Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater
Friday, December 22, 2000
(1) Primary Corridor Transportation Project: Major Investment Study/Draft Environmental Impact Statement. City and County of Honolulu, Department of Transportation Services. August 2000. [Primary Corridor study].
(2) I had submitted a facsimile of the page with my testimony.
(3) Journey-To-Work Trends in the United States and its Major Metropolitan Areas, 1960-1990. Federal Highway Administration Publication No. FHWA-PL-94-012. November 1993. Table 2.2.
(4) 1960 Honolulu data is from the 1967 Oahu Transportation Study, Volume II, p. IX-9. Data for 1990 is from the 1999 State Data Book, Table 12.03.
City needs real transit experts
The Council is listening to the wrong people and looking at the wrong numbers to justify its latest plans.
The recent Council meeting held to approve the new multi-billion dollar transit system was conducted with all the ritual and predictability of kabuki.
First, even though the plan document (1) contains several hundred pages and weighs around four pounds, the Council does not let anyone testify for longer than one minute unless they are part of the city administration. In effect, this means that those in favor of the plan can testify for hours at a time whereas even the most knowledgeable opponents of the plan can only testify for one minute. (Just enough time to read these first two paragraphs.)
The Council ensures that the right players testify. Business people who will gain directly from these huge transit subsidies predictably testify in favor of them, as do those who will benefit indirectly (future zoning or building code favors).
The questions asked by Council members followed certain traditional requirements: Do not ask questions of knowledgeable testifiers unless their answers are predictable. Never ask questions of knowledgeable opponents. Instead, ask leading questions of supportive testifiers whose answers will support the Council’s position.
The city council has accepted the Administration’s statement that if we spend these additional billions of dollars then we will experience a 60 percent increase in bus ridership.
Has any transit-oriented city in the U.S. ever experienced such an increase in the last 25 years? Of course not; not even remotely close.
What is the trend in transit usage both in Hawaii and the Mainland?
Transit usage per capita 1980-1998 is down 13 percent in Honolulu (see Table 1 below) despite a 50 percent increase in the number of buses. It is down an even greater amount in other major U.S. cities (see Table 2 below).
According to the city’s own data, Honolulu’s total bus ridership 1995 to 1999 is down 14 percent.(See Table 1 below) (It is typical of the deceptive city practices that Jim Cowen, head of TheBus, can accuse me of “inventing” this number when I was using the city’s own data! And council members bought this even though each of them had the ridership figures from the 1999 State Data Book in front of them.)(2)
The use of public transportation for commuting has declined even further. Between 1960 and 1990, public transit’s share of commuters in the U.S. declined steadily from 12 percent to 5 percent.(3) Honolulu followed suit with transit’s share declining from 18 percent to 9.3 percent in the same period. (4) When the 2000 Census data becomes available the downward spiral will be shown to have continued.
Despite forecasting significant ridership increases, there is no attempt in the plan document to address the reasons for these national and local per capita ridership declines. If the Council had any concern for city taxpayers they would take the elementary and precautionary step of reviewing the results of other U.S. cities to determine if there is any justification for Honolulu projecting increases.
We cannot expect our present transit consultants to do this for us. Their business is to hire out at high hourly rates to advise cities on public transportation plans. They can hardly be expected to criticize their clients’ pet projects; no city would ever hire them.
We should ask the Federal Transit Administration for a list of the country’s top 50 university transportation experts; ones who they themselves use. We should then throw three darts at the list and then have these three people come and give us an honest opinion.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater
Source for passenger and bus data: Hawaii Historical Statistics. 1900-1976; 1999 Hawaii State Data Book, Table 18.26, 1989-1999; Hawaii State Data Book for 1991, 1980-1989; Short Range Transit Plan Update, Technical Report July 1984, 1977-1979.
Source for Oahu resident Population: Hawaii Historical Statistics, 1900-1976; 1999 Hawaii State Data Book, Table 1.06, 1980-1999; 1991 Hawaii State Data Book, Table 6, 1970-1980.
US Metropolitan Areas over 1,000,000
(& Honolulu):Change in Per Capita Boardings:
1980 to 1998 By Population
Data source: (c) 2000 www.publicpurpose.com --- Wendell Cox Consultancy.