Wednesday, February 5, 2020

If It’s True Bus Ridership Is Lagging, That Means Car Traffic Is Increasing on Our Streets and Highways, and That’s Why Rail Is Being Built!

I have to thank Facebook for its inquiry about whether I know Honolulu resident Randy Roth and for asking if I want to add him as a Facebook Friend. I hit “decline,” not because of any animus toward Professor Roth, but because I rarely add “friends” whom I don’t know reasonably well.

But Facebook’s inquiry peaked my curiosity about what Randy is up to these days. He and I were – and still are – on opposite sides of the elevated rail project; he’s against it, and I’m for it for reasons I described over four years here at my Yes2Rail blog. 

When I visited his Facebook account, I wasn’t surprised to find a post that took aim at elevated rail: Bus ridership in Honolulu is down by roughly 1.3 million rides per month since 2012. This affects rail because HART has long assumed 60% of all rail users will reach the rail station by bus. Why hasn't HART revised its rail ridership projections to reflect the substantial and continuing decrease in bus ridership?”

Professor Roth’s comment was prompted by an October 9, 2019 KHON2 report on the ridership decline. Mr. Roth asked in that story, “Well, if the number of people that are riding the bus has been coming down further and further every year, doesn’t that impact rail ridership?”

In light of the ridership decline, it must be asked: How are those former bus riders now commuting to work? They’re not taking a water shuttle or a helicopter. They’re driving. It’s the only logical conclusion based on the reduced bus ridership, and by driving, those former bus riders are inevitably contributing to Honolulu’s ever-increasing traffic congestion.

Traffic congestion is why rail is being built in the first place, remember? First among the project's four goals is Goal #1 -- “Improve Corridor Mobility.” 

I wrote about Goal #1 here at Yes2Rail back on January 3, 2011.

The drop in bus ridership isn’t surprising, because at some point, when traffic is worse than ever and the grind along Oahu’s southern corridor is almost unbearable, bus riders say to themselves, “If I have to sit in this traffic for 90 minutes, two hours or more, I’d rather sit in my own car, with air conditioning, my radio, my coffee, my solitude.”

Switching from Car to the Train

Commuters have been making that choice for decades. When I reported on City Hall for the Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, Deputy Transportation Director Roy Parker called the choice Parker’s Law: Until public transit is demonstrably faster and more convenient than driving a car, most commuters will choose “my car at my time.” It’s just what Americans do.

In 2013, researchers did an experiment that produced a remarkable result: People showed an irrational bias toward automobiles despite evidence that other modes of transportation would save them money.

Check out their report 

Once it’s running, rail will be so much faster than commuting in one’s own car that “hitting the rails” will be an easy choice. The project will move commuters from Kapolei to downtown in about 40 minutes, and it won’t take long for a significant number of car drivers who commute along the line's route to switch to rail when they look up and see a train speeding past their traffic jam.

It’s good to get my “rail juices” flowing again. I essentially shut down Yes2Rail when I moved to Sacramento in 2012 and turned my attention elsewhere. With the leadership of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation promising an October 10, 2020 start-up of the rail system, it might just be time to reenergize Yes2Rail. The naysayers are sure to be grabbing attention before 10/10/2020, and rail supporters would do well to balance the negativity with visions of rail's positive future. Of that,  I am confident.

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