You aren’t getting truth
about city’s mass-transit plans
Two years ago, this column (“BRT: A pattern of deception,”
detailed the deceptive practices of the then City administration concerning the
In-town Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) project.
A year ago, as the BRT program was closing down, this column
warned (“How to end the spin on O’ahu rail transit,” 11/1/04)
that more deception would be forthcoming as the City considered a rail line — no
matter who was elected.
However strong that warning was, it was insufficient
considering the full onslaught of spin, deception and obfuscation that has subsequently
issued forth this year from Hawaii’s elected
The first was the selling of the project as “light” rail
and as updating the failed 1992 plans.
However, the 1992 plans called for “heavy”
rail, which uses steel wheels on steel rails, is noisy, and takes its
electricity from the proverbial third rail. This is why heavy rail, still at an
average of only 22.5 mph because of stops, is not as slow as real “light” rail
at 18.5 mph.
Our politicians have been telling us that a tax must be in
place and levied before federal
officials would consider dealing with Hawaii.
This is not true. Federal officials want to see a tax authorized after we select the “Locally Preferred
Alternative” sometime in 2007 if the City picks rail. They do not require that
the City actually impose the tax until they receive the federal funds
commitment, which is years away.
Our new Mayor is
promising that rail is what is needed to reduce traffic congestion.
However, he knows that rail transit will do little or
nothing about traffic congestion.
Even Council members Garcia and Okino have admitted, reluctantly, in small
group meetings, that rail will do nothing for
Concerning the effects of the tax, the Mayor quotes the House Finance Committee’s quote of
$245 per family of four annually, rather than the Tax Foundation’s $450, as the
impact of the ½ percent tax hike. However, do the math, it does not even cover
the projected annual operating losses, let alone raise enough money to build
the rail line. Even the $450 per family does not come close. Our projections
show that the City will have to increase the GE Tax to at least 5.25 percent to
do the job.
Even the use of the GE tax is dishonest. The only reason to
use the GE tax rather than the gasoline tax, or the property tax, is that
voters would be quickly aware of how much it would cost them. A Council
presentation showed that they would have to raise property taxes by 46 percent
or gas taxes by 56¢ a gallon, to raise the same revenues as the ½ percent GE
tax hike. Of course, voters would not stand still for an obvious tax hike.
The Mayor now uses a handout, “Top 12 reasons for rail
transit.” When he first issued it a couple of months ago, we had to write a four-page
critique just to cover the more important, shall we say, misstatements.
For example, saying that we had 36 percent more vehicles on
the road since 1992 when the actual number is 12.5 percent. Saying that a “rail
system carrying 10,000 an hour equals the carrying capacity of a six or eight
lane highway.” The truth is that one single HOV lane in New
Jersey carries more passengers per hour than every rail line in
the U.S. excepting the New York’s 8th Avenue
subway. Saying that, “There’s little room for roads,” when the HOT lanes
proposal would take up hardly more room than the rail line.
Now the Mayor says we have understated the cost of HOT lanes
and it would cost $200-$300 million a mile to construct Honolulutraffic.com’s 10-mile
two-lane tax-free HOT lanes.
He would have you believe that a simple two-lane highway
would cost far more than a rail line with its trains, rails, together with
stations, each with their escalators,
stairs, elevators, and electrical
The reality is that Tampa,
Florida, will soon open a three-lane elevated HOT lane highway
constructed for $46 million a mile, even after a costly design mistake, and
their Expressway Authority tells us that they could replicate it for $28
million a mile
Finally, the Mayor recently slides into the absurd by
writing, “Imagine an Oahu where people will
live, work, shop, and play near
transit stations” — “Come out from under the train, Johnny!” — and, “a rail
system could even improve the city and state’s credit worthiness.” With a $3
billion bond issue?
We know that Mufi is desperately trying to beat the record
of former Mayor Harris — but at
spinning and obfuscating? Why not best him at telling the truth. Now, there’s
an easy victory.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist
whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater
 Final Environmental Impact Statement,
Honolulu Rapid Transit Program, July 1992. Available at the Municipal Library.
 That it is not necessary to actually impose
the tax before federal construction funds are available was confirmed by
conversations with FTA officials, DOT Director Rod Haraga in a radio broadcast
on Monday, August 1, 2005, and by Congressman Neil Abercrombie in testimony
before the Council Joint Committee on Budget and Transportation on Tuesday, August
 On June 15, 2005, we spent time presenting to
the Mayor the congestion data for all metropolitan areas with rail, all of
which have had increased traffic congestion. This data was all federal data
together with that of the Texas Transportation Institute, whose material the
city also uses in its presentations.
 On May 26,
2005, at a Chamber of Commerce presentation, on being questioned, Councilmember
Garcia finally admitted that rail transit would no nothing for traffic
congestion, “but would give people a choice.” On June 21, 2005, in a Chamber of
Commerce sponsored discussion with me and Councilmember Djou and DTS Deputy
Director Toru Hamayasu, Councilmember Okino also admitted that rail transit
would do nothing for traffic congestion.
 “Mayor Mufi Hannemann acknowledged yesterday that
the tax money, plus whatever Washington throws into the pot, will be enough to
start a system but not enough to finish it.” Honolulu
Advertiser editorial. Tuesday, July
12, 2005. See rail funding spreadsheet.