seems to us.

Blindered Media
But the media obviously don’t agree, since reporters for the major mass media in town (the Star-Advertiser and the three TV stations) don’t bother to ask about it. (See our “open letters” to reporters covering rail for those outlets here, here and here.)

And here’s the kicker: The major media ignored Mr. Caldwell’s criticism of the Cayetano BRT plan even as they reported his “tweaks” of the rail plan. Here comes the conspiracy theory speculation:

It’s almost as if the media refuse to investigate the so-far non-existent BRT plan for fear doing so might knock Mr. Cayetano so far down in the public’s esteem that he comes in third. A run-off between two pro-rail candidates wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining to the media as a Cayetano standoff against either Messrs. Carlisle or Caldwell.

High professional journalistic standards don’t explain the media’s refusal to even ask Mr. Cayetano to release a fully detailed BRT plan, so what does? The explanation we’re leaning toward is a deep-set anti-rail media bias among reporters and editors alike. Hawaii News Now’s use of the graphic at right in introducing a rail story last week was a clear indication of that bias. If someone has a better explanation, leave a comment below.

BRT's ‘Absolute Fantasy’
Since the media didn’t report on the bottom fourth of Mr. Caldwell’s release, we’ll reprint it in full:

Rail critics – including Ben Cayetano – have been fast and loose with the facts. Let’s set the record straight on just some of them.
  The current $5.2 billion budget includes a very large contingency and adequate reserves for short-term financing. Reports that it will cost $7 billion or more are only scare tactics unsupported by anyone except Tea Party-style rail critics.
25% of the construction budget has already been collected and 100% of costs will be collected by the time the system is completed. There will be no “mortgage” to pay in 2022 when the GET surcharge for the rail project ends.
  Costs to operate rail transit will cost MUCH lower than a comparable bus system. In the long run, rail transit will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars compared to buses.
  Despite what Ben keeps saying, other cities like Honolulu ARE building modern steel-wheel rail transit systems. Dallas, Seattle and Vancouver are just three recent examples. Those systems were completed on-time and on-budget, continue to expand, and are enjoying high ridership.
  Bus Rapid Transit – BRT – is an absolute fantasy as an alternative to rail, especially in the way that Ben Cayetano seems to be proposing. Ben’s BRT would double-deck major lengths of highways or city streets ­– or both – and just consider what that will mean with years of lane closures during construction. Consider the massive off-ramps we would have to build in town, and all of the disruption and traffic snarls that would cause. Imagine current congested traffic lanes being reduced and dedicated only to buses. Finally, consider this: it will take hundreds of additional buses to provide the carrying capacity of rail during peak hours. That’s hundreds of additional buses an hour on our freeways, highways and city streets. Ben’s BRT will add MORE congestion in town, not reduce it. It will cost a fortune to operate. And by they way, there’s no funding whatsoever in place to pay for BRT.

Mr. Caldwell’s release continues with additional supporting comments for the concept of building a grade-separated rail transit system, some of which you can read in the Star-Advertiser’s coverage of the release (subscription). But as of this writing, you won’t read his criticism of Ben Cayetano’s BRT plan anywhere else.

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