Friday, July 27, 2012
Will Rail Opponents Take Any Notice of the Social Equity Issue? It’s Doubtful, Since a ‘What’s In It for Me’ Outlook Blinds Them to Others’ Transportation Problems
Is anybody still stuck on the fence over the Honolulu rail issue? It’s unlikely at this late date, but those without a firm opinion might well consider a commentary in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser.
The newspaper headlined the piece The rail will provide equal access to social and economic opportunity. Its authors are Mario Ramil, retired Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice; Howard Garval, CEO of Child and Family Service; Sotero Jucutan, president of the Oahu Association of Filipino Catholic Clubs, and the Rev. Bob Nakata, executive committee member of Faith Action for Community Equity’s Oahu Chapter.
Here’s the opening paragraph for those without a subscription:
“In the ongoing debate over rail, there has been a lot of discussion about the cost of rail but very little discussion about how rail provides equal access to social and economic opportunity to everyone regardless of age, race, economic status or disability.”
A search of the Star-Advertiser archives shows that nearly all of the focus on equity has come from the FACE group itself. Yes2Rail tried to move the discussion toward the project’s four goals, including social equity, early in 2011 when the blog highlighted the goals as described in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.
It was an attempt to provide some contrast between the opponents’ objections about cost and traffic reduction and the project’s intended outcomes that would last for generations.
As the commentary’s authors note, there’s been little discussion of those goals, and if there has been any media coverage of them, we can’t recall when. It’s easier to write about Cliff Slater’s latest blast about rail delivering too little at too great a cost or his proposal to build a toll road instead of rail.
As Yes2Rail said on January 11, 2011, “Equity is a good filter to use when evaluating anti-railers’ alternatives to the rail project, such as High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) roads and elevated busways that lack stops or stations along the route…. HOT lanes fail the equity test by not serving those who don’t own cars, beyond that poit, HOT lanes serve only those who can afford to pay the toll! And elevated busways that bypass communities along the route also fail to equitably serve all potential users.”
Inequity for West Oahu Residents
The authors lift the definition of equity from the FEIS – “…the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.”
With that as a yardstick, “an inequity exists for those who live in West Oahu,” they write and then list several examples. Among them is the burden of locating municipal facilities there because they’re unwanted elsewhere, including the landfill, and the region’s poor transportation infrastructure.
Continuing: “…the burden is even greater for the many lower-income and minority workers who live in West Oahu and commute to work in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki. They have among the longest travel distances and their commute is made even longer by severe traffic congestion, now the worst in the nation….
“Those who can’t afford to drive – or are too young, too old or physically unable to drive – depend on public transit. They have only one option and must suffer delays and undertain schedules because of those delays. They spend two to three hours – sometimes more – just going to and from work, school or medical appointments on any given day. Can we say that these groups of people have equal access to all places? No. They have been locked out of opportunity.”
Concern for Others
“I’ll never ride the train” is the first thing you hear from many rail opponents, but the commentary’s description of the inequities that burden west-siders might be persuasive for anyone who can think beyond their own circumstances.
The authors end their piece with the factors that stand up well against opponents’ accusation that “nobody will ride” rail:
• Approximately 70 percent of the island’s population lives along the rail route.
• 83 percent of Oahu’s jobs are located along the rail route.
• The rail route will connect three University of Hawaii system campuses.
• Rail will be faster and more predictable than buses and provides a more efficient and enjoyable transportation experience.
• Rail transit is a meaningful transportation alternative that saves both time and money.
• Higher density housing around transit stations may also open up lower-cost housing options for families.
If you know anyone who’s still a fence sitter on the rail project, send them this commentary or at least Yes2Rail’s summary of its main points. The blog’s January 3, 2011 post listed the project’s four goals; here’s the FEIS’s paragraph on equity:
Equity is about the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits. Many lower-income and minority workers who commute to work in the PUC (Primary Urban Center) Development Plan area live in the corridor outside of the urban core. Transit-dependent households concentrated in the Pearl City, Waipahu, and Makakilo areas (Figure 1-9) rely on transit availability, such as TheBus, for access to jobs in the PUC Development Plan area. Delay caused by traffic congestion accounts for nearly one-third of the scheduled time for routes between Ewa and Waikiki. Many lower-income workers also rely on transit because of its affordability. These transit-dependent and lower-income workers lack a transportation choice that avoids the delay and schedule uncertainty currently experienced by TheBus. In addition, Downtown median daily parking rates are the highest among U.S. cities, further limiting access to Downtown by lower-income workers. Improvements to transit availability and reliability would serve all transportation system users, including minority and moderate- and low-income populations (emphasis added).