Looking At Options Other Than Rail

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - May 19, 2005

I recently wrote about lawmakers responsible for drafting and passing HB1309, the bill to allow counties to increase the state General Excise Tax by 12.5 percent, and how they should be held accountable at the ballot box for their actions.

My position has been, and always will be, that the incomprehensible raising of taxes and errant spending by elected officials should not be tolerated by those whom the government takes those monies from — you.

I do not believe there is a justification for increasing the most regressive and most insidious tax in the state’s arsenal, the GET, to fund a fixed rail system on Oahu. Supporters of this phantom rail project will tell you how spectacularly it will alleviate traffic congestion along the H-1 corridor. Others will proclaim a rail system will increase the value of life itself. Many maintain it is the only solution before us to prevent inevitable gridlock within the next generation.

The problem I have with such braggadocio is there is absolutely nothing which suggests these statements are true. I have asked proponents of this rail system specific questions. What is the route? What is the technology? Where are the stations? What is the fare? How many riders are projected? Basic questions which should be answerable.

Let’s take this business model into the private sector. You’re a project manager for a major corporation. You believe your company needs the latest and greatest widget because your present widget just isn’t doing the job. You tell your bosses your present widget is working, but not enough. So, you need to get the latest widget. The only thing is, you don’t know what the new widget really is or what it does.You can’t explain what the real cost is to purchase the widget. Only if you don’t do it now then you won’t get any special financing. When asked who will benefit from the new widget, you explain about eight percent of your customers may use it even though 92 percent will probably never benefit. However, you still want the board to go to the shareholders and take 12.5 percent of their dividends with a promise there will be more reductions to maintain the new widget. By the way, you will still keep your old widget and still pay to maintain it too.

I guarantee, if you were to make a presentation like this to your boss, you would be fired for being so reckless and irresponsible with your company’s resources. In government, however, lawmakers can be exactly that without immediate and direct accountability.

There are alternatives to the increase in the GET and the construction of a fixed rail system. Keep in mind, the number one objective in all these discussions is the alleviation of traffic congestion down the H-1 corridor and to shorten the commuter times in the morning and afternoon.

First of all, I want to direct you to the Alliance for Traffic Improvement. The website is www.honolulutraffic.com.

It is a definitive source of information regarding different transportation improvement proposals. A viable alternative is the HOTway system described on this site. It makes more sense to increase the number of lane miles for the projected 92 percent of commuters in vehicles rather than expend astronomical cash and resources for a select few. Please note this alternative does not require an increase in taxes to fund its construction.

Callers to my radio program offered a litany of suggestions which would have a positive effect on traffic congestion. One of the common sense alternatives is to eliminate University of Hawaii-Manoa classes which begin before 10 a.m. You know it and I know it: When UH is out, the traffic improves dramatically.

Another idea is to change the hours of city services to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Most people are working during the day. City employees who provide direct services to the public would accommodate more customers after traditional business hours. In conjunction, government employees whose responsibilities are not essential from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. would have their hours staggered, too.

The removal of uninsured motorists from the road is still a viable option. Approximately two out of 10 drivers are doing so illegally. Getting half of these illegal motorists off the road translates to about 100,000 drivers. The integration of information between HPD, DMV and the insurance companies is very possible for a minimum investment. The question is, do politicians have the guts to stand up to the insurance companies and a potential voting bloc of disgruntled scofflaws?

There is greater detail on these and other alternatives to a fixed rail system. I will provide more ideas with additional details in subsequent columns.

Bottom line: Rail is not the only solution, and it’s not the best one.

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