Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater

May 20, 2002










(1) The bus Operating and Maintenance costs for 2001 were approximately $112 million,(SDEIS, p. 6-4 deflated) less $28 million in fare revenue (SDEIS uses $32 million but this is unlikely) with the addition of about $26 million annually in depreciation and interest. This is a loss of $110 million annually which, spread over Oahu's population of 880,000, equals $126 per person or $500 per family of four.

(2) Atlantic City Jitney Association.

(3) Honolulu Star Bulletin. "Jitneys ruled off streets." May 7, 1940.

Honolulu Star Bulletin. "Rosecrans Patrons Defend Bus Service." May 7, 1940.

"Last night's public hearing packed the court room to the doors...dominated by (jitney) bus patrons who rushed to the defense of the (jitney) company praising that service, the courtesy of the drivers and insisting upon (its) right to do business as a rival to the long established (streetcars).

Those who spoke included Charles Maeschke, a civilian employee at Pearl Harbor, Ernest L. Graves of the Mutual Telephone Company; Joseph Capsan, an electrician; Peter Church, Dr. James Kondo, Mrs Elizabeth N. Mann, A.H. Wong, Charles Borad, Salvador Vidal and Merlin McGrew, a teacher at McKinley high school. The foregoing stated that Rosecrans service was needed not only for competition, but because of late running and better service on routes the HRT did not parallel."

Click here to see the jitney buses of the 1930's.

Visit the Atlantic City, NJ, jitney buses.

(4) Overview of Washington DC shared-ride taxis.



Bring back bus competition

My last traffic column (4/21) showed that we have less urban highway mileage per capita than any other state and that little can be done for Leeward Corridor traffic congestion until we build more road space. An HOV highway to downtown in the alignment originally proposed for rail transit would help greatly.

This column is about Honolulu’s shortage of commuting alternatives.

Think about this: TheBus loses $100 million annually yet we forbid anyone to compete with it. Let me repeat that: TheBus loses (or is subsidized by, or we invest in, or whatever euphemism for ‘loss’ you prefer) $500 for each Honolulu family of four annually and we prevent anyone from trying to reduce that amount.(1)  

Think: If we have to forbid people from competing it means there are willing providers out there who believe they can make a profit out of a service that we taxpayers are losing our rear ends on. Get the picture? This has to end—and for two reasons.

  • First, the taxpayers should not be paying any more for services than is necessary.
  • Second, denying competitors an opportunity to provide service denies commuters potential new choices in getting to work that would entice many more of them out of their cars.

For example, to take the proposed Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) to work in Waikiki you first have to walk from home to TheBus, take it a Transit Center, change to BRT, travel into town, then most probably either change from BRT to another bus or face a lengthy walk to your destination (BRT stops are widely spaced). For this you will get out of your car?

But consider this alternative: A bus or van (van pool or private operators) picks you up in the morning at your front door and takes you (guaranteed seat) into town via the new uncongested busway (see “Traffic congestion is curable” 4/21) and drops you off at work. Which of these two alternatives might attract you out of your car?

Next problem: You say you need your car, not to get to town but to move around town once you are there. Here’s one solution: Along Atlantic City’s Pacific Avenue during the day, jitney buses run at 40-second intervals; you step onto the sidewalk and here’s the jitney bus coming to take you where you want to go.(2) These 13-passenger air-conditioned vehicles could provide a valuable service between, say, Downtown and Waikiki out along King Street and back on Beretania.

You think that would not work here? Check your history: We had smart uniformed jitney drivers doing precisely that until 1940 when the courts enforced the Honolulu Rapid Transit Co.’s (then the city bus operator) government-granted monopoly and forced the jitney buses out of business.(3)

Or, why not do what our elected officials do in Washington, DC? They use shared-ride taxis, which greatly increases the capacity of taxis and thus makes for fewer vehicles on the road. They are illegal here, but legal in our Nation’s Capital. Go figure.(4)

The problem is that our City’s elected officials never spend time analyzing our traffic and transportation problems. Instead they get “visions” of the wishful thinking, ribbon-cutting variety. Then the “solution” drives everything else. To paraphrase the old saying, they put the train before the passenger.

What is needed is a review of what has worked elsewhere in the nation and the world in improving mobility, ameliorating traffic congestion and reducing costs.

When we start thinking in marketing terms of what will entice people out of their cars and when we stop thinking about what people should do and instead consider what they will actually do then, and only then, will we start resolving out traffic problems.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater