Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Inevitable Will Happen: Rail Will Be Completed and Fulfill its Goals by Stopping Short of Ala Moana Center


 It had to happen. It makes sense. Honolulu can’t simply abandon rail after a majority of the line has been built. Rail’s east end will be in Kakaako, not Ala Moana Center. Rail’s true purpose is a no-traffic transportation mode. Every post here at Yes2Rail remains valid. You’re encouraged to read some of them, starting with January 3, 2011: ‘Rail’s Goals Remain the Same; Congestion-Free Travel through Town Tops List’

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

We’ll Say It Again: Civil Beat Rail’s Recent Rail Poll Was Flawed; Voters-Only Survey Didn’t Even Ask Non-Voters What They Think about Rail, and They’re More Likely To Ride the Train than Voters!

Voters and non-voters behave differently. Voters are more likely to own and travel by car. Non-voters are more reliant on public transportation. You can look it up.

So, let’s say it again: By soliciting opinions on Honolulu’s rail project only among citizens who vote, Civil Beat’s pollsters ignored the population segment more reliant on public transit than the people they surveyed.


Journalism Integrity


I’ve been out of journalism for decades, but some instincts never die. Are there no reporters in Honolulu who see the inherent flaw in ignoring the population segment that likely will determine whether rail is a success?


Ridership will be the ultimate test. Non-voting transit riders and non-voting car commuters have opinions, too. What do THEY think about stopping rail construction at Middle Street, which is now a consideration? What percentage of them will likely leave their cars at home and take the train?


Civil Beat doesn’t know, because it didn’t ask them. It never does, as seen in its opinion polls years ago. As retired UH political science professor Neal Milner told me in 2012, "the media cannot say the 'public' feels this way about rail" (see the link for context).

Until some entity does a scientific survey that cuts across the voter divide, we really don't know what "the public" thinks about rail -- especially the segment that likely will abandon cars and ride the train.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

30 Years Ago, Honolulu's Rail Project Died; Let's Not Make that Horrible Mistake Again!

                           Page 1 treatment of Honolulu Advertiser's 10/1/92 story on rail's demise.

When the City Council refused to pass a tax increase in 1991 to help fund the Fasi Administration's rail project, rail died and would stay dead for a decade. Ending Honolulu's current elevated train construction at Middle Street, as now some advocate, would be another colossal mistake.

Rail has always been envisioned as a relatively fast way to travel between Kapolei and downtown by giving riders a way to avoid highway congestion. Lopping off the final four miles between Middle Street and Ala Moana Center would effectively negate any speed advantage. Transferring from the train to TheBus would be inconvenient and a time-waster.

What was a $5 billion project in the early '90s is now forecast to top out at $12 billion-plus. Traffic congestion also has worsened -- and will continue grow along with Oahu's population and tourism expansion. 

Stopping at Middle Street can't possibly be how today's funding shortfall is resolved. Finding new sources of funding is the only reasonable way to proceed -- whether it's by acquiring a tiny slice of the Biden Administration's infrastructure program or by tapping into the resources of Kakaako's landowners and property developers who stand to benefit from the system. 

Everything the two Honolulu newspapers' editorials (below) said on October 1, 1992 applies to Oahu's current transportation problems. Let's work to ensure officials don't make another colossal transit mistake 30 years after the previous one.

Advertiser and Star-Bulletin editorials, both on 10/1/92

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Homework Assignment before Thursday’s TV Show: Read Why Rail Is Still a Must for Honolulu Despite New Challenges


                                                                            Elevated Transit in Lille, France

Mayor Frank Fasi arrived in Paris 30 years ago this month at the invitation of Matra Transport, the Paris-based company that would soon submit a bid to build an elevated rail line between Kapolei and UH Manoa.

Fasi and his entourage traveled by train to Lille in France’s north to inspect Matra’s elevated system there. He stood beneath the guideway (pictured above) and asked Matra’s representative when the next train would arrive.


“They’ve been passing overhead for several minutes,” was the reply by John Marino, Matra's North American marketing director. Fasi was shocked he hadn’t heard those trains, so quiet was the system.


Matra didn’t win the bid to build Honolulu’s $3.7 billion project. Another consortium did, but the project died in 1992 after the City Council defeated by one vote a local tax to help pay for the project.

Today, Honolulu’s resurrected system is miles shorter and vastly more expensive than the plan pursued by Frank Fasi, a rail champion across the decades. Honolulu officials and citizens now debate whether it’s worth it to fund the final four miles of the line. 


The Need Has Never Changed


Ending construction at Middle Street would slash billions from the project’s cost, but doing so would cripple the effort to build a relatively fast transit line between residential communities in West Oahu and Honolulu’s employment center downtown.


Thursday night’s “Insights” program on PBS Hawaii’s TV channel will be devoted to “Honolulu’s Rail System – Where Are We Now?” Citizens might well prepare for that show by reviewing the rationale to build grade-separated transit along Oahu’s southern corridor.


An exhaustive planning study by the University of California, Berkeley examined why Honolulu is well-suited for elevated transit. The study is several years old, but the case for building a travel alternative to the automobile is unchanged. The study’s introduction notes: 

The Honolulu urban area is the fourth densest in the United States, trailing only those of Los Angeles, San Francisco-San Jose, and New York. Honolulu was the most traffic- congested U.S. city in 2011, ahead of stalwarts like Los Angeles and San Francisco (INRIX 2012). Yet unlike Los Angeles and San Francisco, Honolulu has not had an operational rail transit system to serve as an alternative to automobility since the early 20th century….

‘Train to Nowhere?’


Ending the line at Middle Street would match rail critics’ description of Honolulu’s current project, but leaving that argument aside, Honolulu residents might well scan the Berkeley document for its scholarly assessment of the need for rail transit here. Then watch “Insights” on Thursday at 8 p.m. 


Yes2Rail’s own background site is linked at the Aggregate Site in the right column above. Especially recommended are the project’s goals. 

We also propose a rallying cry at this critical stage of the project:


“Get Rail Done!”

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Rail Enjoys New Push for a Final Resolution, and the Only Sane Path Is Completing the Project as Originally Envisioned

                                                                                  Dillingham Boulevard          Civil Beat Photo

Civil Beat reports on the “Mauka Shift” – the proposal to move the elevated rail alignment from the center of Dillingham Boulevard to the mauka side of the thoroughfare.

The shift presumably would reduce the complications of relocating miles of utility infrastructure beneath and alongside Dillingham. It’s become a Gordian knot-like problem for HART.


According to legend, Alexander the Great tried but failed to untie the fabled knot. His solution was to atop the untying and start the cutting. He sliced the knot in two with his sword. “It makes no difference how they are loosed,” he said of the rope tangle.


The Mauka Shift appears to be HART’s solution to untangling the utility infrastructure. Just move the alignment.


“Get Rail Done!”


You get the feeling the logjam is about to break, and the timing couldn’t be better. The new President is pushing for a $2 Trillion infrastructure improvement and rebuilding plan. HART is vowing to cut the Dillingham Knot, and the public engagement process is picking up.


PBS Hawaii’s “Insights” program has scheduled another rail program for April 29 at 8 p.m.: “Honolulu’s Rail System – Where Are We Now?”


Let’s hope Thursday’s rail discussion is enlightened and not bogged down by unproductive suggestions to kill the project, and what – leave 15 miles of guideway and support structures as a perpetual reminder of failure?


No, rail needs to be built at least into downtown to satisfy rail's original goals, including restoration of mobility along the southern corridor. 


Here’s my comment today below Civil Beat’s rail story:


I propose taking one option off the table regarding rail. For the sake of clarity, stop any consideration to end this project before it is built out at least to downtown Honolulu. Use the Mauka Shift if that becomes a necessity, but build rail to a useful conclusion. Traffic is worsening by the day, let alone in future decades. Grade-separated transit is the only alternative to being stuck in that traffic. Rail won’t “solve” traffic; short of draconian policies, nothing will ever solve traffic. But rail will be the option to avoid traffic for those who choose to ride it. 

Great Britain untied itself from Europe behind the simple “Get Brexit Done” slogan. That disengagement was far more complicated than building four miles of elevated guideway along Dillingham Boulevard. 

So HART, simplify and just.....


“Get Rail Done!” 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Shapiro’s First 2021 Column Offers ‘Fair Shot’ to New HART Chief; That Would Be a First for the Always Anti-Rail Writer

David Shapiro’s January 3 column in the Star-Advertiser said the new CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation “deserves a fair shot to show what she can do.”

Will Shapiro keep his perennial anti-rail views in check long enough for Lori Kahikina to enjoy that fair shot? 


That will be a stretch; Shapiro’s been anti-rail since the start of the current project. And true to form, in the same paragraph he wished a fair shot for Kahikina, he fired another shot at rail by calling the project “ill-conceived.” 


There was nothing wrong with how rail was conceived. If Shapiro had understood the project’s goals from the start, he might well have been more of a supporter and less of a contributor to the caustic atmosphere that impeded rail’s progress. (Yeah, that's probably a stretch, too.)


Even Shapiro has to concede the need for a travel alternative for commuters moving through Oahu’s southern corridor. And, Dave, here's a news flash: Elevated rail is the ONLY way commuters and others can avoid ever-increasing traffic congestion on the island’s limited road network. 


The project’s four goals address Oahu’s decades-long reduction in mobility. Once completed, the rail project will restore mobility to commuters and other passengers along the island’s southern transit corridor. 


So yes – give Lori Kahikina a fair shot as she begins one of the most difficult undertakings in Hawaii government. Let’s see what she can do with support rather than constant opposition.


Ms. Kahikina needs all the support the community can deliver as she plots the path to build rail as originally planned – all 20 miles of it.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Honolulu Rail Project Ends 2020 Like Just about Everything Else Ends the Year – Side-Tracked and Delayed, but with Hope for the Future


                                       When will Honolulu's elevated rail project be completed?

Yes2Rail’s author has had an up-close-and-personal view of Honolulu’s rail romance since 1990. That’s when I first began working as a consultant to the French transit-building company Matra Transport, one of five firms that bid on Mayor Frank Fasi’s last major push to build an elevated rail alternative to sitting in at-grade traffic.

That effort ended abruptly in 1992 when the City Council failed to pass an increase in the GET to pay for the “local share.” The City wised up when it launched the current project more than a decade later. It handled the local share first, then obtained the federal portion, and then solicited bids to build the 20-mile line from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. 


Like the current project, Mayor Fasi’s version would have covered 20 miles but would have ended at the University of Hawaii campus in Manoa. The cost: $3.2 billion compared to what now looks like a $11 billion-plus investment. Fearless Frank’s train would have been running since 2003.


That Was Then


I mention this little bit of history to show how badly the project has fared in its current iteration. Instead of already giving traffic-maddened commuters on Oahu’s south side a smooth trip to and from downtown for nearly two decades, the project still faces major delays and horrendous cost increases. 


The commuting facts of life remain unchanged in the southern corridor. One fact still justifies the project: Grade-separated transit is the only way to predict the time of arrival when you begin your commute -- on time, every time. There will be no Kapolei-to-downtown commuting alternative to sitting in traffic for the rest of this century if rail is not built as originally planned.

See the lower-right corner? Traffic will NEVER get better.

This anti-rail cartoon clipped from Honolulu Weekly years ago has multiple truths. Taxpayers indeed have had their tax burden increased to support the project. Also true is that the gridlock depicted in the cartoon has only gotten worse. 


The project’s four main goals will be as valid in 2021 as they were when originally created more than a decade ago. First among those equal goals is improved corridor mobility.  


As 2020 ends today, glimmers of good news shine through the gloom. The federal government has granted the city a one-year extension of the deadline it had set to devise a viable financial plan to complete the build-out. And, the newly appointed leader of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has said she supports building the final five miles of the elevated guideway all the way to Ala Moana Center.


With 2020 behind us, rail supporters can at least take some measure of hope that 2021 will be a new beginning for the project – and for just about everything else.

Monday, March 16, 2020

HART: Despite COVID-19, “Right Now We Are on Our Schedule” To Begin Rail Operations Late this Year

                                                                     Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo

It’s way too soon to know for sure, but the head of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) is sticking to his prediction that Honolulu’s elevated rail project will launch service late this year – coronavirus notwithstanding.

Andrew Robbins, HART’s chief executive officer, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser“We talked to our contractors. … They’ve all been advising their employees about hand-washing, safe practices, if you don’t feel well, who to call; but other than that, it’s been business as usual. They’ve been out there working.”

Hitachi Rail, the project’s contractor, has warned that its supply chain may be affected by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and has thereby taken the position that it should not suffer “force majeure” penalties if it can’t stick to its schedule. As the Star-Advertiser story notes, HART doesn’t agree.

                                                         Platform safety doors (HART photograph)

In other “news” (that’s nearly 7 years old), Honolulu’s elevated rail system will be far safer than planned when we broke off writing Yes2Rail in 2012.

HART approved the addition of Platform Safety Screens back in 2013 that will prevent passengers from accidentally falling, being pushed, or deliberately jumping onto the tracks.

We had seen these safety doors in action in Paris when we visited more than a decade ago; the photo (below-right) was taken from inside a train car. Two sets of doors are visible in the photo -- doors on the train itself (the shiny chrome set) and doors on the platform (showing as white). The doors open simultaneously in sync with one another, just like the elevators in a building.

These doors were on the high-traffic Line #1, which runs east-west through the heart of Paris. The doors were added long long after the Paris Metro began operating.

The change to add doors on the Honolulu system is likely an under-appreciated feature by future riders. If you’re like us, you edge away from the tracks as a train arrives in a subway or metro station. The safety doors may even convince parents and grandparents that young school-age children in their families can ride Honolulu rail safely.

For now, stay safe by maintaining your social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis!

Monday, March 9, 2020

How Is it that Honolulu Isn’t Ranked in the Inrix Annual Traffic Study this Year? Our Eyes Tell Us Oahu’s Traffic Is Increasing, so What Gives?

The new international study is out today, and unlike every other year we can recall, Honolulu’s not in it. At least, we couldn’t find any mention of driving hours lost to congestion in Honolulu due to traffic in 2019.

That seems curious. The 2018 study ranked Honolulu #18 on the national list, with the average 92 hours lost to congestion. The ’18 report said congestion had dropped 4 percent from the year before, so Honolulu appeared “to be on the right track.”

But does anyone believe Honolulu’s traffic improved so much in 2019 that the city dropped completely off the list of America’s 50 most heavily congested cities?  

Not likely 

TomTom, a company that uses a different methodology, ranked Honolulu #9 just last year in the mix with mainland cities using its Traffic Index. As recently as 2012, Honolulu edged out Los Angeles for the infamous #1 rank among mainland cities for hours lost to congestion. In 2013, it was the second worst; 2015 had the city as 10th worst.

So for the city to slip completely off the list seems not likely. Maybe one of our media friends can figure out why Inrex's new ranking excludes Honolulu.** 

Or is it simply that congestion elsewhere is increasing so fast that Honolulu's been surpassed.

It sure doesn't feel like traffic's getting better in Honolulu. Maybe this is just another example of Hawaii being "left out" of the United States -- something that used to happen so often in mainland publications that it would drive Pacific Business News Editor George Mason to distraction!

** A local reporter saw my Twitter post (@DougNorCal) and responded: "I wondered about that too -- reached out to @INRIX this morning; haven't heard back yet..." Will be watching to see if he writes about a response from Inrix.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Defeat of Bay Area Rail Funding Measure Shows Why It’s So Important for the Public (and News Media) To Understand Rail’s True Purpose

San Jose Mercury-News headline on March 4:

Contra Costa County tax measure to tame traffic appears headed for defeat

The San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of the vote noted the funding measure “drew criticism from government watchdogs who said the money would do little to unclog roads and freeways.”

The Mercury-News headline and Chronicle story may reveal a touch of media misunderstanding about why rail systems are built. If the news media don’t get it, the public may not have understood it either.

Rail projects don’t “tame traffic” or “unclog roads and freeways.” They provide the public with an alternative to road congestion. 

Tired of fighting traffic? Take the train!

Researchers have written extensively about the tendency of car drivers to fill any perceived open space on highways; you can read about it here. But enough Honolulu commuters will resist that tendency to make Honolulu rail a tremendous success.

Rail’s supporters would do well to keep reminding their friends and neighbors of the project’s goals. The train will deliver commuters from one end of the system to the other in only 42 minutes -- with no traffic congestion to slow the trip!

There’s nothing “government watchdogs” can say that will diminish rail's no-traffic appeal. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

In Reporting the ‘Other Side’ of Rail Story, Honolulu Media Keep Publicizing Views of Critic Known for His Decades-Long Campaign to Mislead the Public and Obfuscate Facts

You can’t blame the news media for searching out rail critic Cliff Slater when they need a rail opponent’s views for an emerging story. He’s been fighting rail since the Fasi Administration and is always ready with a quote, as he was yesterday for KITV.

But you do have to wonder if reporters understand the depth of his misrepresentation of rail facts over the years. We’ve repeatedly documented his record here at Yes2Rail (see the Mr. Cliff Slater section of our “Aggregation Site”) and will keep at it as long as Slater continues to be the media’s go-to anti-rail talking head.

Reporters show no obvious awareness of Slater’s track record as Obfuscator in Chief. I’ve never seen a reporter put Slater on the defensive about his main talking point.

‘No Kidding’

Slater seemed to be prideful of that talking point when he spoke to Hawaii News Now in 2012: “We’ve been promoting the fact that the city says in the final EIS that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse (than it is today).”

Two years earlier, Slater used that point before the City Council, only to have Wayne Yoshioka, the city’s Director of Transportation Services, sarcastically put him in his place“No Kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news….”

Yoshioka’s point was that congestion will continue to grow along with the population and that it will be worse without rail than with it. Even Slater had to admit that point when pressed at the City Council hearing.

But have the media ever taken note of Slater’s deliberate obfuscation? Even the mission statement at his website hides the fact that traffic congestion is here to stay for reasons we’ve discussed here at Yes2Rail as recently as this month.

So reporters (if any of you accidently stumble across Yes2Rail), please stop giving Cliff Slater a free pass. Ask him straight out: “Will building rail slow traffic congestion's growth along Oahu’s commuting corridor?”

The honest answer is Yes!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Rail Will Be a Choice! The truth about riding Honolulu rail is that those who do will experience ZERO TRAFFIC!

It’s almost impossible to read a week of media reports on Honolulu’s rail project without finding a reference to rail being an intended “solution” to Oahu’s traffic woes.

The media have gotten that wrong time and again, so it’s appropriate to remind the public (and the media) about why rail is being built.

Here’s a paragraph from this blog’s post on May 16, 2011

Rail’s True Purpose

Rail will restore MOBILITY to Oahu residents – the ability to move whenever you want and at any time of day through the length of the east-west urban core completely unaffected by traffic congestion. This fact is so critical it’s first among equals in the project's four goals. “Solving traffic” is not one of them! It’s also what is missing in nearly all media coverage of the project.

Readers in 2020 are invited to read that 5/16/11 post in full at the above link. 

Rather than focus on the dismal truth, that traffic will continue to grow along with the population, visitors, and car imports, let’s keep reminding the public of rail’s true purpose – increased mobility and traffic-free commuting through Oahu’s southern corridor. 

The only way to avoid traffic in Oahu's congested future is to remove yourself from the traffic by riding Honolulu's rail system – above the traffic.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Well-Researched Bloomberg Article on Honolulu Rail Project’s Financing Nevertheless Gets Something Wrong – Something That Needs Correcting

View of Hō‘ae‘ae Station that will serve West Loch, Ewa Beach, and Waipahu
illustrates how commuters will ride above street traffic. -- HART Photo
As a former reporter (and current media trainer), I tell clients it’s difficult for reporters to get every fact straight in their stories. That’s why (free tip) newsmakers have an obligation to help reporters get the facts right. 

A recent Bloomberg news agency story on the Honolulu rail project is a case in point. The story reported on Honolulu’s sale of general obligation bonds to help finance construction of the rail project. 

Reporter Joe Mysak noted: “There are two things you can say about building a rail transit project: They sure are expensive, and they sure are worth it.”

Oahu residents are learning about the former and are looking forward to the “worth it” part. Yes2Rail’s never-ending theme is that grade-separated transit – elevated in Honolulu’s case – is worth it because it’s the only way to completely avoid being stuck in traffic on the daily commute. The photograph above illustrates the concept; rail commuters will glide on rail tracks 30 or more feet above cars in the grind.

Mr. Mysak, who clearly understands the benefits of grade-separated transit, ends his article: “With the train financing, Honolulu is betting on its own future, one with fewer cars and buses. That’s a pretty good bet.”

And that’s where he goes slightly off the rails. Honolulu’s project never promised to “solve” traffic or reduce the number of cars and buses on the roads. The project’s #1 goal is to improve mobility for Oahu residents by providing an alternative to cars and buses – an alternative that will be completely unaffected by traffic.

It’s important to make that correction. Rail opponents tried for years to convince Oahu residents that if traffic will be worse after rail is built than it is now, the project would be for naught, and that’s just not true. The leader of the opposition finally had to admit the obvious – that traffic would be worse in the future if rail weren’t built.

So to paraphrase Mr. Mysak’s “pretty good bet,” Honolulu’s future will include a way for residents and commuters to move through Oahu’s southern corridor traffic-free. 

That’s a goal worth pursuing nearly everywhere, especially on an island with no room to expand the highway network.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Rail’s Messaging Has Changed? So Says a Star-Advertiser Columnist, but Nothing’s Changed about Rail’s Promise – Traffic-Free Commuting for Those Who Ride It

                         Honolulu's elevated trains will be true to a timetable.

Lee Cataluna’s column in Sunday's Star-Advertiser asserted that the Honolulu elevated rail project recently has changed its messaging.  

Maybe yes, maybe no. I personally couldn’t quite zero in on what she meant, but I do know what hasn’t changed:

Rail will provide traffic-free commuting to each and every person who chooses to ride it.

That’s it. That’s the unchanging promise of rail. Quibble about some messages if you want, but when this project is up and running (sooner than later, we hope), rail will be the sought-after alternative to being stuck in traffic.

Does anyone seriously doubt traffic-free commuting will appeal to south-side commuters? Do media pundits truly believe trains running between Kapolei and downtown during peak commute times won't be full?

The long wait for the rail project has pushed some observers to go all cynical, all the time (newspaper columnists require no time at all to get there). The delays and cost increases have been frustrating, but in the end, scores of thousands of daily commuters will praise the decision to build rail, and here’s why:

Grade-separated transit is the only form of transportation that guarantees a time of arrival at your destination. 

When you board an elevated train, you’ll know exactly when you’ll step off at the station of your choice.

That’s rail's main message, and it has never changed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

We’re Mad about Trains. Specifically, We’re Mad about ELEVATED Trains – Like the System Honolulu Is Building

Click here for this classic Mad Men episode on why trains are better than cars for commuting -- especially between West Oahu and anywhere along the line all the way to Ala Moana Center.

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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

On Second Thought, Maybe It's Time To Kick-Start This Blog Again. With the Elevated Rail Project Set To Be Operational on 10/10/20, There's Still Much To Be Said --- and Refuted

May 4, 2019 Update: Let's get something straight here at Yes2Rail. I just read a 5/2/14 story on in which reporter Sophie Cocke wrote the following: "Doug Carlson, who HART paid more than $536,000 for communicating on its behalf, repeatedly attacked former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano on his rail blog. Cayetano was running for mayor on a platform focused on killing the rail project." Not once did I "attack" Cayetano. I called  out his inadequate so-called plans to move people efficiently along Oahu's southern corridor between Ewa and downtown. 
Even the Honolulu Star-Advertiser asked in its May 27, 2012 editorial, "What exactly is Cayetano's transit plan?" So I ask any readers to disregard the reporter's inarticulate description of my assessment of Cayetano's plan, which he spent months hiding from the public. As my column to the right of this main section notes under "This Isn't Political," finding fault with a candidate's transportation plans is not the same as "attacking" the candidate. Maybe reporters will understand that one day. 
About my fee: It was spread over five years and was appropriate for someone with my experience on rail issues, starting with Mayor Frank Fasi's failed effort to build elevated rail in the early 1990s, and continuing through the "dreary years" between the Fasi plan's death in 1992 and Mayor Mufi Hannemann's resurrection of rail in the next decade.
Mayor Hannemann called me to his office in 2007 and asked me to join his rail team. He had followed my efforts to counter Cliff Slater's anti-rail campaign over the years as I pushed back at Slater in public as often as possible when he took his shots at rail. Here are some examples:
*  "Trolley wouldn't solve city's transit problem," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 10/6/98;
*   "Rail will forever be a failure for car-loving Cliff Slater," Honolulu Advertiser, 11/17/03; 
*    "The only rational way to shorten commute times is to provide alternatives to driving on already over-crowded highways," Honolulu Advertiser, 10/23/05;
*    "Cliff Slater's decades-long opposition to rail is based on a calculated misinformation campaign," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 10/8/06.
There's more of my commentary out there on the Internet -- not as much as you'll find from Cliff Slater and the troika of anti-rail columnists in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, but posts here at Yes2Rail were fact-based, unlike what you'll find in their continuing campaign. 
So, yes -- I earned my fee as a member of the rail project's Public Outreach Team, and I'll defend it against all usual.

November 6, 2012 Update: Pro-rail Kirk Caldwell defeated anti-railer Ben Cayetano in today's mayoral election, 53.9 to 46.1 percent. The result mirrors the August primary election's pro-rail outcome, as summarized in the headline above and in the post below. (We probably shouldn't say "told you so," but in fact, we did.) And if you're really curious about what we said about Mr. Cayetano's transportation ideas that were wholly dependent on anti-railer Cliff Slater's ideas, visit our aggregation site and scroll down to the 2012 Mayoral Race and Rail section.

AUGUST 2012: Barring unexpected developments that could reverse this decision, today’s post is Yes2Rail’s last – number 804 in the series that began on June 30, 2008. So we sign off with a few closing comments as we prepare to concentrate our energies on All Things California.

Some people in Honolulu would have you believe the rail project is like a boxer who’s barely surviving the 10th round of a 12-round championship fight. He’s behind on all the scorecards, but still they work hard to convince the public that a knockout punch is likely even this late in the fight – despite all the evidence.

The Honolulu Elevated Rail Project is farther down the track than any other proposal to create a traffic-free commuting alternative in Our Honolulu’s congestion-choked southern corridor. The project's Full Funding Grant Agreement application is in Washington and is likely to be approved in the next few months, something the late Frank F. Fasi, who was elected Honolulu's mayor six times, never came close to achieving despite multiple attempts to build rail.  His final plan died in the City Council 20 years ago this Fall.

So how did rail succeed this time around? Oh, I dunno…..maybe because it benefited from an excellent public information campaign! That’s one conclusion someone could make (we just did), since rail has been consistently supported by Oahu residents several years running, including only two days ago.

In 2008, the pro-rail candidates won and anti-railers lost. A scientific poll released four years ago this month found 58 percent of those surveyed supporting rail, while only 38 percent said they were opposed. Remember the City Charter amendment that year directing the City’s transportation division to pursue a steel-on-steel system? It passed.

One year later, a poll reported 60 percent support for the project among those who were scientifically surveyed – 34 percent strongly supportive and 26 percent somewhat supportive. Of the 37 percent who said they were opposed, 21 percent were strongly against the project, and 16 percent were somewhat opposed.

In 2010, pro-rail candidates won, anti-rail candidates lost. Voters overwhelmingly approved a City Charter amendment to create the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, thereby creating an entity to build and operate Honolulu rail.

A few months later in May 2011, another scientific survey found support for rail at 57 percent, with 40 percent opposed. That poll was publicized in the same month the Gang of Four – Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Randy Roth and Walter Heen – filed a federal lawsuit to kill the rail project.

One year ago next Sunday, the Gang launched its massive public relations campaign against rail with a 1500-word commentary in the newspaper. Online Civil Beat fact-checked the piece and found numerous false statements. Civil Beat judged only two to be  TRUE , two  FALSE  and three  HALF-TRUE/HALF-FALSE .

The Gang’s PR campaign has been barreling along virtually nonstop since last August and hit its peak with the launch of former Governor Cayetano’s campaign for mayor in January, with near-constant media coverage of his anti-rail rhetoric. Yes2Rail concluded he really didn't understand rail very well. He's essentially a one-issue candidate, as the media continually remind us.

So How's Rail Doing Now?          
In spite of all this negativity about the rail, the project is doing just fine, thank you very much, and the evidence of rail’s continuing support among the public is only two days old.

Saturday’s Primary Election supplied that evidence.
Pro-Rail Candidates:  54.6 percent
Anti-Rail Candidate:   44.7 percent

After all of the criticism, all the negativity, all the accusations and misrepresentations in the anti-rail camp’s massive multi-media PR campaign (see our “aggregation site” and the Mr. Cliff Slater and Friends heading), the opponents have failed to move the needle! The rail project’s support among Oahu voters two days ago was a solid majority!

Candidates have come and gone, some won and some lost, but consistent throughout the years has been the rail project's public involvement campaign that week after week, month after month supplied residents with truthful information that helped them understand and appreciate the project.

But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and the rail project’s public involvement team was "whacked" this summer, to use Civil Beat's word for the budget-trimming. Those of us whose involvement with rail ends this month leave knowing the mission was accomplished.

What About the Polls?
The public opinion surveys published by the Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now and Civil Beat in recent weeks deserve a second look. The newspaper/TV poll published on July 29 called it almost exactly right for Mr. Cayetano – 44 percent support in the Primary. The survey underestimated Mr. Caldwell’s support by nearly 5 percentage points and overestimated Mr. Carlisle’s backing by 2 points.

Civil Beat’s most recent survey (its story was updated only last Wednesday) had Mr. Cayetano at 51 percent, thereby badly missing the election’s outcome. That poll was conducted among “very likely Oahu voters” only, a methodology CB has used repeatedly in 2012 that Yes2Rail believes is seriously flawed. UH professor Neal Milner said we had a point.

Governments do not differentiate between voters and non-voters in their planning processes. With non-voters having lower incomes and less education than voters, they’re more likely to rely on public transit than citizens who vote. Opinion surveys on rail that ignore the non-voters’ views can’t possibly reflect the community’s true support and appreciation of the rail project.

Whatever the reasons for Civil Beat’s big miss in its most recent survey, getting rid of voter-only polling can only help.

And Finally....
Yes2Rail has criticized the Honolulu news media over the past several months for their hands-off approach to covering Governor Cayetano’s bus rapid transit alternative to elevated Honolulu rail. After weeks of Yes2Rail posts calling on Mr. Cayetano to release details of his “plan,” the Star-Advertiser finally pressed the point in a late-May editorial.

However, in the end, we’re not so sure the media’s poor performance really mattered. The August 2012 Primary Election's results showed that rail continues to receive majority support among Oahu residents.

Despite the media's laid-back reporting and the opponents’ anti-rail rhetoric, residents managed to sort and sift through the information available to them from multiple sources, including the rail project itself, and gave the pro-rail candidates more votes than the would-be rail killer.

That's a good note for rail's public involvement team to leave on.

AUGUST 16th UPDATE: Letter to Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
Headline missed real vote winner
Shouldn't this have been the banner headline in Sunday's Star-Advertiser: "Pro-rail candidates win primary, 55 to 44 percent"?
Jerome M. Comcowich