Thursday, June 7, 2012
With Commercial Paper Issue Behind, Rail Project Moves into ‘Summer Session’ – Straightening Out Inaccurate, Irrelevant, False Claims about Transit
Now that the Federal Transit Administration’s requirement for an emergency source of construction funding has been assured, the Honolulu rail project can expect more attempts by rail opponents to muddy the waters.
That’s one of the functions this Yes2Rail blog performs – to educate readers about rail and cut through the haze of conflicting claims or flat-out misrepresentations by the anti-railers.
For the record, the City Council’s 7-2 passage of Bill 37 yesterday strengthens the project’s financial plan by providing an emergency source of funding should the completely unexpected happen somewhere along the ay.
The FTA had said it would withhold a Full Funding Grant Agreement to provide $1.55 billion if that final financial piece were missing. With the bill’s passage, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation anticipates approval of the FFGA before the end of the year.
The next big hurdle for rail is a little more than 10 weeks away. The federal lawsuit filed by the Gang of Four – anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano, UH law professor Randall Roth and former judge Walter Heen – and others will be heard in court on August 21. With three attorneys and an anti-rail activist in the Gang, we can expect them to continue their “work the jury” efforts using the media this summer.
Tuesday’s appearance by Professor Roth on a morning talk show was part of their campaign, and although we posted extensively on his statements yesterday, they deserve even more attention today.
Professor Roth asserted that managed lanes would provide better service to Oahu commuters than rail, and since rail is a travel option that will allow commuters to avoid congestion, he implicitly is claiming that managed lanes are better at doing that, too.
By inference, we can conclude he also believes managed lanes will reduce congestion, since he emphasized yesterday Mr. Slater’s key talking point in attacking the project – “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”
Managed Lanes Tutorial
These lanes often are called HOT lanes – short for High-Occupancy Toll. HOT lanes would fill up with cars, trucks and buses just like all other lanes do unless there’s a mechanism to reduce the number of vehicles on them. That’s how they allegedly work – by reducing vehicle volume to keep the traffic flowing.
University of Hawaii highway expert Panos Prevedouros made this point in one of his many essays at HawaiiReporter.com in October 2010. “The toll is ‘congestion insurance,’ he wrote. “Paying the toll guarantees 50 mph travel at all times. Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.”
As we noted at the time, the principle behind HOT lanes is pricing the privilege to ride on them at every-higher levels at the lanes’ entrance until only those who can afford to pay the toll enjoy the benefit. Vehicles can travel relatively congestion-free on those lanes – when there are no accidents and breakdowns to impede the flow – only because most people decline to pay the high tolls. They’re left to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on surface roads.
Another way to look at it: People without the wherewithal to pay the toll or without a car to drive onto HOT lanes can’t use them. There’s nothing equitable about these schemes, and ensuring transportation equity is one of the rail project’s four goals.
Professor Roth soft-peddled the toll angle in his radio interview, and when pressed on the point by a caller, backed away. “We don’t have to have (tolls)…if you want tolls, then I would encourage you to make that argument…. A lot of people don’t want tolls, and if our community doesn’t want tolls, then there’s no reason in the world why we need to do that.”
No reason at all except for the fact that according to Professor Prevedouros, “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.” He said they’re necessary – as in, required, and he’s a highway expert with whom Professor Roth now seems to disagree.
If Professor Roth doesn’t want tolls, then he’ll need a different mechanism to restrict traffic on HOT lanes – either high-occupancy or energy-efficient vehicle requirements. In other words, they’d be the same requirements that have failed to reduce congestion on Oahu's streets and highways for the commuting public.
With education as our mission, Yes2Rail will continue to monitor the opponents’ claims about their proposals for an alternative to rail. That’s likely to be as soon as tomorrow, since Professor Roth made other statements on Tuesday’s radio program that deserve a closer look.