Monday, April 30, 2012

If Transparency Is the Goal (and It Is), It Must Be Applied to Everyone & Everybody in Rail Debate; That Includes Candidate Who Vows to Kill Project

“Regardless of where people stand on Honolulu’s rail transit project, it is clear that the community benefits from more transparency and more discussion about how taxpayer money is being spent on a project that will have a significant impact on the future of Oahu and our state.”

That’s the opening paragraph of an op-ed piece in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription required) by the co-chairs of Move Oahu Forward, a new group formed to support the Honolulu rail project.

Transparency is what HART’s new chief executive officer Dan Grabauskas says will define the project under his leadership. People all over town – City Council members, rail opponents, project supporters, the media – are embracing the commitment to transparency in and around the largest construction project in the state's history.

But not everyone shares that commitment. The one person who holds more individual power over rail’s future than nearly anyone else is following the anti-transparency playbook. Mayoral Candidate Ben Cayetano, whose campaign is driven by his opposition to rail, has turned his back on transparency and everyone who believes in it.

Missed Deadline
Mr. Cayetano announced his candidacy on January 19 and his intention to terminate the rail project if elected saying, “There’s no sense in criticizing if you don’t come up with some kind of solution.” Since then, he’s been campaigning against rail while avoiding any details about his alleged solution.

What he has offered is the headline of a solution and nothing else – Cayetano’s Transit Plan Mirrors Harris’ in 2000. Civil Beat used that headline for a March 21 piece that included this: “Cayetano told Civil Beat Editor and General Manager John Temple in an email that he would share the full transit plan by mid-April.”

We noted two days ago that Mr. Cayetano had failed “The 100 Day Test” – a standard measurement for the accomplishments of office-holders, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and continuing to this day. We suggested then that the candidate who would kill the rail project and everything it represents should have met that test, but didn’t.

Politics as Usual
What’s there to make of Mr. Cayetano’s non-commitment to transparency? It seems obvious. He’s employing a favorite strategy of political candidates who think they’re leading in their race: Don’t let yourself be pinned down on specifics.

The leading candidate willingly risks the opponent’s outrage and media criticism that he or she is ducking debates and plows ahead with campaign messages that seem to be working.

By confining his statements to rail’s cost and aesthetics, Mr. Cayetano avoids the potentially disastrous prospect of defending the Harris Administration’s bus rapid transit plan, which was attacked from nearly every side and died.

Mr. Cayetano wants to kill rail without telling the public any details about his BRT replacement – precisely because BRT is woefully inadequate in matching mobility-enhancing, travel-time-reducing, development-guiding, transportation-equity-ensuring and job-creating Honolulu rail.

We shouldn’t expect the anti-rail candidate to volunteer answers to any of the questions we included in our “First 100 Days” post two days ago. But the public deserves to have those and many more questions answered about the Cayetano/Harris BRT plan.
Mr. Cayetano has been silent for 102 days since his announcement, with 103 days remaining before the primary election on August 11. If his strategy has been to wait until the second half of his campaign, that half begins tomorrow. A commitment to transparency by the candidate who would kill rail is way overdue.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

‘The First 100 Days’ – a Standard Good for US Presidents, Governors and Mayors; Time’s Up for the Candidate Who Vows To Kill Honolulu Rail

Today is the 100th day since Ben Cayetano formally announced his candidacy for mayor with one primary promise -- to kill Honolulu rail if elected.  

To give that promise some needed perspective, here’s what he wants to terminate – a mobility-enhancing, travel-time-reducing, development-guiding, transportation-equity-ensuring and job-creating project that will provide congestion-free travel through the city.  
Our own proposition is simple: If that’s what the former governor wants to terminate, he must describe in detail what he would install in rail’s place as a workable response to traffic congestion that’s become nearly intolerable for thousands of highway commuters.  After all, grade-separated transit -- the only possible mode to achieve fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel – has been in hot, then cold, now hot again development for at least two decades. You don’t just blow up all that effort without a plan.  
If candidate Cayetano had been well-prepared and strategically-focused, he might have descried his plan on January 19 when he announced, 14 weeks and two days ago. “There’s no sense in criticizing if you don’t come up with some kind of solution,” he told reporters gathered for his campaign launch.

Mid-April Gone
But he didn't articulate his "solution" then,and for all we know, he doesn't have it 100 days into his candidacy. Most of what we do know about what Mr. Cayetano intends to build instead of rail was briefly mentioned in his March 13 press conference: 


"We're working on a plan, and I've been asked for that plan by some people, including a blogger who's here today." (Yes2Rail was there.) "The specifics are in the Bus Rapid Transit plan compiled in 2000 by the same company that's advising the city now in the rail project -- Parsons Brinckerhoff. They compared all the alternatives and found that BRT would cost a fraction of what rail would cost."

Mr. Cayetano did not provide any details on his plan that day. His next comments that we're aware of were in an email he sent to Civil Beat, the online investigative news source. Here's what Civil Beat wrote on March 21: "Cayetano told Civil Beat Editor and General Manager John Temple in an email that he would share the full transit plan by mid-April."

If mid-April was his target, Mr. Cayetano has slipped it by two weeks. Today is indisputably late April -- so late that May is only three days away. 
Duck and Cover
Mr. Cayetano isn't the first candidate who adopted the silent strategy after a public opinion survey "snapshot in time" found him or her leading a political race. We're only speculating here, but that's our guess on what's going on: Mr. Cayetano and his advisers believe the less said about transportation during this campaign, the better -- an incredible position if true since his campaign is propped up by an anti-transit plank.

That strategy is appropriate since the campaign surely realizes Mr. Cayetano's BRT plan -- a recycled Harris Administration plan written a dozen years ago -- can't withstand the aggressive challenges that will surely come from rail proponents and maybe even the news media. It's the "Duck and Cover" strategy -- what school children did in nuclear war drills in the 1950s. It wouldn't have worked in a nuclear attack then, and we don't think it can work in 2012.
At some point, the public and its presumed media watchdogs will start asking for details on exactly how BRT would work, where it would operate, which highways it would use, how many car lanes would be reserved exclusively for bus use, how much it would cost to ride and operate, how big its taxpayer subsidy would be, how much congestion would grow by adding more buses to traffic, which communities would be served and which would be bypassed, what the BRT travel times would be and the comparisons with rail and highway travel times, how travel reliability could be assured by using buses that inevitably would be delayed by traffic along their routes, what BRT's accident probabilities are, whether BRT could foster affordable housing development as rail will, what about energy use and pollution creation and about a hundred more questions.
Honolulu's primary election is 15 weeks from today. Mr. Cayetano failed "The First 100 Days" test. He has just 105 more in which to explain away the years of detailed planning that have gone into Honolulu rail.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Media Panels on Honolulu Rail Coverage Note Challenges Supporters Face in Making Their Case

 Is the rail project too big for media to get their arms around?
ThinkTech’s monthly luncheon yesterday was billed as “an in-depth conversation with a host of journalists” on media coverage of Honolulu rail, the largest construction project in Hawaii history.

What we think we heard was a thoughtful recognition among most of the current and former journalists on two panels that rail is almost too big to cover adequately. They try, but their apparently sober self-appraisal was that rail is so huge and important that it may be just too big to get their arms around – at least on a consistent basis.

Media coverage itself has become an issue (see our concerns about recent media-sponsored rail polls), and that’s why we’re devoting so much space to yesterday’s panel discussion.

The luncheon’s first panel included Hawaii News Now news director and former Advertiser editor Mark Platte, former TV journalist Barbara Tanabe, former Advertiser editorial writer and political reporter Jerry Burris and former New York Times writer and current contributor Richard Halloran. A second panel began with Michael Levine of Civil Beat, Malia Zimmerman of and Mark Abramson of Pacific Business News. We ran out of time couldn’t stay for blogger Ian Lind’s and UH professor emeritus Neal Milner’s presentations. All remarks below are condensed from their presentations and a Q&A follow-up. We’ve quoted extensively and paraphrased closely on occasion based on the recording we made.

Fair or Slanted?
Before the panel discussion began, moderator Steve Petranik of Hawaii Business Magazine asked audience members whether they felt media coverage had been slanted or fair. The hands-up poll showed a fairly even split.

Petranik later asked whether those who felt coverage has been slanted believe the slant agreed with their views on rail – i.e., whether rail supporters saw a pro-rail slant and rail opponents perceived a slant that reflected their views. Almost no hands were raised, leading Burris to say news consumers’ perception of rail coverage is a reflection of their own biases.

Rail – a Big Deal
Barbara Tanabe: The Honolulu rail project is a “great big deal” that affects us all. The city will spend more than $5.2 billion, so by its sheer size, it deserves priority attention and coverage by the news media in the state.  The city, to fill a requirement to receive federal funds, must keep the public informed about the project. It’s called public engagement, so the city has set up (outreach) as a requirement to receive federal funds…. The bottom line is: As members of the public, are we better informed because of the city’s extensive public engagement process?

I think public awareness is high because of the public relations effort, but public understanding comes through a deeper dialogue, and that’s why the news media are so important. They must have access to city officials running the rail project, and they should have access to documents from which decisions are made. News is not just what people are talking about today. News is what people should be talking about, most of all, the reporters to raise the questions based on what’s in those reports and studies that most people generally don’t have access to or wouldn’t read anyway.

Limited Resources
Mark Platte: I don’t think there’s a bigger project or a bigger issue that we can cover than rail. It is a legal story, land development story, political story, a social story – you name it, there’s contracts, money, influence, everything you could possibly imagine… I’d love to be able to put a team together to cover rail, but the resources just aren’t there. We will continue to do our best on all the aspects of rail that need coverage.

I don’t think the general person out there really has a full grasp of this project. I think it’s still something that’s out in the future. The enormity of it is probably too much for most people to grasp, but now, with construction beginning with more coverage being focused on that, I think you’re starting to see a lot more interest, with people saying, well, now it’s a reality. Do I like it? Do I not like it? It’s here. It’s a real thing, and that’s why you’re seeing coverage that’s almost every day because of the construction, because of the litigation. You’re going to see pretty much from now on daily coverage…

Jerry Burris: There are two ways to look at rail and its coverage. On the one hand, the project is engineer-driven, by costs, routing, etc., but in truth, it’s really driven by politics. The story in terms of the media is basically a political story. New mayors get infected with the desire to have a railroad. This has been going on forever and ever….

The coverage in totality has been fair and even-handed. The problem with rail coverage is the same problem you have with politics. There are many points of entry if you’re opposed to rail – for aesthetic reasons, for the cost being too high; you want the money spent elsewhere. You’re opposed to it because you live in Hawaii Kai or Windward Oahu and you don’t see any reason that you should pay taxes for something that you don’t think you’ll benefit from. So there are all these points of entry if you oppose rail, and there are all sorts of reasons to be opposed to the rail coverage if you feel that way.

Meanwhile, those in favor of rail have only one big argument: We’re congested and we need to do something about it or we’re gonna be in gridlock in the years to come. And that’s a good argument and it really rings true for those poor people stuck in Kapolei. You have to bring that (truth) to people who aren’t facing that congestion every day. If you step back and look at it, coverage of rail over the past 20, 30, 40 years has been reflective of a larger context and conversation in the community. Lots of people are opposed for their own individual reasons. Mayors and those who believe in rail are supportive of it, and you see what’s reflected in your own mirror, and I think that’s been the case in people’s attitudes about the coverage of rail.

‘Outsider’ View
Richard Halloran: He looks at rail as an “outsider” and hasn’t written anything about rail and can’t imagine doing so. He believes there are four kinds of readers on rail – the few people in Hawaii “who don’t give a damn,” the casual readers who pay attention to the tipping points, the people who are intensely interested because they may use rail because of where they live and work and the parties to the current rail dispute. There are many people involved in this problem, and many will read media stories with a dictionary in one hand and a microscope in the other, and those who report on rail can expect to be recipients of the “Chinese torture of a thousand cuts” before it’s all over. Finally, he said advertisers in a community this small can have much more influence on what’s covered than what they’d have in a larger city.

The Bigger Story
Michael Levine: I think we’ve lost the forest or the trees…in missing the big impact of the project and getting hooked on the particulars of the project. Jobs, cost and traffic congestion are among them. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not rail will help (with congestion). I think it’s pretty clear that traffic in 2030 with rail is going to be worse than it is today…. I actually think that all three of those – the cost, the jobs and the traffic – are red herrings from what the big issues really are. One of the long-term goals is to change people’s behavior (an opponent calls it “social engineering”), and that means getting people out of their cars. That means increasing density on the leeward coast. It means, according to Dan Inouye, removing the (traffic congestion) barrier for people who live out that way from opportunities in town. I think that gets glossed over because it’s hard to explain and hard to understand.

And for the people who are pushing rail, it’s hard to sell. It’s hard to tell somebody they should invest this time, this money and this energy now for something that’s going to benefit their grandkids in 2050. I think that transit-oriented development should really be more of this story. It’s something I should focus on more. I try to, but there are some challenges to it if you’re trying to figure out who’s gonna get rich from rail, which is something we always try to do with our coverage…. It’s a good thought exercise to try to envision what the place is gonna look like, who’s going to benefit and how does rail fit into the future and shape the future of Honolulu beyond the political realities….

There is the lawsuit, there is the mayoral election and there is the federal funding, and they’re all hanging in the balance. They’re going to be decided soon, and that’s going to make or break the project, so you’re going to see a lot of daily coverage from myself and everybody else for now. And it’s gonna be hard to talk about the vision for 2050 when you’re not even sure the project’s gonna survive until 2013. That’s the reality right now, but I think when we’re talking about how the media cover rail you have to acknowledge that beyond the horse race, beyond the daily story there is a big big story underneath the surface. It’s lurking right there, and some people have touched on it a little bit. I hope the media, myself included, focus more on that. There needs to be more coverage of how this is gonna change the future of Honolulu….

The two-hour session was a refreshing confirmation for those of us believe mobility-enhancing, travel-time-reducing, development-guiding, transportation-equity-ensuring and job-creating Honolulu rail project deserves more and deeper coverage than what it's receiving from the Honolulu news media. 

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the Project's Goals, and more heading.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Civil Beat Credibility Is ‘On the Ropes’ by Relying On Public Opinion Polls with Flaws Big Enough To Drive an Entire Honolulu Rail Project Through

 Sorry for the dangling preposition, but grammar is the least of our concerns after reading the first two sentences in Civil Beat’s report on HART CEO Dan Grabauskas’s visit to CB’s offices:

“Honolulu’s rail project is on the ropes. Public opinion polls show people have turned against the project.”

We’ve repeatedly criticized the two polls Civil Beat uses to reach that conclusion – its own survey and one conducted by the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.  You can find those detailed critiques by clicking on our “aggregation site” and scrolling down to the Public Opinion section.

To summarize, Civil Beat surveyed only registered voters on rail, which in light of Hawaii’s extremely poor voter turnout (40.5 percent in 2010’s primary election) means that the views of more than half the population were ignored – the non-voting majority that is statistically more likely to rely on public transit than voters with higher income and education levels.

That was a huge mistake. Governments do not plan their infrastructure improvements based on who votes and who doesn't, yet that's the premise of Civil Beat's survey a 21st century version of a rail "poll tax."

At least one local opinion survey professional agrees that non-voters should have been included to know what all potential users think about rail. But Civil Beat refuses to acknowledge its flawed methodology and even defends it, thereby underscoring the validity of Point #6 in our media training handout: The media are quick to judge and slow to change. Civil Beat is not the exception that proves the rule.

Timing Problem
The SA/HNN survey began one week after anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano announced his candidacy. The polling continued over the next 10 days during a period when rail was accorded “bad press,” to put it mildly. Even sponsor Hawaii News Now aired a news story that said the poll's timing "could have skewed results against the project."

Mr. Cayetano has since faded from public view, and so have his public comments about transportation. In the 14 weeks since he announced his candidacy he has resolutely refused to disclose any details about the Jeremy Harris bus rapid transit plan (circa 2000) he says he’ll dust off to replace rail.

Come and Gone
And here’s where we get to another problem in today’s Civil Beat story on Mr. Grabauskas. Near the end, the Civil Beat's editorial board writes, “…to be fair other proposals for bus rapid transit and more commuter lanes have been put on the table.”

Really? What proposals, what lanes and what table? We’ve seen no detailed BRT plan by the anti-rail mayoral candidate. Does Civil Beat have access to those plans? Mr. Cayetano sent an email to Civil Beat’s former editor saying he’d put those plans out for public review by mid-April. Mid-April has come and gone, and Mr. Cayetano has failed to deliver.

What does Civil Beat make of that? Nothing, apparently, since we see no evidence the online news source is pressing the candidate for details on a plan to replace mobility-enhancing, travel-time-reducing, development-guiding, transportation-equity-ensuring and job-creating Honolulu rail.

The headline on today’s story on Mr. Grabauskas visit also raises eyebrows about Civil Beat’s approach to the whole rail issue: New Honolulu Rail Chief Talks a Good game. When someone is described in those terms, what usually follows is unflattering.

Is Civil Beat living up to its “watchdog” role on both sides of the rail issue? It’s well past time for Civil Beat and other news media to push past Mr. Cayetano’s BRT rhetoric and make the same "talking game" assessment about the man who vows to kill Honolulu rail if he’s elected.

Credibility has become an issue in this campaign – not only among the candidates but among those who presumably are pledged to cover rail aggressively with objectivity and impartiality. It would be unfortunate if Civil Beat has lost more than its editor to The Washington Post.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This Isn’t Difficult To Understand: Delaying Rail’s Construction Would Cost More than Building Now, Then Tearing Down Later in Unlikely Lawsuit Loss

Count the green shirts: Every wearer is an employed rail worker.
Construction work on Honolulu rail began yesterday, and you can almost hear the howls of protest above the sounds of the boring work on the first support column’s shaft (above photo). Opponents clamor that it’s foolhardy to start work if there’s even a slight chance a federal lawsuit will succeed in killing the project.

City officials said last month that delaying construction for the lawsuit’s conclusion or even until the FTA issues a Full Funding Grant Agreement would cost more than building the structures now and tearing them down later.

“Prove it!” was the response of some, including more than a few who feigned incredulity – as if nothing could be more preposterous than to start building now and destroy what was built later.

The proof arrived yesterday in a letter (posted at Civil Beat) from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to the City Council’s chair. Assuming a January 31, 2013 termination date, HART said building the structures over the next nine months would cost $114 million. Tearing them down would add another $5 million, so the total build-now/tear-down-later cost would be $119 million. The letter continues:

“By contrast, assuming that construction is delayed until January 31, 2013 and project construction then proceeds, the additional cost to the project that would be incurred as a result of delaying the planned construction work is about $313 million. The latter figure is based upon an analysis of estimated costs of delay claims of approximately $22 million, plus $114 million for the delayed construction, as well as $109 million for an escalation of construction cost, and an additional 11 months to complete the project with staff costs of approximately $68 million.”

Waiting to build would cost the project $194 million more than starting now, then tearing down later in the unlikely event of a complete project kill.

The reaction of some rail skeptics to this simple economics lesson reminded us of how the media reacted over 40 years ago to news about the Battle for Ben Tre during the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.

“We had to destroy Ben Tre in order to save it,” an American officer blurted during a briefing about the battle to retake the provincial town in the Mekong Delta. The sentence stuck as a short-hand description of the futility that was the Vietnam War.

HART isn't caught in the fog of war. It has every reason to believe it will survive the lawsuit, obtain the Full Funding Grant Agreement and build the 20-mile line on time and on budget. HART’s defense of its decision to begin construction now is strong and sturdy enough to withstand the howls of protest that inevitably will continue.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 1 of Honolulu Rail Project Construction also Is Day 95 of Anti-Rail Candidate’s ‘Silent Treatment’ On Alternative He Proposes To Implement Instead

Talk about contrasts. Day 1 in the decade-long construction of Honolulu rail the announcement was made three days ago dawned today with a Star-Advertiser editorial (subscription required) that praises the commitment to transparency brought to Honolulu by Dan Grabauskas, the new chief executive officer of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART).

Just the opposite characterizes the man who would kill rail. Mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano announced his race 95 days ago on January 19, and he still hasn’t provided a detailed look at his bus rapid transit (BRT) scheme he says he’d implement instead of rail.

One man is transparent, the other opaque. Take your pick, Oahu.

Mr.Cayetano told Civil Beat in an email (date uncertain, but no later than March 21) that “he would share the full transit plan by mid-April,” quoting Civil Beat’s March 21 post.

Even if you widen the mid-month definition by a week on either side of April 15, the month's midpoint, April 23 falls in late April, so where’s Mr. Cayetano’s plan?

If you haven’t visited HART’s website, now’s a good time to see what transparency looks like. Want to know how and why Mr. Grabauskas was selected to run HART? The website has reports by Krauthamer & Associates Inc. and by HART’s Human Resources Committee on his recruitment. Just click on Library, then on General Information.

You’re more interested in the project’s work with the Hawaiian community and Traditional Cultural Properties concerns? Clicking on the Planning tab reveals a drop-down menu with the link.

Pick a rail-related topic and you can find it at the website – station design, environmental impact statements, HART board meetings, interactive route maps and so on – even why elevated rail was selected instead of adding more buses.

That last point leads us back to Mr. Cayetano, who wants to kill mobility-enhancing, travel time-shortening, development-guiding, transportation-equity ensuring and job-creating Honolulu rail without revealing details about his big idea – to increase the number of buses on our streets and highways by implementing the Harris Administration's BRT plan circa 2000.

That plan failed, by the way – run out of town for its obvious defects, such as dedicating a car lane on Ala Moana Boulevard to the exclusive use of buses. If you weren’t around a dozen years ago, you can nevertheless imagine the howls of protest – from average citizens and City Council members alike.

Cliff Slater, who supplies anti-rail talking points to Mr. Cayetano, called the BRT plan a “farce.” He referred primarily to in-town BRT, which documentation showed would save only a minute or two in travel time compared to car travel, but we gladly apply that term to Mr. Cayetano’s new-old-yet-still-undisclosed BRT plan, even without the details.

Adding more buses to already congested surface roads and highways and suggesting that would be an appropriate response to congestion would be farcical, ludicrous, absurd – take your pick.  Elevated Honolulu rail will avoid that congestion; BRT would add to it.

Silent Treatment
Equally absurd is the notion that a candidate can run for mayor on a one-plank platform to kill rail without telling voters anything about his alternative. We even created a NEW RULE to cover this absurdity:

Candidates who propose killing large municipal projects that have been planned and vetted for years must disclose an alternative plan’s details within 90 days of launching their campaigns.

Mr. Cayetano’s 90 days expired on April 18, and so has any shred of integrity in his anti-rail campaign.

The incredibly patient Honolulu news media live up to their laid-back reputation by not pressing the candidate for a full exposition of his BRT plan, which reasonably should have been available on Day 1.

What will come first – Mr. Cayetano’s release of BRT details or media demands that he produce them? We’re taking no bets; this race looks like a toss-up.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Review: Rail Construction To Begin in 2 Days; Biz Group Formed to Endorse Project, Plus: More Reasons To Doubt Voters-Only Opinion Poll

                                  Somewhere, Frank Fasi is throwing around his shaka sign.
The biggest news of the week has been so long in coming it has history written all over it: Construction on a Honolulu grade-separated rail project will begin in 2 days on April 23.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) said all necessary state and federal requirements have been met, and drilling for the concrete foundation shafts and support columns will begin near Farrington Highway in East Kapolei.

“This significant milestone for the rail project moves us closer to providing Oahu residents with an alternative to sitting in horrific traffic congestion,” said HART executive director and CEO Dan Grabauskas. “We want to thank the Federal Transit Administration and state agencies that have worked so closely with us on all of the necessary approvals. This is indeed a great day for Oahu.”

Somewhere (and there may be an argument on exactly where that is), former Mayor Frank F. Fasi is growling, “It’s about time!” The longest-serving mayor in Honolulu history was rail’s biggest champion during his six terms in City Hall’s corner office.

Frank probably is throwing his shaka trademark around, too, as was his habit at nearly every occasion, including election victories (at right). He brought his final effort to build rail close to fruition before a last-minute City Council decision killed it by one vote 20 years ago. Council drama is ramping up as Council members deal with construction budgets and bonding issues in the weeks ahead.

Others with responsibility for building rail have no doubts about the importance of building rail. HART Chairwoman Carrie Okinaga commented on the construction news yesterday: “Keeping the project on schedule is critical to keeping our costs within budget so we welcome this news. The HART Board of Directors remains strongly committed to ensuring the project stays on track and is completed on time and within budget.”

Moving Rail Forward

Leaders of 30 businesses and organizations have formed a new group that will raise funds and voices in support of Honolulu rail as the debate on the project intensifies. Richard Dahl, president and CEO of the James Campbell Co., will co-chair the Move Oahu Forward group with Constance Lau, who holds the same positions at Hawaiian Electric Industries.

Despite a mayoral race that pits one anti-rail and two pro-rail candidates against one another, MOF won’t be a political advocacy organization. MOF already has hosted one event for 150 businesses and community leaders.

“This is a critical time for the rail transit project,” Mr. Dahl told the HonoluluStar-Advertiser (subscription). “We lost the opportunity before, and we cannot afford to lose it again…. We have confidence in the (FTA’s) review process and believe Honolulu has a very viable project with a sound financial plan.” Added Ms. Lau:

“We have a rare opportunity to improve our transportation system on Oahu and secure a better quality of life for many in our community. The Honolulu rail transit project is an investment in our future…. Rail transit is about a long-term vision for Hawaii. It is for our children and grandchildren.”

Oahu’s Non-Voters

We also devoted considerable space this week questioning the validity of a public opinion survey on rail conducted by Civil Beat that excluded non-voters from the survey’s population sample. Our Thursday post cited scholarly studies that reported significant variances in attitudes among voters vs. non-voters on numerous issues.

Civil Beat asked only voters what they think about Honolulu rail and allegedly found slippage from previous levels of majority support for the project. By not even inquiring among non-voters, the half of the population more likely to be dependent on public transit, Civil Beat’s survey results were highly likely to be inaccurate on the rail issue.

All three candidates will be working hard to turn out the vote for the August primary election. Somewhere, Frank Fasi will be watching and hoping for another at least one more chance to crank up that shaka sign of his

Friday, April 20, 2012

Honolulu Weekly Commentary Bends Facts, Fits Rail Opposition’s Pattern of ‘Viewing with Alarm’

Editorial judgment and fact-checking aren’t what they used to be at Honolulu Weekly, which printed a personality profile on the anti-rail mayoral candidate some weeks ago that even outdid in its enthusiasm for the former governor.

The current edition has an anti-rail commentary by Tom Coffman, a former reporter and documentary producer/director, that has Cliff Slater’s fingerprints all over it.

Here’s the Slater/Coffman pattern in a nutshell: Paint Honolulu rail as just the worst possible project ever while ignoring its purpose and benefits, and include “facts” that really aren’t facts and serve principally to confuse the issues.

From the Top 
Mr. Coffman and those who share his views on rail are immune to any responses we might offer on any of his points, such as the farmlands in Hoopili he wants to protect and over which the rail line will be built. Defending these particular acres from housing development to meet the needs of a growing population serves the purpose of fighting the rail project, and that’s what’s important.

And never mind accuracy when discussing the project’s cost. "The 2008 price of the rail was under $3 billion,” Mr. Coffman writes. “Without explanation, that number today has multiplied to $5.3 billion.”

Had Mr. Coffman searched for the explanation rather than simply repeat Mr. Slater’s spin, he’d have known the explanation has been public knowledge for years. The 2008 price was in 2008 dollars; the higher number is in “year of expenditure” dollars. There’s been no unexplained cost multiplication.

His next piece of reporting also is inaccurate: “Cost cascaded so rapidly that the connector to Kapolei was cut on one end, and the connector to the University of Hawaii at Manoa was cut on the other end – similarly without significant public discussion.”

There was an abundance of public discussion on the tie between the funding and the line’s length. The GET rail surcharge that’s being collected from 2007 to 2022 can support the construction of a line between Kapolei and Ala Moana. Mr. Coffman’s “connectors” are defined in rail’s planning documents as Phase 2. The decision to build or not build that phase will be made at some future date.

No Commo?

The rest of the commentary touches the usual issues rail opponents like to target, including the project’s communications budget. Is it really a surprise that the agency building the largest project in state history would feel it necessary to communicate with the public about it? Does Mr. Coffman want HART to not issue traffic advisories during rail’s construction or set the facts straight when the opposition does its work?

The author suggests Honolulu residents can “just say no” to rail, but he doesn’t provide any "what’s" – just the "no’s." It follows Mr. Slater’s pattern of saying what’s wrong with rail without proposing something that would do a better job.

Rail’s opposition dislikes rail’s elevated configuration, but it’s the only configuration that will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the city. That’s what the city needs to confront ever-increasing traffic congestion. That’s the goal, and rail’s the means – two subjects this commentary doesn’t come close to mentioning.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Another Look at Excluding Non-Voters from Polls: There’s Plenty Evidence Views Differ from Voters; A Problem-Free Survey on Rail Is Long Overdue

"Class-Based and Value-Based Issue Attitudes of Voters versus Non-Voters" (see below).
It doesn’t take an advanced degree to appreciate the differences between voters and non-voters. Just a few clicks on your computer will find numerous resources that cite differences in education, wealth, attitudes on politics, vehicle ownership, employment, public spending and other characteristics.

The more we’ve clicked, the more we’ve become convinced Civil Beat made a significant error by excluding non-voters in its March poll on Honolulu rail.

Editor John Temple strenuously defended the survey when we first posted that criticism, but now that he’s left to take a position with The Washington Post, maybe Civil Beat will reassess the exclusion of non-voters – a huge misstep – and conduct a survey of a representative sample among all residents on rail transit.

Horse Race vs. Policy
Restricting a poll to voters makes sense when the intent is to learn which candidate is likely to win an election, but since government policymakers presumably serve all citizens, non-voters should not have been excluded in determining levels of support for Honolulu rail.

We believe doing so produced an erroneous conclusion – that support for rail had slipped. Taking the survey at face value, it showed less support for rail than previous surveys among voters. The views of the non-voting residents – one-half or more of total registered voters – were irrelevant to the pollsters, an astounding starting point.

A cursory Internet search finds plenty of support for the conclusion that voters are not necessarily representative of the entire population. Non-voters are more likely to be less educated, less wealthy, more likely to work multiple jobs, and – the most significant difference regarding the rail project – more likely to be dependent on public transit than voters.

The Research
Our ‘net search was just large enough to determine that many scholars have found significant differences between voters and non-voters. “Who Votes Now? And Does It Matter?” by Leighley and Nagler (2007) is one such source.

The researchers  didn’t examine opinion differences on public transit policy, but it’s significant that they did find differences on other issues – government guaranteeing of jobs and health insurance, among them. Among their conclusions:

“…the electorate seems to have become less representative of non-voters in its opinions. In 2004, there is a twelve percentage point difference between non-voters and voters believing that it is the government’s responsibility to guarantee jobs, and a nine-percentage point difference between voters and non-voters who believe that people should ‘get by on their own.’ These patterns both result in an electorate that reflects more conservative views than non-voters”

It isn’t a huge leap to expect similar differences between voters and non-voters on their preference to improve Honolulu’s public transit infrastructure – i.e., supporting construction of Honolulu rail to provide better service for transit-dependent citizens, or opposing rail and requiring citizens to “get by on their own” using their cars.

Throughout their paper, Leighley and Nagler refer to “significant differences between voters and non-voters…” on the issues they and others researched. They reference the 2004 Annenberg National Election Study, which supplied the table at the top of today’s post. The differences between non-voters and voters were obvious in that table, and there’s every reason to believe there would be similar differences between the two categories on the issue of whether Honolulu should dedicate billions of dollars to improving transit services on Oahu.

Leighley and Nagler make the following observations in their Conclusion:

We offer in this paper a more extended analysis of the extent to which voters represent non-voters. Importantly, we take issue with the assumption that voters are indeed representative of non-voters… (A)fter 1972, voters and non-voters differ significantly on most issues relating to the role of government in redistributive policies. In addition to these differences being evident in nearly election since 1972, we also note that the nature of the electoral bias is clear as well: voters are substantially more conservative than non-voters on class-based issues.”

Our own conclusion is that Civil Beat did not understand the inevitable consequence of excluding non-voters from its rail survey – a false reading on how much support rail enjoys among the population at large.

Voting patterns on Oahu show far less voter participation in Leeward Oahu than in East Honolulu, whose residents (generally) don’t support rail because the line won’t reach their neighborhoods. By restricting the survey to only voters no matter where they live, including the Leeward side, Civil Beat can’t truly say it knows what half the population thinks about rail – the half more likely to use transit and therefore potentially more supportive of building Honolulu Rail.

Why This Matters
Civil Beat’s survey, along with the Hawaii News Now/Star-Advertiser poll taken immediately after Ben Cayetano announced his candidacy for mayor, continue to be referenced in the media as if they were the Gospel Truth – repeatedly mentioned until those results have become part of the daily discourse on rail.

From where we sit, those polls were bogus. We’re still waiting for one that’s fairly timed with appropriate questions and an inclusive population sample to learn what Oahu residents really think about rail.

When that finally happens, the results are highly likely to show continuing majority support for the project – mirroring the results of three earlier polls that were problem-free compared to what we’ve seen so far this year from the media.

This post has been added to our "aggregation site" under the Public Opinion heading

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Candidate Must Tell the Public Details of His BRT Plan Today or Violate a ‘New Rule’ by Tomorrow, Plus: Reporters Get a ‘New Rule’ of Their Own

NEW RULE: Candidates who propose killing large municipal projects that have been planned and vetted for years must disclose an alternative plan’s details within 90 days of launching their campaigns.

90 days? Nearly a whole quarter of a year? Your incredulity is understandable if that seems like an inordinately long period to you, but we’ve tried to be fair by giving candidates plenty of time to comply.

This New Rule is about to be applied for the very first time. Mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano officially announced his campaign 90 days ago today on January 19, which will be 13 weeks ago tomorrow – one-fourth of a calendar year.

Here’s the campaign’s essence in three words: “I’ll kill rail.” Mr. Cayetano proposes to eliminate mobility-improving, travel time-reducing, transportation-equity ensuring, development-enhancing and job-creating Honolulu rail. That's a heady campaign promise, but as of this moment, he hasn’t provided any details of his intention to implement a bus rapid transit (BRT) system if elected.

Some regular Yes2Rail readers may be thinking, “Not this again. You write about Cayetano and his non-existent BRT plan nearly every other day!”

That’s true, and we’re beginning to think that’s not often enough. Left to his own devices, Mr. Cayetano doesn’t reveal much about his intentions. What little we know has been reported at Civil Beat: “Our plan is comprehensive, but at the core of it is a Bus Rapid Transit system.”

That’s not a new BRT system. It’s the Harris Administration’s system – vintage 2000, not a particularly good year for BRT. The Harris plan was never implemented because of widespread opposition from the public and the City Council.

Unlike high-value wine bottles that acquire a fine patina of dust over the years as they mellow with age, “Harris BRT 2000” is simply old. In the absence of any details on what Mr. Cayetano would do with that plan, there’s no reason to believe it would be more acceptable in 2012 than it was a dozen years ago.

Here’s another NEW RULE we’re implementing, a corollary to the above NEW RULE: If a candidate fails to comply with the 90-Day NEW RULE, reporters must begin demanding details of the candidate’s alternative plan to replace a municipal project within 90 days.

Because of Mr. Cayetano's apparent failure to comply with his NEW RULE, the reporters' rule's deadline to start asking about Mr. Cayetano’s BRT plan is July 18th – 13 weeks from today. That’s a whole 24 days before the Primary Election – surely enough time for the electorate to fully digest the intricacies of bus rapid transit, wouldn’t you say?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rail Opposition Has Its Pitch Perfected: Repeat, Repeat & Repeat Some More, then Hope It Sticks, Plus: Radio Host’s Rant Goes Off and Overboard, the self-proclaimed award-winning website, is recognized mostly as a clear channel for anti-rail news and commentary. Anyone in serious pursuit of trustworthy information needs to be aware of the site’s predictable anti-rail slant.

Its reporting accuracy can be an issue, too, as seen in a column posted yesterday by HR’s editor. The piece reported on a new pro-rail business group called Move Oahu Forward and named its two co-chairs – Connie Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries, and Richard Dahl, president and CEO of The James Campbell Co. The column identified Mr. Dahl as “head of the Bank of Hawaii.” True, he was president of the bank in the 1990s under CEO Larry Johnson, but Mr. Dahl resigned in 2002 to become president of Dole Food Co. on the mainland. He joined the Campbell company 20 months ago. (The mistake had been corrected by early afternoon.)

The casual reader who doesn’t know Dahl from Dole probably didn’t catch the error, and unfortunately, that’s also probably true for the stream of opinionating on the rail project that can be found at almost daily.

Making Hay
The two media-sponsored public opinion polls conducted in the year’s first quarter have been a godsend to rail opponents. In the referenced column, ignores the polls’ flaws – discussed at this Yes2Rail post and several earlier ones – as it drumbeats the alleged decline in rail’s popularity.

The media sponsors the surveys presumably hoped they'd be unbiased snapshots of public opinion on rail. The unintended consequence, however, has been the repeated publicizing of the surveys’ questionable results despite their flaws in content and construction. predictably solicited a comment on Move Oahu Forward from Ben Cayetano, the anti-rail mayoral candidate who has kept his bus rapid transit plan (BRT) under wraps for all 89 days since he announced his candidacy in January.

“If these wealthy executives think rail is such a good deal, all 30 of their companies should chip in $180 million each and buy the thing,” Cayetano told along with his standard criticism that rail “wouldn’t reduce traffic congestion.”

It’s a hollow accusation that ignores rail’s promise to lift its riders above congestion and avoid it entirely – not to mention that BRT would add more buses to the traffic mix and make congestion even worse.

On the Radio

The morning talk show host really went off on rail today, and although we couldn’t record his remarks while driving, the main points are easy to recall.

The host continues to position rail and car ownership as an either-or proposition and tells his audience that building rail will eliminate choice to either drive or ride. He said rail supporters look down on car drivers as “inhuman” – his word.

Paraphrasing, the host said rail’s not worth the expense if it would reduce road traffic by only 1.4 percent. He reached that number by comparing the reduction in vehicle trips (due to drivers switching to taking the train) to all such trips on Oahu, which is nonsensical. When compared to trips in the actual corridor that will be served by rail, the reduction will be 18 percent – seemingly big enough to satisfy all but hard-core anti-railers.

That group includes and the radio host -- a duo that's never heard a negative about rail they didn’t like.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Rail vs. BRT Discussion Isn’t New; Cities Have Been Debating It for Years, and Honolulu Will, Too

Rail compares favorably to other travel modes in emissions output.
With two mayoral candidates supporting the Honolulu rail project and a third vowing to kill it and build a bus rapid transit system instead, Oahu residents are in for a debate on the merits of the two transportation modes, whether they like it not.

Everybody with access to a computer is a potential “researcher.” Cliff Slater’s website asserted yesterday that buses are more fuel efficient than trains. We can always count on the leader of the rail opposition to parse anti-rail information for maximum effect.

A few quick observations about Mr. Slater’s post that anyone could make: The average congestion-plagued commuter on Oahu is more concerned with traffic than fuel efficiency, which smoke-screens the obvious: Buses are part of the congestion problem.

By using existing roadways for any part of a trip, let alone a substantial part, buses both cause and suffer from ever-growing congestion. That’s the wart on BRT’s nose. Elevated rail will avoid that congestion completely.

Another thing: By looking backwards at the experience of rail systems that were built decades ago, Mr. Slater ignores entirely the more efficient operating characteristics of Honolulu’s brand-new Ansaldo trains. Like car efficiency improvements since 1970, rail transit efficiency has improved, too.

Rail vs. BRT
Mr. Slater is good at slicing and dicing statistics to make any number of anti-rail arguments, but as long as he’s brought up the BRT vs. rail issue, let’s examine a comparison that probably resonates louder for Oahu residents than fuel efficiency – pollution.

The Federal Transit Administration published Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change two years ago and includes the graph reproduced at the top of today’s post.

The document’s main message was that private automobile pollution is much more than public transit vehicles, but there was more. According to the FTA report, all forms of rail transit – heavy, light, commuter – produce far less carbon dioxide per passenger mile than bus transit.

The New York Times’ Green blog on energy and the environment headlined a post three years ago Fast Buses vs. Light Rail: You Decide. The comments below the column are a kind of “crowd sourcing” that’s a good deal more “civilized” that what you read below the Star-Advertiser’s rail-related stories, and it’s full of insights Oahu residents by and large don’t have from personal experience.

Writing from a pro-rail perspective as we are, the comments look more pro-rail than pro-BRT. Here are a few of them:

“We need BOTH light rail and bus rapid transit. (Note: the City already operates bus routes that qualify as BRT.) It’s obvious from other cities that a system of only bus rapid transit can work, but even they are overburdened on certain corridors where subway and light rail could work better.” – KSK

“Besides the fact that BRT systems generally turn out not to be that rapid and can quickly run into capacity problems, not to mention energy efficiency, the big problem is that most transit riders will do whatever they can to avoid riding a bus…. (BRT) stops slow service down more than anything else. Buses have limited doors and hence large loading times. Rail systems have higher capacity as the vehicles can run in multiples or 2 or 3 and lower costs as only one driver is needed. – Mike B (Note: Honolulu rail’s trains will have no drivers.)

“Build (rail) and they will come. Maybe a lot of families could use it to commute in to work and instead of having two cars, just have one to share when they need to get around the suburbs.” – Arivera (Note: The American Public Transit Association says Honolulu two-car families who do that can save $11,573 annually at current costs.)

“…a well designed BRT system can be effective, but too often the expensive features needed to make BRT work are dropped or poorly implemented, resulting in just another bus line. With light rail, you always get the quality transportation you paid for.” – Arnold Reinhold

“What are the comparisons in vehicle maintenance timeframe and costs between the two per mile traveled? What are the comparisons in fuel usage and costs between the two types of systems per mile/person carried? What are the comparisons in longevity and maintenance of bus lanes vs. light rail track? My initial guess is that light rail is significantly lower in real costs in all these categories, making up any initial savings quickly.” – Michael Mills

That’s the kind of insight you find among people who’ve been living with and experiencing both rail and bus travel over the years. Yes, some of those who commented had good things to say about BRT, especially on the cost issue.

Here on space-constricted Oahu, however, congestion has grown to truly maddening levels on one of the most congested road networks in the country. Ask the average commuter what he or she thinks, you’ll likely hear that avoiding congestion with rail is a higher priority than building a cheaper but far less-effective BRT system.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Prediction Falls Flat; There’s Not a Single Word in The Sunday Paper about Candidate’s BRT Plan

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Oh, the shame of being so nakedly wrong in predicting anti-rail Ben Cayetano would have details of his bus rapid transit plan in today’s Sunday paper.

We can explain. The mayoral candidate told Civil Beat almost four weeks ago he’d unwrap those details “in mid-April.” We’re confident he wrote that, since Civil Beat editor John Temple showed Mr. Cayetano’s email to reporter Michael Levine, who wrote a story to that effect.

Today is mid-April, right? The 15th is inarguably the middle of a 30-day month, so we thought the logical place for the former governor to let everybody know what he’d build instead of Honolulu rail was to publish a commentary jam-packed with information in the Sunday paper’s “Insight" section.

You just don’t launch a campaign dedicated to killing the mobility-improving, travel time-reducing, transportation-equity ensuring, development-enhancing and job-creating Honolulu rail project without a thought-through substitute that would do a better job.

Yet that seems to be what Mr. Cayetano did. His March email – sent two months into his campaign – said a plan was still being assembled. Today is the 87th day since the campaign's launch; those details are yet to be revealed, so the candidate’s BRT plan would seem to still be under construction.

Having brazenly predicted we’d read all about it in today’s paper, imagine our shock to find that the only mention of Mr. Cayetano is in a story on a group of business leaders (subscription required) who will support the project with advertising and other advocacy.

We haven’t given up hope that today’s the day for the BRT plan. We’ll be asleep at midnight's "Cinderella" moment – the exact mid-point of the month, with 15 April days gone and 15 to go.

The suspense is killing. Will Mr. Cayetano's BRT resemble a golden coach or a pumpkin? We’d make another prediction, but we’re done with that.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Review Has Prediction for Sunday: Op-Ed Will Unveil Mayoral Candidate’s BRT Plan, Plus: New HART CEO Meets Press and Community

April 15th doesn’t hold the same terror as usual this year, since “tax day” is pushed back a couple. But Sunday is the middle of the month, and anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano told Civil Beat almost a month ago he’d provide details of his bus rapid transit plan "by mid-April." Tomorrow could be the day.

We’re speculating he’ll use a commentary in the Star-Advertiser tomorrow to finally tell Oahu residents how he intends to implement the Harris Administration's BRT scheme, which was run out of town for turning car lanes into bus-only lanes, for not doing enough to shorten travel times and for other troubles.

It’s about time, we’d say. Mr. Cayetano announced his candidacy 86 days ago in mid-January. If we were in his shoes and vowing to kill Honolulu rail without having something new and viable that would meet the need, we might stall, too.

Reviewing the Week
Our Saturday Review this week flatly predicts we’ll be reading a Ben Cayetano commentary Sunday morning, and if we don’t, we’ll be asking for those details again soon enough.

Yes2Rail’s Thursday post quoted several conclusions from rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Transit System Management option that may be close to what Mr. Cayetano has in mind. Whatever that is, we’ll all want to read carefully whether it has been tweaked enough to avoid the same conclusions about TSM found in the FEIS.

One reason TSM was dismissed during the Alternatives Analysis – the crucial one – is that “road congestion also would not have been alleviated.” That’s the issue on Oahu, isn’t it? Congestion worsens each year and will keep getting worse throughout this decade and beyond. With a couple hundred thousand more residents on Oahu in 2030 than in 2005, congestion can’t do anything else.

We linked to two studies studies last week that essentially show why more highway construction – including "express lanes” – is an ineffective response to congestion. Like Parkinson’s law, which says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” traffic fills new highway lanes nearly as soon as they’re built.

The appropriate response is the one selected years ago by the City Council – to build a travel alternative that avoids that congestion completely for anyone who chooses to use it. That’s what Honolulu rail will do for its scores of thousands of daily patrons.

Even Cliff Slater, leader of a vocal anti-rail faction, had to admit two years ago at the City Council something he usually won’t say in public: “We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all.”

Public Opinion
We also wrote this week about the two public opinion polls that allegedly found slippage in the public’s support for rail. We don’t believe it and repeated our reasons on Wednesday under this headline: We’ll Believe a Media-Sponsored Public Opinion Rail Survey When They Do One that’s Believable.

You can’t select out from the survey sample the half of the population that’s most likely to use rail transit just because those citizens don’t vote. Civil Beat’s polling company surveyed only likely voters in this year’s elections.

That makes sense to learn which candidate is leading the horse race now and may win, but that decision by Civil Beat’s management or its polling company essentially swung and missed in learning what the entire population thinks about rail – precisely because it narrowed the survey. We see no reason to believe core support for rail has slipped from the strong levels found in three previous scientific surveys of the entire population.

The Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll that started all the talk about slippage went into the field one week after Mr. Cayetano launched his campaign with anti-rail quotes that were widely reported in the news media. Even Hawaii News Now subsequently reported that the timing “could have skewed results against the project.”

When a poll’s sponsor publicly doubts the accuracy of its findings, you know it had problems.

Dan Grabauskas, the new CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, started work in his new position this week and has been busy promoting transparency and more communication with Oahu residents about rail. The photo at right  accompanied Civil Beat's interview with the new CEO.

Sounds good to us. This is Yes2Rail’s 712th post, and at an average of 750 words each (a conservative guess; yesterday's post on Panos Prevedouros' "magical" plan to create four street lanes out of one had nearly 1,300), we’ve shot more than a half million of them into cyberspace since the summer of 2008, with more to come.

A few hundred on Mr. Cayetano's BRT plan will fill this space tomorrow if our prediction is accurate.  After 86 days, it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.