Myth 1: Honolulu will get $900 million from the federal
government to help pay for the cost of rail.
The New Starts program,
which would be funding the rail project has its funds allocated
until 2010. The rail is nowhere on its list, meaning that we would
have to wait until 2011, at the earliest to receive even a chance
of getting federal funding.
The $900 is just a figure that the mayor made up and had some
politicians or paid consultants repeat it. In constant 2006 dollars
we will not get much over $750 million. Note that the New Starts
program of the Federal Transit Administration is funded at a level
of $1.8 billion for the whole country! Meanwhile, the Highway Trust
Fund is broke, so past 2010 it is likely that there will be minimal
federal funds for transportation infrastructure.
While the rail project is intended to be funded by the 0.5%
increase that was added to the 4% general excise tax (GET) as well
as an assumed $900 million from the federal government, if we
limited the project to those funds, we would be deep in the red. As
of April 2008, 16 months into the tax increase’s fifteen-year
lifespan, a total of $211 million was collected, of which the state
takes 10% for administrative costs. The city, therefore, after
taking out the 10%, is receiving approximately $140 million
annually, for a total of $2.1 billion over the life of the
increase. That is just over a third of the cost of the $6.4 billion
rail project without the federal money, and just under two-thirds
of the cost if Honolulu receives all of the funds it would be
Therefore, a major increase in the property taxes is necessary to
complete the 34 mile route to UH and Waikiki. That does not even
account for the substantial downturn in U.S. economy and Hawaii
tourism which is just getting started.
Another important point here is the cost of rails, trains and other
electromechanical systems. All these will be bought from a foreign
country or the mainland at a cost of over one billion dollars. So,
even if Oahu receives $900 million in federal aid, all of it will
be spend on the mainland and in foreign suppliers. No federal funds
will ever reach Oahu.
Myth 2: Rail will reduce traffic congestion.
The congestion on the roads will be far worse with
rail than it is today. According to the city’s Alternatives
analysis, the H-1 freeway, currently carries almost 11,000 vehicles
during the peak hour. In 2030 with rail, the same lanes are
predicted to be carrying over 17,000 vehicles in the peak hour – an
increase of over 50%. We know that the freeway is at capacity
already and cannot carry additional traffic. Any additional traffic
will simply have to wait in line for increasingly longer times
before being able to go through. What does this mean for 2030?
These 17,000 vehicles carry well over 25,000 people in one hour.
The rail has a maximum capacity per hour of 9,000 (and 6,000 of
them will be standees.) In 2030, the rail is predicted to run
nearly full. So these 25,000 people per hour cannot go on the rail
and have to use their cars. Their commute will be over two hours
long. Do you see how useless the expenditure of $6.4 billion for
It is also pure fantasy to point to the rail as a savior when there
is an incident on the freeway. Nobody can leave their car on the
freeway and jump on the rail line. A reversible set of managed
lanes can be easily configured to address an major road closure and
these lanes will be a life saver for critical emergencies. Rail
will be of no use during and after a hurricane.
I feel for the Waianae coast residents that have to endure nearly a
two hour commute every day. Rail will make it much longer
regardless of whether they drive or catch the rail. I shiver with
the thought of someone having a health emergency in Waianae in rush
hour. There is simply no roadway capacity either now or in 2030 to
take him or her to a major hospital in a reasonable time for
survival. Rail simply takes current conditions and makes them twice
as bad in 2030. The story is similar for Ewa Beach, Wahiawa and
Mililani. Only reversible lanes can provide the needed capacity for
tolerable commuting times and timely emergency responses.
Myth 3: Rail is fast.
The rail line is expected to average only about 25
miles per hour, and is predicted to be slower than travel by car
between Aiea (Pearlridge) and Downtown. Using data from the
city-generated Alternatives Analysis and simulating a commute from
the H1/H2 merge to Aloha tower, a rail transit line would reduce
H-1 congestion approximately 3%, reducing drive times from 34 to 33
minutes. A rail commuter would make the same trip in approximately
41 minutes. Note that rail takes longer than driving.
If managed lanes and bus rapid transit (BRT), or rail, were
available today, a trip from Kapolei to the UH at Manoa would take
50 minutes by bus and 42 minutes by car on the managed lanes and
BRT system. The same trip on rail transit would take 75 minutes.
Like TheBoat, TheRail will not provide time competitive service and
our figures do not include additional travel times for connections
and transfers on rail.
Myth 4: Rail is green.
Unlike cars or buses which become more efficient and
green every year, a rail system would use the same increasingly
inefficient technology (oil or coal to electricity) for the next 30
years. Cars like the Toyota Prius are beginning to move even
further ahead, with solar panels being installed to recharge the
car’s battery when not in use. Honda is offering a fuel cell
vehicle in California; its emissions are water vapors. Cars are
environmentally neutral as soon as they are turned off, unlike a
rail system which runs nonstop for 20 hours a day, regardless of
the number of people riding it. Typical passenger loads for metro
rail outside two to four peak hours per day are very light. But the
escalators, lights, ticket machines, etc. are all on, and station
attendants and security are on-duty making it a very low
productivity, low efficiency and high energy impact system.
Another startling observation is that in midday one can look at a
stretch of a five billion dollar guideway. A train with 20 to 30
people passes by and then nothing happens for about 10 minutes. Now
compare this to the hassle and bustle of a 6-lane freeway which in
10 minutes moves over 6,000 cars, over 10,000 people, several
hundred tons of freight, and perhaps a couple of emergency
vehicles. One can visualize the utter uselessness of a metro rail
line as a transportation investment and the huge environmental
impact of building it in the first place.
New York City's rail system carries about two thirds of all urban
rail trips done in a typical work day in the entire United States.
Based on national statistics, if New York City is excluded, for all
other cities with rail combined, rail is far less green that
today’s relatively inefficient vehicle fleet.
Myth 5: Rail can move the equivalent of 6 lanes of freeway
According to city’s website honolulutransit.com [Note:
Between the time this post was drafted and the time it was posted,
the city changed the information presented on honolulutransit.com.
The text of what was there originally can be found at http://www.gorailgo.org/benefits-of-mass-transit.html
each train can carry 300 people, and during the peak times, there
is expected to be one train every 3 minutes, for a total of 6,000
people per hour on the peak direction. It is important to note that
4,000 of these 6,000 passengers will be standees.
Managed freeway lanes, such as HOT lanes, are designed to carry
2000 vehicles per hour per lane at free flow speeds, and since they
carry express busses and high occupancy vehicles, the average
occupancy would be well over 3 people per vehicle, for a total of
6,000 people per hour per lane. (All of them seated.)
So rail has the capacity of about one HOT lane. If Honolulu builds
three reversible managed lanes (as
can be seen here: http://www.eng.hawaii.edu/~panos/UHCS_ES5.pdf
the capacity advantage of the managed lanes is obvious.
Recall that in the 2006 Alternatives Analysis the city's consultant
built a 2-lane managed lanes system and simultaneously removed the
morning zipper lane for a net gain of one lane. This one 10 mile
HOT lane performed only a little worse than 20 miles of rail
Myth 7: Operating costs for rail are lower than for managed
Even if trains are automated, rail requires many more
people than managed or HOT lanes behind the scenes: security,
transit police, inspectors, custodial staff, and a huge array of
maintenance workers for rail cars, propulsion and brake systems,
escalators, elevators, systems computers, ticket machines, lighting
systems and the rail yard.
The maintenance of the managed lanes roadbed is minuscule compared
to the wear and tear of the thousands of mechanical and electronic
components of the rail. All rail technology is foreign to Hawaii
and expensive specialized labor will be necessary.
Managed lanes will not require more drivers of new express bus
routes because the same express buses will be able to offer two
instead of one trip per hour given that in the congested direction,
the bus will be traveling at 55 instead of 25 miles per hour.
The bottom line is that 10 to 12 miles of a high occupancy highway
(HOT lanes with express buses) has incomparably lower operational
costs than a rail system with 20 to 30 stations.
Myth 8: There is no more space for buses on the road.
Only a few streets, such as Hotel Street and Kapiolani
Boulevard have conditions that may come close to being the “river
of buses” for a few minutes like Hanneman's pro-rail ads claim to
be warning against. These ads actually are proof of mismanagement
rather than a built-in problem with bus operations in general.
The vast majority of streets only see a single bus every five or so
minutes during the peak times, and in cases were the current number
of buses are insufficient to handle the peak load, the number of
buses on a route can be increased or the standard buses could be
replaced by articulated buses.
My proposed HOT lanes alternative to rail would also strongly
support increased bus ridership, as express buses would be able to
travel from the H-1/H-2 merge to downtown Honolulu at free-flow
(55mph) speeds, as well as serving the door-to-door needs that only
buses are capable of. For example, there will be direct express
buses from Makakilo, Kapolei, Ewa, Waipahu, Waikele and Mililani to
downtown, Ala Moana, Waikiki and the UH every 10 to 20 minutes
depending on the level of demand.
This makes another advantage of buses obvious: Buses can be added
or reduced depending on how demand (passenger loads) change over
time. Buses can do that. In 1990 Kapolei to town demand was zero,
now it is X, in 2020 may be 3X. We can simply add three times as
many buses, but rail is fixed and not scalable. There will be no
third track for express or additional trains. In the way the
Hanneman rail is being designed, its maximum capacity is fixed from
day 1 to decades into the future.
Myth 9: HOT lanes would only create more traffic by putting more
cars on the road.
Unless there are people who go driving for fun during
rush hour, all the HOT lanes will do is take the same people to
their same destination, where they would park in the same parking
stall, but in a fraction of the time that it takes for the same
trip now. In order for there to be more cars on the road, there
would need to be more jobs created in downtown Honolulu and more
people commuting to those jobs. There is no plan to add jobs to
Myth 10: There is no more space to park in downtown
First, as seen in the response to Myth 9, the high
occupancy highway does not require additional parking downtown
unless the number of jobs there also increases. However, there are
lots both in and around downtown right now that have hundreds of
empty stalls. Some of these lots could even be developed into
larger parking structures to provide more parking and mixed use
development, if needed.
Furthermore, a couple of these lots may be developed underground
and a mini-tunnel can connect them to the end of the HOT lanes, so
several hundred vehicles will go to park there directly and in fact
"disappear" from the surface streets of Honolulu.
Fix Oahu Blog 8/2008