The debate over the Honolulu Rail Transit system is easily one of Hawaii’s major controversial issues because the decision whether or not to build the rail will affect all of Hawaii’s citizens and visitors. There are basically three groups of people/audience that I considered while writing this essay; they are the pro rail, anti rail and undecided.
This essay is from an anti-rail point of view, but with tasteful respect towards anyone who is pro rail and informative to those who are undecided. I argue that the effectiveness of the elevated rail system is not worth the amount of 5.3 billion dollars, instead of going through with the building of the rail we should pause the construction to reconsider other cost efficient viable options for relieving the traffic problem on Oahu. I understand that the city has already started construction on the rail, but if we pause the construction now and save that money we might be able to come up with a better solution.
Like all debates every issue has its pros and cons and the debate over the rail transit system is no different. I do acknowledge the pro rail arguments such as the rail transit system will reduce traffic congestion, the rail will be a faster mode of transportation, and the rail will be “green” and economically friendly and will provide local jobs. But does the cost outweigh the benefits? Or are there other transportation options that are cheaper and still get the same or better results for relieving the traffic crisis on Oahu than the proposed rail system?
Part of The Problem
Population growth is one of the many inevitable causes of increased traffic that the rail will not be able to fix because the rail cannot control the rate at which the population grows. The decrease in percentage of auto trips on Oahu would only decrease from a projected 23 percent to 21 percent. This measly two percent equals about 40,000 auto trips, which is not even close to making a significant dent.
Power to THE BUS
Former Governor Ben Cayetano is one of the many public proponents to the current rail transit system. In the 2012 election for Mayor, Gov. Cayetano’s main purpose was to stop the building of the rail and proposed his own solution to the traffic problem on Oahu. He suggested the implication of his FAST program or Flexible Affordable Smart Transportation system. This proposal would contain the addition of BRT or Bus Rapid Transit routes and contained a plethora of changes to the current transportation system. Gov. Cayetano argued that his FAST plan would cost about $1.1 billion instead of the estimated $5.3 billion rail transit system. This means Cayetano’s option is one fifth the price of the rail, which means we could take one fifth of the risk of building the rail. Cayetano also said “unlike heavy rail, which will take ten or more years to complete, Honolulu commuters will see traffic congestion reduced by our FAST program within six months”. If we had gone with Cayetano’s plan in the first place not only would we save money initially but the citizens of Honolulu would also reap the benefits sooner.
The Bus Rapid Transit system would call for eight more BRT or express bus routes including the pre-mentioned Route C County Express. The estimated amount of thirty-six additional busses would need to be added to these routes to make the plan effective. The new busses and their routes would take advantage of the eastbound Zipper lane that runs from Kapolei to downtown and the newly constructed west bound Zipper lane. The newly implemented westbound Zipperlane would open up the express busses to service Wahiawa, Mililani, Ewa, Kapolei and Waipahu in a timelier manner. In future thought of his plans Cayetano also proposed an underpass tobe constructed under major streets such as Kapiolani Boulevard, Beretania Street, Kalakaua Avenue and Ala Moana Boulevard to increase the flow of traffic through critical areas.
There would also a “College Express” that would run through the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu Community college and Hawaii Pacific University. So basically it would cover all the colleges in town. This route would be useful because it would help students who take classes at two or more of the colleges listed, plus the additional stops along the new route would add to more busses traveling around town, which could lead to more people using public transportation. Another significant addition to the bus routes would be another route that runs from Aloha Stadium to down town.
Gov. Cayetano also proposed in addition to the BRT and underpass routes, to build a two-lane viaduct above Nimitz Highway to increase the flow of traffic from downtown to the west side.
Bus vs. Rail
One of the claims by the pro rail group is the promise in a significant reduction in travel time from Kapolei transit center to Downtown. They estimated the rail to take about fifty-three minutes to get from Kapolei Downtown. When in present day it takes the Country Express C Bus thirty-eight to fifty-two minutes to make the same trip depending on the time one travels and the intensity of the traffic. If someone were to travel during rush hour traffic the Country Express C Bus will more likely take a travel time closer to fifty-two minutes or more. On the other hand if someone takes the same bus at a non-rush hour time the trip will take a travel time of thirty-two minutes. In either situation the rail transit system will take longer. One of the main reasons why the Country Express C Bus and other express buses have decent travel times is because they are able to use the Zipper Lane. At the moment of this article’s publication in 2013 the Zipper Lane only went one way, from Kapolei to Downtown. This means the trip into Downtown from Kapolei takes a shorter amount of time than the trip from Downtown to Kapolei. If the city decides to build another Zipper Lane going from Downtown to Kapolei theoretically the travel times for all Country Express C Buses will decrease. Unfortunately the City has said that they will discontinue the use of the Country Express C Bus and all other express buses once the rail transit system is up and running.
Beretania St. Tunnel Alternative
Currently being a college student at the University of Manoa the idea of the rail making a stop at the UH campus would most like be a positive idea. In the original plans of the Honolulu rail transit system the rail was supposed to circulate from Kapolei to the UH campus. The rail that is being built now stops at Ala Moana Center and does not touch UH. This is where the Beretania St. Tunnel Alternative comes in. Although not part of the original plans of the rail, Chief U.S District Judge Susan Oki Mollway suggested in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration that the alternative tunnel should be implemented now during the building stages. She predicts if HART were to implement it now it could save the city money in the future instead of upgrading the rail to run from Ala Moana Center to the University.
The Beretania St Tunnel Alternative would start at Ka’aahi Street underground and resurface near the police station on Beretania St. From the police station the underground track would connect to the elevated stricter across Alapai Street, then it would transfer onto King Street and run till it hit University Ave. From University Ave the route would then cross the H-1 and dock at the lower campus of UH Manoa.
What do the Experts Think?
Brian Taylor is a professor at the University of California Los Angeles has a PhD in Urban Planning from UCLA, a MS in Civil Engineering from UC Berkley and a BA in Geography from UCLA. He was a planner with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in San Francisco Bay before joining the faculty at UCLA. Needless to say he has some experience when it comes to urban transportation. He sides with the Bus Rapid Transit over the Honolulu rail transit system for several reasons.
The firs reason when it comes to the bare essentials is the amount of ridership the rail is expected to draw. In an interview with KITV4 news Taylor says “while the overall number of projected riders appears impressive, it is not nearly enough to offset the tremendous capital cost needed to build the system, as well as the additional expenditures required to operate and maintain it.” His studies also show that the less steps it takes to get to the transportation whether it be the rail system or the BRT, people are more likely to go with the transportation with easier access.
Therefore rail transit systems are needed in areas with huge populations that can use the rail systems as major mode of transportation. These places include cities like Tokyo, New York City and London where they get the amount of ridership to cover the overhead cost of their rail systems. In Honolulu’s case it is hard to justify building a 5.3 billion dollar rail that only covers twenty miles of fixed track over a bus rapid transit system that covers a multitude of routes for a lesser price.
Panos Prevedouros is a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa specializing in transportation engineering, traffic analysis and simulation, demand forecasting and intelligent transportation systems. He has long been an opponent against the rail transit system. Although he makes many good arguments against the rail transit system, he does touch on the negative effects towards The Bus that will happen once the rail is built. He says “the rail will dismantle the No.1 system in the nation.” The Bus routes that will be discontinued are “B, C, E, 3, 9, 11, 20, 43, 53, 73, 81, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98A, 101, 102, 103, 201, 202.”
Before starting my research I already had my own reasons for opposing the rail transit system. The extent of my knowledge beforehand consisted of things I heard by word of mouth from my family and friends. Some of those reasons mixed with my own was the formula for premature thesis. One reason I opposed the rail was because I figured since I drive and right outside of town there is no need for me to take the rail. If I need to go to Kapolei I would just drive even if there was a rail and the chances of me going to Kapolei during rush hour is less than likely. Thus my ridership and transportation needs do not fit the rail transit’s demographic. Another reason that I heard from friends and family is the rail only services a specific group of people. Those people would be regular commuter from the west side who commute regularly to town using public transportation. The amount of people that would actually use the rail is fairly small, yet the GET was increased just to help pay for the rail, which means everyone who pays taxes is helping pay for the rail without reaping the benefits. These were some of my preconceived notions before doing my research.
I focused my research on the alternatives to the rail system. Ben Cayetano seemed to have a fairly reasonable alternative to the current rail system. First of the rail says it will take forty thousand car trips off the road and at first this number sounds impressive. When in actuality there will be a twenty one percent increase with rail instead of a twenty three percent increase without rail. Cayetano’s main proposal was the BRT, which was supported by experts like Brian Taylor. Basically the BRT would add more express busses, bus routes, and take advantage of the Zipper lanes at a cost of about $1.1 billion dollars. Clearly at a cheaper cost than the rail, this could be a better alternative for the cost.
Although I am against the rail I do have an opened mind and I encourage pro rail supporters to express their ideas on this blog. I am interested to hear the other opinions and facts out there whether they are for or against the rail because I know I did not cover all the discourse surrounding the Honolulu rail transit.
For more Information:
Dayton, Kevin, and Gordon Y.K Pang. “Cayetano Lays out Transit Plan.”Hawaii News, Honolulu, Honolulu News, Sports, Editorial, Features, Travel and Business. Star Advertiser, 28 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.staradvertiser.com/s?action=login&f=y&id=171748061&id=171748061>.
Hao, Sean, and Gordon Y.K Pang. “Honolulu’s Rail Costs Put State at Financial Risk, Governor Says.” Honolulu’s Rail Costs Put State at Financial Risk, Governor Says | The Honolulu Advertiser | Hawaii’s Newspaper. Honolulu Advertiser, 9 Jan. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2010/Jan/09/ln/hawaii1090342.html>.
“Honolulu Rail Project Archives – Civil Beat.” Civil Beat. Peer News LLC, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. http://www.civilbeat.com/topics/honolulu-rail-project/
Launiu, Stephanie Namahoe. “Honolulu Rail Transit – The Trouble With the Train.” HubPages. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. http://hawaiianscribe.hubpages.com/hub/Honolulu-Rail-Transit-The-Trouble-With-the-Train
League of Women Voters of Honolulu Rail Transit Task Force. “LWV-Honolulu Arguments for and Against a Rail Transit System for Honolulu.” League Of Women Voters Of Hawaii. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. http://www.lwv-hawaii.com/rail_pro-con-90.htm
Mellers, Rich, and Rick Daysog. “Federal Judge Urges HART to Recognize Rail Route
Alternative.” Online posting. – Hawaii News Now. N.p., 11 July 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/22819821/federal-judge-urges-hart-to-recognize-rail-route-alternative>.
Mulero, Eugene. “TRANSIT: Will a $5B Rail System save Paradise or Destroy It?” E&E Publishing, LLC. E&E Publishing, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. http://www.eenews.net/stories/1059987350
Pang, Gordon Y.K. “Debate over Rail’s Future Flares after Court Ruling.” Star Advertiser. Star Advertiser, 03 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/20121103_Debate_over_rails_future_flares_after_court_ruling.html?id=177086041&mobile=true
Prevedouros, Panos. “Rail Is Not a Path to Prosperity for Honolulu.” Hawaii News. Hawaii
Reporter, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. <http://www.hawaiireporter.com/rail-is-not-a-path-to-prosperity-for-honolulu>.
“Why You Should Fight To Keep Rail Out Of Our City.” Honolulutraffic.com A Community Wide Effort To Keep Elevated Rail Out Of Our City. N.p., 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. http://www.honolulutraffic.com/