Ready For A Rail Referendum

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 19, 2008
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Government officials and elected politicians have been working to craft an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights for some time. Members of the task force were in agreement that at bare minimum they would come up with a definition of what constitutes an “extensive on-ground delay.”

According to an apologist on the task force, they have not been able to craft a definition, and therefore no bill of rights for airline passengers is forthcoming, because “the airline industry doesn’t want anything that is remotely enforceable.”

This also applies to airports that might have been required under a new federal mandate to provide additional services for passengers stranded aboard airlines going nowhere.

For a lot of taxpayers who have never been stranded at an airport, on the tarmac in a hot airplane, this story must be totally boring. On the other hand, if you have never driven a car on our freeway system and gotten stuck in dead-stop traffic, then you probably don’t care about alternative rail-transit systems either.


I have been stranded on the tarmac for a couple of hours and didn’t come away wanting to sue anyone, simply because the airplane had a mechanical problem that needed to be corrected before the flight could proceed safely. The pilot apologized, and no one was served any refreshments, but they left the restroom doors unlocked. The choices were simple: yell and scream threats, demand that the plane leave immediately, safety be damned, or just sit there and be grateful they caught the mechanical problem on the ground and not in the air, which could have been life-threatening.

It’s similar to what people who live on the North Shore or Leeward Oahu experience, where the main feature of the mass transit scheme is one way in and one way out.

If there is a critical traffic accident, there is no way around the problem, and tooting your horn is not going to make the investigation go any faster, even if you have an urgent appointment. You just are stranded, whether it’s on the tarmac or asphalt, it’s all by the fell clutch of circumstance.

What’s interesting to note about the dilemma gripping the tarmac task force, they are stumped by trying to define a single word: lengthy. In this particular case, a simple dictionary definition is not sufficient because there are legal ramifications to the definition that could cost the airports or airlines money to remedy the situation.


The lesson is simple. When words like “fairness” and “equality” are used by lawyers, judges and members of task forces, they get analyzed carefully, and the conversation more often than not devolves into considerations of consequence.

When public opinion is presented, notions of fairness, equality, liberty and justice become infinitely malleable, and conclusional, rather than analytic. This is a fine example of what normal taxpayers have to live with, rhetorical inflation, loquacity and impenetrable jargon, become the occupational hazard of any kind of governmental adjudication. One of my personal favorites is the court ruling on election jargon: Vote “yes” if you mean “no,” and a blank vote is a “no” vote.

It’s probably a good idea to not expect anything from the tarmac task force because “lengthy” has nothing to do directly with goodness and badness, because neither has anything to do with who is going to determine each traveler’s needs and interests.

So what? Well, when a traveler makes a decision of how best to get from point A to point B, whether it be by car, steel on steel, rubber on concrete or air, the decision is made based on options and the possible consequences attached to them. Said another way, it has nothing to do with the definition of lengthy. Lengthy is probably in the eyes of the beholder.

When all is said and done, this task force will propose a law based on “politics.” This suggests that the members of the task force will decide on what is “lengthy” in exactly the same way that legislators and other politicians decide what policies to advocate or oppose.

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