Monday, June 18, 2012
Caldwell Asked Cayetano 55 Questions about His Transportation Plan, and Cayetano Answered 1; Isn’t It Time that News Media Asked Them, Too?
We made a big deal of mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell’s questions to fellow candidate Ben Cayetano last week, so it’s only right we focus today on Mr. Cayetano’s response – such as it is.
Mr. Cayetano’s single-answer response to the 55 transportation-related questions may eventually be seen as a pivotal moment in this year’s mayoral campaign. Since Yes2Rail is an a-political transit blog, we could be flat wrong about that, but it’s a reasonable working hypothesis about Mr. Cayetano’s response to a tsunami of probing questions that the media are ignoring.
Honolulu residents aren’t going to find many answers about Mr. Cayetano’s plans to implement bus rapid transit, managed lanes and/or at-grade light rail by reading and watching the news media. For whatever reason, most reporters covering the ongoing rail debate have shown a remarkable lack of reportorial enterprise in asking would-be rail killer Mr. Cayetano probing questions about his plans.
You can get a sense of the media’s interaction with Mr. Cayetano by watching a video of his June 7 press conference. He invited the media to his home after Mr. Caldwell and Mayor Peter Carlisle, also a mayoral candidate, criticized Mr. Cayetano’s stance on rail earlier that day.
It was a patty-cake performance by the reporters in attendance and nothing like the Washington, D.C., press conferences you see on television. With an opportunity to ask pointed questions of the man who vows to kill rail if elected mayor, their “questions” seemed more like sound-bite set-ups.
And it’s worse than that. When you watch the entire video (especially around 11:30 mark), what emerges is a fawning deference by some of those reporters to Mr. Cayetano as they showed an obvious sympathy to his position and a reluctance to ask anything of substance. It’s enough to make stomachs turn among reporters from another era.
But one direct question of the kind you’d hope reporters always ask eventually surfaces at 13:55 into the video:
Reporter: “What you’re saying is (regarding BRT), once you get into town, BRT at grade is not going to disrupt traffic, just parking.”
Mr. Cayetano: “Well, you know, it may take some lanes, you know, during the peak hours, but you gotta make choices. You know, you want a 50-60-foot-high rail system running across the waterfront, disrupting ancient burial sites and all that? Or, you look at running the bus rapid transit down maybe King Street or Beretania Sreet, and looking to what the issue is. The issue is parking for small business, and so, can you deal with that? Well, we’re gonna take a look at that.”
The only question in this 15-minute video that could be termed “probing” about Mr. Cayetano’s alleged BRT plan produced an answer that reveals there is no thought-through assessment about BRT’s impact on small businesses on King and Beretania streets. Wow.
55 Asks, 1 Answer
This kind of media performance may be why Mr. Caldwell has created a list of 55 questions about Mr. Cayetano’s BRT, managed lanes and at-grade rail concepts, plans, notions, hopes, possibilities – whatever you want to call them.
For his part, Mr. Carlisle also is posing issues the media should be asking about. The Mayor told reporters on June 7: “The truth is, Cayetano rejected the very proposal he is now campaigning on, and for good reason,” he was quoted in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Small businesses would be hurt, much-needed parking would be taken away and traffic congestion would be much, much worse.”
Faced with all these non-media-but-essential questions, Mr. Cayetano’s campaign website posted a statement yesterday. We’re quoting all 214 words:
“If the three volumes of the $10 million 2003 Environmental Impact Statement approved by the FTA and me, as goveror, which concluded that BRT was superior to rail is not specific enough, Caldwell should demand that Parsons Brinkerhoff (sic), the consultant, reimburse the City’s taxpayers.
“Caldwell should refrain from making up facts to suit his purpose. For example, to rebut my contention that no city comparable in size to Honolulu has built or is planning to build elevated, steel on steel rail Caldwell lists Seattle, Dallas and Vancouver as cities which have steel on steel rail. Question: are the rail systems heavy or light rail and are these cities comparable to Honolulu in size?
“He asks me to name cities in which rail has been a financial disaster? Try San Juan’s Tren Urbano which experienced an 83% construction cost overrun and actual ridership that was only 25% of forecasted ridership. Try Miami’s elevated heavy rail system built 30 years ago which experienced huge cost overruns and actual ridership was 20% of forecasted ridership. The fact is that FTA studies revealed that FTA approved (sic) rail systems on average experience a 40% cost overrun and on average only 41% of forecasted ridership – and there is very (sic) indication that the City’s rail project will exceed these shortfalls.”
That’s the exact quote as of this Yes2Rail posting. The spelling and grammatical mistakes may have been corrected by the time you read this, but beyond those errors, all we can find in this 214-word statement is one answer to Mr. Caldwell’s 1380-word, 55-question list.
Will Honolulu residents decide to swap a fully thought-through rail plan for something as unformed as Mr. Cayetano’s non-rail intentions? He seems content to duck the tough questions today, but at some point, residents are likely to realize “we’re gonna take a look at that” amounts to no plan at all.