rail transit: the “play to
Officials at Parsons Brinckerhoff launched their opening salvo
in the rail transit campaign a week ago.
made a perfunctory but obligatory mention of “several
transit options” and then spent the rest of the time discussing rail
options such as “70 possible route combinations for an O'ahu rail system.”
made no mention of HOT lanes despite the fact that Parsons literally wrote the
book on HOT lanes (Federal Highways Administration’s “A Guide for HOT
Lane Development.”) and lauding “the
powerful benefits HOT lanes provide.”
Despite the talk of “70 possible routes” for rail they admit, “The
problems are much the same as the last three times they've been studied.” That essentially means that while Parsons talks about 70 rail
routes, it is just to portray an image
of frenetic work activity to justify
the fees they are being paid. Little will change; the final route will most
likely be so close to the 1992 alignment (with the Kapolei-Waipahu add-on) as
to make no difference.
concerned about inflated ridership projections, Parsons downplays past errors by saying that computer models up to ten years
ago seriously overestimated rail ridership but now, they say, soothingly, that
that has all changed since the Federal Transit Administration imposed new
Really? Strange that the U.S. General Accounting Office says
that new U.S.
rail projects are still achieving less than two-thirds of their projected
And how about Parsons’ involvement in the new San Francisco Airport BART extension? This is a $1.8 billion project that forecast 69,000 riders per day
and is currently experiencing only 27,000
— 60 percent less than projected. (Just to put 27,000 daily ridership in
perspective, it is less than TheBus gets on the Waikiki-Kalihi #2 route alone.)
Then Parsons tells us $1 million is budgeted for public outreach and involvement. Anyone who has
been on the receiving end of City “outreach” programs know that they are all
spin, hype and snowing the public for
those pre-determined “visions” of our elected officials.
The problem is not really Parsons, and it is not a “pay to
play” issue. Rather, a charade has developed in U.S. transit planning over the past
thirty years that can best be called, “play to pay.” This is where transit
consultants “play” at being objective problem solvers — while actually just doing
precisely what they are told to do — and for
their obedience, they get their “pay.”
Parsons is a highly competent company that has garnered vast
amount of expertise and experience in all phases of traffic management and public
transportation for more
than a century — and with an office in Honolulu
for over 40 years.
This would all be highly valuable if our elected officials
were to ask Parsons’ advice on what the City needs to do to solve its traffic
problems. But that is not the way the game is played.
You will remember that this current iteration of rail transit planning
began with a series of meetings in the Governor’s
office attended by a significant number of elected officials and political
appointees not one of whom had the requisite experience in traffic management or public transportation. But they had a “vision.” This is the norm.
The next step is that Parsons is given the “vision” and told
to justify it. They will reliably do what they are told. They will produce
meticulous documentation to justify whatever elected officials want. They will
produce technical reports by the
long ton each of which will be vast, stifling and incomprehensible to any lay
people who might be impertinent enough to examine them.
However, they will be nothing that would satisfy self
businesspeople considering investing their own money in a venture begin by
collecting as much financial and operating data from as many similar ventures
across the country as possible. Then, to see if the venture would make economic
sense for Honolulu,
they analyze the data making appropriate allowance for
the differences between Honolulu
and the other places. From this examination, they develop a range of revenues
and expenses likely to be experienced by the venture in Honolulu.
This is not rocket science; it is a common sense process.
For example, when
we have our homes valued, real estate appraisers use this process. They analyze
homes in areas comparable to ours make due allowances for
differences in size, quality, and salability and from these “comparables”
derive a narrow range of likely values.
Transit planners never examine “comparables”; it would
invariably kill their projects. Instead, they have to “play” with mostly
irrelevant data to get “pay.”
I won’t go on; you get the picture.
Cliff Slater is a
regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater
 “HOT lanes provide new
opportunities for transit vehicles, HOVs, and other paying motorists to avoid congested highway lanes, while at
the same time easing congestion on parallel general purpose lanes. Moreover, in addition to enhancing mobility at the corridor
level, HOT lanes also generate new revenue streams that can be used to pay for their own implementation or
to support other transportation improvements including transit service
enhancements. Professional and policy communities in the United States
are just beginning to recognize the powerful benefits HOT lanes provide.” A
Guide for HOT Lane Development. Federal Highways Administration, Parsons
Brinckerhoff & Texas Transportation
Institute. P. 102.
 "Many of these things have been studied
carefully before. The options are
not all over the boat," said Mark Scheibe, assistant project manager.
"The problems are much the same as the last three times they've been
studied." Many conditions have changed, though. Population growth has
shifted from Central O'ahu to West O'ahu. [In fact, projections have not
changed since the 1992 FEIS anticipated the population growth for West O’ahu.]
“Initial results from an ongoing study of New
Starts projects by FTA show that nearly half of the 19 projects, for which ridership was reviewed, will achieve less
than two-thirds of forecast
ridership by the forecast year.”
Source: GAO. January. 2005 HIGHWAY AND TRANSIT INVESTMENTS.
Interestingly, only 25 percent of the planning
budget goes for the Alternatives
Analysis and Draft Environmental Impact Statement while $1.2 million goes to
“coordination with city, state and