Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

January 3, 2006

Scoping out the city’s mass transit scam

On December 13, the city and Parsons Brinckerhoff, their consultant, held a scoping meeting where they compared all the various transit alternatives they had either accepted or rejected for further consideration in the formal alternatives analysis to take place later in the year.

There were pretty pictures but absolutely no detail about the costs and benefits of the various alternatives. This happened despite,

  • A specific requirement from the Federal Transit Administration that the city develop “transit patronage, capital cost, and operating and maintenance cost.”[i]
  • FTA policy that the City “provide complete information … [and] full public access to key decisions”[ii].
  • State policy declaring that, “Opening up the government processes to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public's interest.”[iii]

Normally when one is comparing the cost-effectiveness of various projects, the fundamentals we have to know are the benefits and costs. Only then can we examine the trade-offs among them and make an intelligent judgment as to which ones among the alternatives are worth pursuing further.

How can any intelligent person even begin to make an appraisal of what is preferable without knowing what the benefits are likely to be, or the cost of them?

Think about it: Suppose you are offered 20 different houses to buy and you want to narrow that down to a few to go look at. Each of the houses offers you different benefits and costs. One is a four bedroom in Mililani but it is a one-hour plus commute. Another is in Kailua and, while the commute is better, it’s more expensive and has no yard for the kids, and so on. You get the point.

Now imagine that your Realtor® shows you pictures of these 20 houses but refuses to tell you either their locations or other benefits, or even their costs. You would go, “Huh?”

That is just what our reaction was at the city’s scoping meeting. Where are the benefits? Where are the costs? Where are the numbers? Response: “We don’t have them yet.” Us: “Huh?”

For example, they had eliminated the HOT lanes idea on grounds of cost but denied they had developed any costs. Go figure.

Essentially, this response from both city and state agencies and their consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff is the first of two in the well-known Consultant’s Two Phase Response: The first phase when it is just too early to give the public all the facts, and the second phase when it is too late to stop the project.

This way of dealing with the public is a variant of the mushroom strategy. Keep them in the dark, cover at regular intervals with bull excrement and anticipate a bumper crop of ... anemic voters.

Now all of this may strike you as cynicism getting the better of me. If so, go online to the City’s website www.honolulutransit.com for all the information they have presented on this issue. See if you can find anything about benefits and costs. Then, for balance, check the responses of those critical of the process at www.honolulutraffic.com.

The only hint of reality at the meeting was that, when asked, Parsons Brinckerhoff’s engineers at the meeting said that the rail transit alternative would not relieve traffic congestion.[iv]

This coming Friday, January 6, is your last opportunity to register your comments on the scoping meeting and have them included in the formal process the city will submit to the Federal Transit Administration.[v] You can submit your “Huh?” to the City at their website.

It is going to be interesting to see if the state, the city and Parsons Brinckerhoff get away with this blatant disregard of the voters’ rights to information. They must be told to either divulge the information they have developed, or reveal that gained from others, or, if they really do not have the information, go back, develop it and then have a real scoping meeting.

Anything else and it will be too obvious to the public, what some of us already know, that this process is not about traffic, but rather it is about power and money.

When Mayor Hanneman promised us that the transit selection process would be transparent, we did not understand at the time that what he really meant was that we would be able to see through all his shenanigans.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.cliffslater.com


[i] “During systems planning, the analysis of alternatives focuses on identifying fatal flaws and a preliminary analysis of cost-effectiveness … Three types of information are particularly important for evaluating cost-effectiveness: transit patronage, capital cost, and operating and maintenance cost.” PTMTPP. Part I. p. 2-9.

[ii] (23CFR450.212(a) and 450.316(b)(1))

[iii] “In a democracy, the people are vested with the ultimate decision-making power. Government agencies exist to aid the people in the formation and conduct of public policy. Opening up the government processes to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public's interest. Therefore the legislature declares that it is the policy of this State that the formation and conduct of public policy—the discussions, deliberations, decisions, and action of government agencies—shall be conducted as openly as possible.” Hawaii Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) http://www.hawaii.gov/oip/uipa.html

[iv] http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2005/Dec/14/ln/FP512140342.html

[v] There have been two separate dates given by the City, the 6th and the 9th January. To play it safe, use the 6th.