Cliff Slaterís Second Opinion

The Honolulu Advertiser

Monday, November 8, 1999



A desire named streetcar

The cityís new idea to cut traffic congestion wonít work.

Bring in the pros.

The cityís new transportation plan is its latest endeavor to get rail transit regardless of whether it addresses our traffic congestion problem. Here is the logic they believe we will swallow:

  • Bus ridership has declined over the past ten years despite a 16% increase in the number of buses.(1) Therefore, we need more buses. Huh?
  • We presently have six lanes along Kapiolani Boulevard allowing us to cone it during the rush hour, which gives us four lanes in the prevailing direction. Since we do not have enough road space, we are going to take away the two center lanes to run streetcars on them. Huh?
  • And, of course, this will not allow us to cone the remaining four lanes and thus, we will only have two lanes going one-way in the rush houróinstead of the four we had before. Huh?
  • The city says we are agreed that a new system "must not only be cost-effective, but also be realistically affordable." Since we are having trouble coming up with the last million or two for the city budget, we should spend 200 million dollars of local money to install this system together with the additional millions for the increased operating deficits. Huh? And, by the way, there will be no tax increase. Right.

Not satisfied with that, the city then tells us, "We cannot continue to build our way out of traffic congestion. Most people have recognized that it just doesnít work."

What utter nonsense.

The nationís leading authority on traffic congestion is the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. Its most recent federally funded study of traffic congestion in the nationís largest metropolitan areas concluded:

"There are only 2 of the 70 areas studied--Houston and Phoenix--with congestion levels lower (by any of the measures) in 1996 than in 1982. These areas addressed the congestion problems they faced in the early 1980s primarily by widening existing roads and constructing new roads."(2)

You should also know that the percentage of commuters using public transportation has been declining for decades in every metro center in the countryónot just Honolulu. So given the popularity of roads and the growing disenchantment with public transportation, why are we looking at it as a solution to traffic congestion?

Think about this: Even during the rush hour, only 9% of Honolulu commuters use public transportation, 80% commute by car and 11% use other means. This means that to reduce automobile traffic by just 10% from 80% to 71%, we would have to double public transportation usage from 9% to 18%. How? When everywhere else, nationally and internationally, it is declining? (3)

Our traffic problem is simply that no one is addressing it in a professional way but instead, in a political way. They offer us a "solution" a year before the next election. This is early enough for us to feel that they are doing something about the problem, but too early for us voters to realize that the new "solution" will not work.

One thing we should all get straight. If we are to ever produce any successful solution to our traffic problems, it will undoubtedly come from elsewhere. Since we are only the 46th largest metropolitan area in the U.S.,(4) it is sheer arrogance to believe that we in Honolulu are likely to devise an original way to solve traffic problems.

Letís get real.

Would someone with a budget just call the Federal Transit Administration and ask them for a list of the best transportation experts at U.S. universities. Throw darts at the list and come up with a random half dozen. Then pay for them to come to town and on TV and talk shows explain to everyone, especially newspaper editors, the realities of the urban commuting problem.

Cliff Slater is a Honolulu businessman representing the Reason Foundation here. His footnoted columns are at:


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(1) The 1998 Hawaii State Data Book. Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. Table 18.26: Public Transit, for Oahu: 1988 TO 1998.

(2) For the study as a whole click on Urban Roadway Congestion Annual Report 1998. Texas Transportation Institute. Click here for the conclusions only.

(3) Passenger Travel by Mode: European Union, Japan & United States: 1994. Change in Passenger Market Share: 1980-1994:

(4) Urban Roadway Congestion Annual Report 1998. Texas Transportation Institute. Table 1.