Cliff Slater’s Second Opinion
The Honolulu Advertiser
December 21, 1999
City playing lying game again
The administration is misleading the public in its latest plan for the transit and congestion problem
Last year the City told us that the growing number of cars on Oahu roads justified a light-rail trolley system (1). I protested that this was wrong and made the City admit, albeit a month later, that they had erred (I try to be polite) and that the number of cars had actually been declining. (2)
I asked—without ever getting a response—that if a growing number of cars justified a rail line, what did a decline justify?
So, having forced the City to admit that car totals had been declining, it is very discouraging to find that in their latest draft of the Primary Urban Center Development Plan they hand us the same kind of, shall we say, misstatements.
To justify their "vision," they tell us that, "The trend on Oahu is towards increasing congestion as more drivers and more vehicles" are on the roads. That, "the number of licensed drivers is increasing at over twice the rate of population growth." And that, "This rate of growth is likely to increase." (3) Also that, "The City's streets are becoming meaner: 70-80 people are killed in Oahu roadway accidents and thousands more are injured every year." (4)
This is why the Oahu Regional Transportation Plan calls for "a significant increase in the proportion of Oahu residents using transit, increasing from 7.4% in 1990 to 9.4% in 2020; a 27% increase." (5)
This is an inexcusable twisting of the facts.
First, licensed drivers on Oahu have not been increasing; instead they have declined by 10,000 since 1994. (6) In addition, our population has remained stable rather than grown. (7) So how can one possibly make the case that the "rate of growth is likely to increase" when the precise opposite has been happening?
And instead of more cars, the City’s own data shows that registered motor vehicles on Oahu have declined by 18,000 since 1991. (8) This should not be surprising. Since 1990, Hawaii’s population of 20-34 year-olds has declined by 53,000 with a commensurate increase in the very young and the very old—those least likely to own or drive a car. (9)
As for increasing mayhem on island highways, it just is not so. Major traffic accidents and injuries on Oahu have declined significantly over the last ten years and deaths have decreased on a per capita basis.(10)
As for increasing the use of transit, these are just projections—and projections are not facts about the future. And, since as the City is unwilling to get its facts straight about the present how are we to believe what they project for the future?
The real facts are that the proportion of the population using public transportation continues to decline, not only in Honolulu (11) but also nationally and internationally (12) —and that there is no end in sight for that trend.
During the rail transit debate some years ago, it seemed I spent most of my time correcting the City as it continually misled us. The City Administration even misled the City Council; when the final version of the rail plan was revealed, the size of it astonished the Council and led to a surprised Councilmember Gary Gill’s remark, "It’s a train ... a Godzilla of a train."
The City also tried to mislead everyone about the size of the rail stations. Everyone was astonished when they saw 75’ high stations straddling entire city streets each with elevators, escalators and stairways. And that the rail line was being supported by ten foot square concrete pillars taking up whole lanes of road space.
It would appear that this same transit game is being played again. Let’s hope that this time around that everyone learns how to parse the Mayor’s sentences.
"Riding by the numbers
Honolulu city officials point to the growing number of cars to justify a light-rail trolley system.
The number of registered vehicles on Oahu rose 17 percent to 686,696 from 588,915 between fiscal years 1991 and 1997, according to the city Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing.
During the same period, the number of licensed drivers increased only 3 percent, to 517,904 in 1997 from 501,260 in 1991.
Dave Mau of the division said the larger-percentage increase in the number of registered vehicles may be heavily affected by the fleet practices of car-rental companies.
TheBus ridership jumped more than 125 percent from 1970 through 1995, rising at a rate higher than the general population, employment and number of cars registered.
But TheBus ridership has dropped 6.6 percent since its high of 79.3 million in 1995, heading for a projected 74.1 million for this year."
"City misinformation affects way we view rail transit
In a Dec. 16 article, the first of a three-part series on rail transit, your reporter wrote, "Honolulu city officials point to the growing number of cars to justify a light-rail trolley system. The number of registered vehicles on Oahu rose 17 percent to 686,696 from 588,915 between fiscal years 1991 and 1997, according to the city Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing."
The following day, I alerted your reporter that these statistics were in error. After some delay, the city finally agreed it had given your reporter the wrong data. A week later, you printed a correction at the bottom of A-3, "In last week's rail transit series, the city supplied wrong numbers when asked for the number of registered vehicles on Oahu. The number of registered vehicles in 1997 was 595,121, a 3 percent decrease from the 613,119 vehicles registered in 1991."
I know it is not exactly headline news when you get false and misleading information from city government, however, it would have been preferable to correct not merely the statistic but, more importantly, its significance.
After all, if a 17 percent increase in autos will "justify a light-rail trolley system," what does a 3 percent decrease justify?"
"The trend in roadway congestion on Oahu is towards increasing congestion as more drivers and more vehicles…" p. 4-3.
"Following the national trends, the number of licensed drivers is increasing at over twice the rate of population growth. This rate of growth is likely to increase …" p. 4-3.
(4) "The City's streets are becoming meaner: 70-80 people are killed in Oahu roadway accidents and thousands more are injured every year. …" Primary Urban Center Development Plan: Public Review Draft. Department of Planning and Permitting, City and County of Honolulu, Jeremy Harris, Mayor. July 1999. p. 4-5.
(5) "The ORTP [Oahu Regional Transportation Plan] indicates a significant increase in the proportion of Oahu residents using transit, increasing from 7.4% in 1990 to 9.4% in 2020; a 27% increase." Primary Urban Center Development Plan: Public Review Draft. Department of Planning and Permitting, City and County of Honolulu, Jeremy Harris, Mayor. July 1999. P. 4-6.
(6) Table 18.15 State Data Book 1998. Hawaii drivers licenses in force, by counties. See Honolulu data.
(7) Table 1.06, 1998 State Data Book. Resident population, by counties.
(9) Table 1.25—Resident Population, by age and sex: 1990 and 1998. Hawaii State Data Book, 1998. As may be seen from this table, Hawaii has experienced an increase of 34,000 in those over 70 years old and 20,000 in those under 20 years old. This offsets the decrease in those 20-34 years old.
(10) Traffic Accidents: Table 18.21, State Data Book 1998. See also Table 18.20, 1993-94 Hawaii State Data Book & Table 513, 1991 Hawaii State Data Book.
(11) Table 18.26—Public transit for Oahu, 1988-1998. State Data Book 1998. Also 1991 State Data Book, Table 518, & Schmidt, Robert. Historical Statistics of Hawaii. University Press of Hawaii. 1977. Table 17.7