Monday, July 16, 2012

'Vox Populi' Can Aid Public’s Understanding of Honolulu Rail Project after Info Team's Departure

Informing the public about the Honolulu rail project isn’t the job of the project’s public information mechanism alone.
To be sure, that’s what the Public Involvement Team has been doing for years in giving hundreds of presentations to scores of community groups, briefing neighborhood boards, working with landowners and businesses along the rail line, discussing rail with trade show attendees and innumerable other citizens throughout the community.

Team members have published newsletters, produced a television program on ‘Olelo, worked extensively with the Honolulu news media and reached out to the public in many other ways, including this Yes2Rail blog.

From all appearances, the team accomplished its education mission; otherwise, it’s doubtful the project could have reached the landmark step of applying for a Full Funding Grant Agreement that, when executed, will secure $1.55 billion in federal money for elevated rail.

The need for the same level of public involvement support has diminished with this recent application, according to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO Dan Grabauskas, as he recently wrote in a memo to HART Chair Carrie Okinaga: “While heavier levels of public outreach may have been needed in the early years for planning and during the extensive public input process for the Environmental Impact Statement, it is time to scale back our public involvement resources.”

His memo, which can be found at Civil Beat’s website under the headline Honolulu Rail PR Contractors Whacked, lists how the project will “continue to have a robust outreach presence through the construction and operations phases.”

What’s Missing
Unmentioned in HART’s seven bullet points on future public outreach efforts, however, is how the project will refute the rhetoric of rail’s opposition, led by multi-generation anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater. We’ve been doing that here at Yes2Rail, since it’s been a legitimate way to help the public separate truth from fiction about transportation issues.

Yes – we unhesitatingly affirm that this blog is a place to find rail's “true facts,” as they say, and that Mr. Slater’s website is a source of misinformation. Our “aggregation site” is a one-stop post for a big compilation of Yes2Rail’s refutations of Mr. Slater’s messages.

However, our role as a paid communications consultant to the rail project will end one month from today, and with the ending of our contract with PB Americas, the rail project’s principal contractor, the public will have to rely on others cut through rail opponents' misinformation efforts.

The LTE Forum
Rail project supporters, including politicians and third party business and labor groups, presumably will be active in the months and years ahead, depending on the outcome of the mayoral election. But one of the best sources of clarity will be the letters column of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The Letters column is a citizen-to-citizen communications vehicle that may be more effective than the partisan and politically motivated messages one reads, sees and hears about rail. Here are two such communications taken from Saturday’s letters page (subscription required) that we believe aid the public’s understanding of what the rail project can accomplish.

Buses can’t compare to rail (Honolulu Star-Advertiser)
“The great cities of the world use some type of rail in their mass transit systems. (The anti-rail mayoral candidate) wants to add more buses to our already overcrowded streets. Maybe he should go to the Makaha Towers and catch the No. 40 bus to Ala Moana. I hope he can spare three hours out of his day because that is how long it takes. To those that say (rail) will spoil their view, it is already too late. Fifty years ago you could sit on the beach and still see the mountains; now all you can see are tall buildings.”

Here’s the view of a Kaimuki resident whose letter reflects an artist's aesthetic sensibilities and appreciation of the environment so much that the writer may in fact be the acclaimed artist who goes by that name:

Look beyond rail transit costs
“Let’s put our self-interests aside and hae some sympathy for those who need the rail most. We should put our positive imaginations together to make it the best that it can be. You may not be able to see the sky from under the bridge, but riding the train you will be able to see the mountains, the sea and sky. Imagine the morning sunrises and evening sunsets. Personally, I doubt that I will live long enough to enjoy it. So please no more nonsense talk about ‘my tax dollars.’ Why don’t we look beyond the dollars and envision the big picture, because like all things, it will come to pass.”

Don’t give up hope on riding Honolulu’s train, Mr. Abe. It'll be here before you know it. 

And finally, a Kailua resident's letter from today’s newspaper:

(Politicians) don’t offer solutions
“Somewhat belatedly I have come to the conclusion that Mitt Romney and (the local anti-rail candidate) are like two peas in a pod. Both know what they are against and are vociferous in their opposition. Romney opposes the Affordable Care Act for the nation and (the local candidate) opposes a separated fixed-guideway rail system for Honolulu. Both say they have a fix for the problem, but neither are willing or able to provide us with a detailed, comprehensive understanding of the ‘fix’ they have in mind. Informed voters deserve better from these two agents of change.”

Those letters are the vox populi – voice of the people. We’ll continue to highlight opinions on both sides of the project when we think doing so will help the public’s understanding of Honolulu rail and related issues. That’s why we’re here – for another 29 days.


Roy Kamisato said...

I sent this response to the StarAdvertiser reporter who wrote the front page article on rail.

The recently released Financial Plan for HART contained some revealing operating and maintenance (O&M) numbers for rail and the bus. In the year 2021 O&M for rail will be $120 million dollars and the bus $270 million. By 2030 O&M for rail will be $145 million and the bus $385 million. For the ten year span O&M for rail is projected to be $1.28 billion with the bus coming in at $2.135 billion. The O&M for rail increased by 20% while it increased over 40% for the bus. Using the 2006 alternative analysis report on transportation which stated that an equilivant BRT system when compared to rail will have an O&M of about 110% over rail I came up with these figures. In 2021 the BRT will have an O&M of $145 million. By 2030 BRT will have an O&M of about $200 million. This compared to rail’s figures which are $120 million and $145 million a year. Sorry but I felt your article while accurate left many readers with the impression that rail is more costly to build than an equivalent BRT system.

Roy Kamisato said...

Doug, without the information you provide here I would not have been able to write a response to that newspaper article. Just a thought, is that why they want you shut down? Just thinking out loud.