Rail Mantra: ‘Show Me The Riders’

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - June 01, 2005
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A couple of weeks ago I made my argument for why the city has to build a train linking Kapolei and the university — and eventually all of the Island. Perhaps 11 of you read it.

But I readily admit (then and now) that building a fixed rail mass transit system will cost a passel of money and that a train’s opponents have reason to pause.

Two such opponents have already expressed themselves; Councilmembers Barbara Marshall (Windward Oahu) and Charles Djou (East Honolulu) have both voted twice against raising the excise tax to build rail.

Djou stated his brief against the tax repeatedly on a recent broadcast of PBS-Hawaii’s Island Insights.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” said Djou. “We don’t have a plan. All we have is a tax increase, potentially the biggest in Hawaii’s history. I’d rather have a firm plan first that tells us how much it will cost to build.

“The tax increase being discussed is so huge — an average of $450 a year for a family of four — it will damage our economy.”

Djou also wonders whether Hawaii’s congressional delegation can make good on its promises of a significant contribution from the federal government: “We’re asked to believe that Tom DeLay, Bill Frist and George Bush — all Republicans — are going to bend over backwards to help out our all-Democrat congressional delegation with transportation money.”

Marshall echoes some of Djou’s complaints: “I don’t believe we have a plan. Mayor Hannemann says we have the 1992 plan, but that’s different. And earlier he said that the city planned to start by building from Kapolei to Waipahu. That’s nonsense to me. Who’s going to travel just from Kapolei to Waipahu?

“Then the city transportation director said that we don’t even yet have a locally preferred alternative for mass transit. But having one is the primary requisite for getting federal money. I’ve heard (Councilman) Nestor Garcia tell Cliff Slater that the ‘hot lanes’ Slater favors may be our locally preferred alternative, but the federal legislation specifically excludes those.

“And the state legislation allowing us to raise taxes specifically forbids its use for bikeways, a ferry and buses. They’ve defined it so narrowly I don’t see it as home rule at all.”

Marshall insists that she’s “not unalterably, unequivocally against” building a mass transit system: “But I am opposed to zipping ahead willy nilly with it.”

Of course both Marshall and Djou represent parts of Oahu — Windward Oahu and East Honolulu — that will not benefit directly from the proposed train. Marshall, however, bridles at the suggestion that her opposition is politically motivated:

“I’ve heard very little from my constituents that they’re opposed because it’s not going to benefit them.

“Their concern and mine is whether a train is going to solve the problem. That’s why I ask everyone who testifies in favor of the train whether they’re going to ride it. And most say ‘No, somebody else is.’ I want to know who.

“We don’t need to get 50 percent of the people off the highways in peak hours. We only need to get 10 or 15 percent off, and we could do that at a lower cost. I think we dropped the ball when we stopped developing Kapolei. We need to move a lot more jobs out there. The University of Hawaii-West Oahu has to be built; move a lot of students out there.

“The University of Hawaii is a huge problem. If we could get them to change their hours, we could take a lot of cars off the road in peak hours. We need to obligate large bodies — the university, the Department of Education, state and local government — to cooperate.”

Marshall’s ultimate test comes down to a single phrase: “Show me the riders.”

She’s not at all certain anyone can. “We’re a society that loves panaceas: This is the solution. But panaceas seldom work out.”

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