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.