Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Countdown Has Begun (see above), so We’re Bringing Back a Few Yes2Rail Posts this Week To Highlight Big Honolulu Rail-Related Issues, Starting with CONGESTION, Plus: Another Sketchy Public Opinion Survey

You have to hand it to Cliff Slater. He’s managed to position rail as a future failure if traffic congestion will be worse after rail is built than it is today. What a snake oil salesman!

Of course congestion will be worse in the future than it is today! Will people stop moving here? Will families stop having babies? Will the long-extinct volcanoes that created Oahu miraculously start pumping more lava that can be paved over with new highway lanes? Would the public even tolerate more lanes?

No to all those questions, but even the media have been suckered by Mr. Slater’s pitch – giving him a free pass on his manipulative, deceptive anti-rail messaging. You’ll look in vain if you search the local media for even one tough interview that forced him to defend his talking points.

We’re going to spend the final week of Yes2Rail’s connection to the rail project by linking to earlier posts here that help put the Slater anti-public transit machine into perspective. Maybe we can create a critical mass in the doing that will give a few reporters reason to start asking those questions if not this week, then over the next three months..

Failure to Nip in the Bud
The congestion issue is where to begin.  John Temple, the former Civil Beat editor who has moved on to the Washington Post, had a chance to stand fast against the Slater sales pitch back in July 2010, not long after Civil Beat’s launch.

Mr. Temple’s July 12, 2010 piece on his interview a few days earlier with Mr. Slater has a deferential tone to it, with no evidence in the three video segments posted that day of any push-back by the seasoned journalist.

For example, here’s the revealing content of the third video segment:

“Well, first off we have to understand that we have a traffic congestion problem. We don’t have a public transportation problem, OK. We need to firmly address reducing traffic congestion in the future as one of – if not the primary – functions of any new proposals. And there are various tools that we could use. Rail is not one of them. It has not reduced traffic congestion anywhere, and we can spend 5 point 5 billion dollars a lot more wisely than merely on the rail line (emphasis added)."

That’s an extraordinary quote that went unchallenged at the time by Mr. Temple and has skated by unchallenged, as far as we can tell, by all other journalists in Honolulu. Only rail supporters have managed to say, “Hold on, Cliff. You’re asking rail to do something no transportation project can do – put a lid on congestion’s growth over the next two decades to keep it at today’s level. Rail can’t do it, and neither can buses or your high-occupancy toll roads!”

That would have been a reasonable response from Mr. Temple, but there was no pushback on that statement or the others Mr. Slater floated past Civil Beat’s editor:
“Why pay more when we can get the same service for less?”
Pushback Missed: Says who? What evidence did Mr. Slater have to suggest “the same service” could be achieved for less money? How could any alternative that operates in shared road space – contending with cross traffic at intersections, the daily traffic build-up, the whole lot of it – provide the same level of service as grade-separated rail transit? Mr. Slater wasn’t pressed to defend that statement.
• “It doesn’t take too much of a businessman to say this is a waste of money.”
Pushback Missed: Was Mr. Slater saying rail is a total waste of money? Did he know what rail’s goals are? How would whatever alternative he alluded to be a better expenditure?
• “These folks on the Ewa plane (sic) need some traffic relief. Nothing that’s being proposed is going to give them that.”
Pushback Missed: Would Mr. Slater have conceded that people who ride the train will get total traffic relief? That being the obvious truth of the matter, it appears obvious that what he wants is absolute traffic reductions for the driving public. Is that it?
• “My sense of it is that people are becoming a lot more aware of the disconnect between the amount of money that is going to go into this thing and the supposed benefits we’re going to get from it.”
Pushback Missed: The city is clear about rail’s benefits. What Mr. Slater seems to be doing is rewriting the benefits to include a presumed reduction in traffic. The city doesn’t claim congestion reduction as a future benefit – just a reduction in congestion’s rate of growth. What the city does say is that rail will be a congestion-free, non-highway option to commute that doesn’t now exist.
• “We need to address the traffic congestion problem, not the public transportation problem. We need to use tools to address congestion. Rail is not one of them.”
Pushback Missed: So if it’s traffic congestion Mr. Slater wants to reduce, why hasn’t he gathered up a coalition of like-minded traffic haters and proposed a congestion-reducing transportation option to the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, the City Council, the State Legislature? He’s obviously trying to kill rail because it won’t accomplish his goals and won’t be satisfied unless congestion actually is reduced. But that’s not possible with a growing population, so Mr. Temple's missed pushback is so obvious that it’s hard to imagine how he could have.

Other Possibilities
Mr. Temple didn’t push back in any way, based on the reporting of this interview, which had this somewhat bizarre final sentence in Mr. Temple's article: “The question in the end will be whether we’ll thank him for standing firm” – which seems to presume a failed rail project --  “or blame him for preventing a giant new addition that could transform the look and feel of a significant part of Honolulu" – again, a presumption that rail won’t be built.

What about blaming him for preventing rail’s construction two decades ago? What about blaming him for the delaying tactics, including a federal lawsuit to kill rail, that have added to this current project’s costs?  What about asking him to explain his thesis that traffic congestion can be reduced if only we were to divert the money going into rail and put it somewhere else?

This Blog’s Pushback
Yes2Rail took immediate notice of this interview and began posting about it the very first day it appeared at Civil Beat. Our July 12 post was headlined Cliff Slater’s ‘Ace Card’ Turns Out To Be a Joker; the flaw in his major talking point seemed so obvious that we could barely take him seriously:

“Without the rail alternative in (Chicago, Paris, New York and San Francisco) and other cities around the world, congestion would be even worse than it is today, and there would be no commuting alternative to sitting in traffic congestion.”

A Closer Look at Cliff Slater’s ‘Whole Argument’ the next day zeroed in on the centerpiece of Mr. Slater’s audience pitch then and now. Here’s what he told Civil Beat’s John Temple:

In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Really? The whole argument? It seemed preposterous then and still does that such a shallow pitch could actually succeed, yet we’ve seen it happen before audiences pre-disposed to oppose the rail project, like many members in a Rotary Club of Honolulu audience last year. We wrote:

Mr. Slater apparently believes diverting all $5.5 billion intended for Honolulu rail will decrease congestion. That’s the only possible inference from his position. Yet in holding fast to that assertion, Mr. Slater stands apart from virtually all professional assessmenets of Oahu’s transportation future conducted by an army of transit and traffic experts.

“Yet that is what Mr. Slater apparently believes – that despite more than a 20-percent increase in Oahu’s population, his plan can reduce highway congestion and hours of delay by 2030. Objective assessments suggest he’s flat wrong, and we will continue to publicize his 'whole argument' to expose its obvious weakness.”

And that’s what we did in the coming weeks. On July 16, our headline was True Confessions: Rail Opponent Concedes Transit Project Will Reduce Future Traffic Congestion. That post included quotes by both Mr. Slater and the City’s Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka, who responded at a City Council meeting to Mr. Slater’s main talking point:

“No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news. I think what the difference is, is that without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail, and I think that’s the whole point of the discussion would be. It’s not appropriate to compare what the future is with rail and what it is now, but it is to compare what the future would be with or without rail. That’s the comparison that should be asked, and that’s not what Cliff Slater was just talking about.”

Yes2Rail kept pushing even as Honolulu’s media were backing away from examining the Obfuscator in Chief’s dubious tactics:
• October 8: Question #5: ‘Mr. Slater, You Know the Truth, so Why Did You Ply Your Team with Falsehoods?’ The “team” is composed of the Mr. Slater and his three recruits to the anti-rail camp – Ben Cayetano, Randy Roth and Walter Heen. They’re the lead plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that will be heard in court later this month, and they’ve both been quoted using exactly the same Slater talking points.

800 and Counting
Cliff Slater has been mentioned here at Yes2Rail (a total of 801 posts counting today's) more than anyone else for good reason: He’s more responsible than anyone else for public transportation’s rough going since at least 1990 and possibly earlier. It happened to the Fasi Administration’s project 20 years ago, and it’s happening again today.

As we’ve shown over the years, Mr. Slater relies on misinformation and twisted logic in his campaign against rail, and he relies on something else, too – government’s inability and or unwillingness to mount a serious response to his efforts.

We’ll be watching closely beyond next Monday, our last day as a consultant on rail, to see if anyone steps up to challenge Mr. Slater’s rhetoric and those he has propelled to prominence in the anti-rail fight. Mr. Slater’s own words have supplied the ammunition.

Civil Beat’s Latest Poll
We’ll know Saturday whether the news media’s opinion surveys were accurate or wildly off the mark. UH professor Neal Milner last week agreed with our criticism of surveys that ignore the opinions of citizens who are not likely voters both the Civil Beat and the Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll did that but are more likely than voters to rely on public transit. 

Nevertheless, Dr. Milner said the voter-only surveys do help predict the results of candidate races. But we have to wonder about Civil Beat’s latest poll that concludes the anti-rail mayoral candidate could avoid a runoff in Saturday's vote. Here’s the significant paragraph about the poll's methodology:

“Civil Beat's survey sample has 80 percent age 50 or older (emphasis added). Cayetano does worst among younger voters, with 46 percent of those in their 30s and 33 percent of those between 18 and 29 years old. If more young voters turn out than have historically, it would spell trouble for him. The recent Hawaii Poll sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser had only 48 percent of voters aged 55 or older, and found Cayetano's overall support at 44 percent.”

That 80-percent figure is enough to question the methodology and therefore the results. Maybe the pollsters know snake oil, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a shame that Slater has never received any real scrutiny from the mainstream media who quote him endlessly and often simply allow him to frame the whole debate for them.