We ignore transportation alternatives

By Cliff Slater

Traffic congestion is by anyone’s definition one of Hawaii’s most annoying problems. Yet our elected officials do little about it. In fact, the actions they do take are ones that usually make traffic congestion worse.

First, they complain about too many cars being driven to work. Yet they legislate building codes that require developers to put in minimum amounts of parking—far more parking than were developers left to decide on their own.(1) This excess amount of parking drives down parking prices. For example, a $100 a month downtown parking place works out to only 30¢ a square foot taking into account the square footage necessary for automobile ingress and egress.(2) That’s a price cheaper than the worst warehouse space anywhere on the island. What is happening is that office space is subsidizing parking space. The relatively low parking cost is what encourages people to drive their cars to work. We need to let building owners and developers decide how they want to allocate space and let parking prices rise with the market.

Next, elected officials plan residential neighborhoods but do little to encourage the creation of jobs there—in fact, they discourage it by prohibiting the operation of businesses around residential neighborhoods. Nor do they plan for the highway infrastructure to support these new residences.

They also ignore potential solutions to congestion. For example, busways are special roads dedicated to buses, van and car pools. A two-lane busway from the Leeward area to downtown would be a tremendous traffic reliever.(3) Yet, despite the proven ability of busways to reduce traffic congestion elsewhere—for example, Houston, Texas—we have made absolutely no attempt to adopt them. Instead we spend $1.8 billion on H-3 when it would have been far more sensible to allocate that money to busways and highway widening for Leeward commuters. As is happening on the Mainland, we could even have private firms compete to build such a busway as a tollway and it would cost taxpayers nothing; users would pay for it.(4)

Nor do our elected officials do anything to contain commuting costs.

There has been enormous success around the world in recent years in privatizing public transportation. From Britain to Argentina and across the U.S., cost reductions of 20-40% have resulted from contracting out or even fully privatizing services.(5) Here in Hawaii we have made absolutely no attempt to even look at privatizing public transportation even though our subsidies for TheBus are running close to $100 million annually.(6)

We spend city money subsidizing express buses at the cost of about $150 per rider per month.(7) Yet the City does nothing to subsidize van pools which only cost $50 per month per rider.(8)

All around the world are examples of people today making changes in urban transportation that have led to traffic moving faster and cheaper. Has one of our elected officials been to see them? Has one of them been to see the fully reprivatized and profitable 15,000-bus system in Buenos Aires, Argentina?(9) Has one of them been to see the results of privatizing public transportation in Britain?(10) Instead, they all run around looking at rail systems.

It’s enough to make you cry.



(1) Other than the immediate downtown area, requirements are generally one parking space for each 400-sq. ft. of office or retail space. The immediate downtown area has no minimum parking requirement but the Floor Area Ratio limitation does not count parking. Therefore, the marginal cost of adding parking space downtown is merely the construction cost. The core downtown area has therefore built less parking than they would have before the minimum parking requirement was lifted some 30 years ago but still has more parking than would be the case if parking were treated no differently than any other space.

(2) A parking space is approximately 15 ft. by 10 ft. Ingress and egress doubles the amount of space needed to accommodate the parking spaces.

(3) In COST’s 1992 Sensible Transit Solution we showed the Shirley Busway in Washington, DC on the cover. It is a two-lane highway separated from the adjacent freeway by concrete barriers. The two lanes run one-way into Washington during the morning hours and are reversed for the afternoon. Only buses, vans and other high-occupancy vehicles are allowed on. The barriers allow ease of regulation. We had suggested at the time that such a two lane elevated busway built at approximately along the same right of way (from Waiawa to the Aala Park area) that was intended for the heavy rail line would have been a more sensible use of funds.

(4) The extent of recent tollway construction in many countries from mainland China to the U.S. can be gleaned from Tollroads magazine which is available at:


(5) Competition in Public Transport: International State of the Art. Wendell Cox, Wendell Cox Consultancy (St. Louis), Jean Love, Wendell Cox Consultancy (St. Louis), Nick Newton, Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (London). Paper presented to the 5th International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Passenger Transport, Leeds, England, May 28,1997. Available at: <http://www.publicpurpose.com/t5.htm>

For U.S. cities see also Cox, Wendell. US Public Transport Costs by Metropolitan Area. 1998. Available at: < http://www.publicpurpose.com/utuscc95.htm>

(6) It is important to add capital costs of approximately $20 million annually to the operating losses. Details available at: <http://www.fta.dot.gov/library/reference/sec15/profiles94/top30/dts/dts.html>

(7) Express bus costs are high because the typical express bus can only make one run into town in the morning and one run out in the afternoon because of traffic congestion. In addition, it deadheads out to its first pick up stop in the morning and back to the bus barn at the end of the morning run. Compare those financial and environmental costs with a vanpool that typically begins operation near its first pick up. After it drops its last rider downtown the driver parks it and then goes to his/her regular job. The reverse happens in the afternoon. There is little waste.

(8) Details available from "Vanpool Hawaii" Customer Service Center, Vicki K. Harris – Manager, tel: (808) 596-8267, Fax: (808) 596-2056, E-Mail: <vharris@vpsiinc.com>

(9) Cited from a European Commission sponsored site:


"The bus system is composed of 295 lines with an extension of more than 25,000 km of routes and a fleet of 15,000 units. It is operated by 250 private companies which do not receive any aid from the Government, having been cited in studies by international agencies as a model of efficient management of the bus service."

(10) A quick overview of the impact of privatization on Britain’s urban transportation systems by Wendell Cox is at: < http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-ctdrg.htm>