How to end the spin on O’ahu rail transit
When the Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) program finally dies, we will then face another
public relations juggernaut promoting ‘light’ rail. It is well that we
understand the deceptions ahead of us.
First, the City BRT information given to the public was pure
promotional hype. There was no effort to give us an evenhanded explanation of
the BRT proposal. Instead, it was the opposite; we were systematically lied to.
For example, after being told endlessly that the City had
federal funding for the BRT, we later found that the city had not even applied
for the funding.
We were also told endlessly that the BRT would reduce
traffic congestion. Instead, we found that they deliberately intended to make
congestion worse to drive people onto buses. When you consider that they
reduced “the capacity of Waikiki’s streets to
move vehicles” by 30 percent,
how on earth could they forecast a reduction in traffic congestion unless it
was to deceive us?
In fact, the lies and deceptions over the BRT have been so
numerous I devoted a whole column to it last year (BRT: A pattern of deception
The spin has already started about the new ‘light’ rail
proposal because what elected officials are proposing is, by the transit industry’s
own definition, ‘heavy’ rail.
They use ‘light’ rail since it disguises what it really is — a train.
They won’t tell you that the last heavy rail line was built
over 20 years ago in Miami
and that was a complete failure — Metrofail, the Miami Herald dubbed it. Nor
will they tell you that all the other heavy rail systems were for metro areas that
are much larger than Honolulu.
Miami is the smallest metro area with a heavy
rail line and it has more than four times the population of Honolulu.
Two years ago the prestigious American Planning Association Journal
published the results of an international academic study of cost
underestimating for 250 transportation projects around the world. They
found that underestimating costs “cannot be explained by error and is best
explained by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying. The policy
implications are clear: legislators, administrators, investors, media
representatives, and members of the public who value honest numbers should not
trust cost estimates and cost-benefit analyses produced by project promoters
and their analysts.” And they added that “we arrive at one of the most basic
explanations of lying, and of cost underestimation, that exists: Lying pays
This study is far from being the only one about deception in
promoting transit. In the footnotes to this column are listed another 19 of
these have yet to include any studies of the incomplete Boston Big Dig which at
the moment is some $8 billion over projection.
Lying has paid off in Honolulu,
as it does elsewhere, with campaign contributions from firms awarded non-bid
contracts for the BRT project. Two of the three main BRT consultants have been
indicted for illegal contributions with heavy contributions by the third.
Hopefully the actions of the Campaign Finance Commission are making transit promotion
a little less lucrative than it has been.
The only real excuse that the government can have about
lying to us so consistently is that most other public transportation agencies
do the same. While that is absolutely true, it does not mean that we should
stand for it in Hawaii.
We have been forewarned about what we can expect in lies and
spin when it comes to the next transit project. The question we have to ask
ourselves is, how do we prevent elected officials, in concert with the
bureaucracy, from running amok with our tax money in this way?
We need to insist that the City Council give the new City Auditor, the
former deputy state auditor under Ms. Marion Higa, more money and resources than
he thinks he needs. Whatever funding he gets will more than pay for itself in
preventing idiotic public expenditures.
Second, it would be helpful to set up a Civil Grand Jury such
as they have in California, and as
described in a column of mine (5/22/01), whereby ordinary citizens acting under
the auspices of the state courts are given powers to investigate state and
Third, while presently city officials simply refuse to
debate with opponents, in the future we should expect to hear officials
encourage both sides of the story to be told by way of debates and pro and con
articles in our newspapers;.
These actions may help in curbing the more ridiculous public
Cliff Slater is a
regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater
 These are the definitions from the American
Public Transportation Association website:
Heavy rail (metro, subway, rapid transit, or rapid
rail) is an electric railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic.
It is characterized by high speed and rapid acceleration passenger rail cars
operating singly or in multi-car trains on fixed rails; separate rights-of-way
from which all other vehicular and foot traffic are excluded; sophisticated
signaling, and high platform loading. If the service were converted to full
automation with no onboard personnel, the service would be considered an
Light rail (streetcar, tramway, or trolley) is
lightweight passenger rail cars operating singly (or in short, usually two-car,
trains) on fixed rails in right-of-way that is not separated from other traffic
for much of the way. Light rail vehicles are typically driven electrically with
power being drawn from an overhead electric line via a trolley or a pantograph.
EXISTING HEAVY RAIL SYSTEMS
Old systems (mostly pre-1930)
Boston, MA MBTA (Massachusetts Bay
Chicago, IL CTA (Chicago Transit
Cleveland, OH RTA (Greater Cleveland
Regional Transit Authority)
Jersey City, NJ PATH (Port
Lindenwold, NJ PATCO (Port Authority
Transit Corporation of PA & NJ)
New York, NY NYCT (MTA New York City
(MTA Staten Island Railway)
Philadelphia, PA SEPTA (Southeastern
Pennsylvania Transportation Authority)
New Systems (all post 1972)
Atlanta, GA MARTA (Metropolitan
Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority)
Baltimore, MD MTA (Maryland Transit
Los Angeles, CA MTA (Los Angeles County Metropolitan
Miami, FL MDTA
(Miami-Dade Transit Agency)
Oakland, CA BART (San Francisco Bay
Area Rapid Transit District)
Washington, DC Metro (Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)
The most recent of these was Miami, which opened in 1984. None have
been built since because the costs are very high and the results have been
poor. For the most part these new heavy rail systems had the same number of
commuters using public transportation of all kinds in 2000 as they had in 1980.
Soon they may be describing it as ‘ephemeral’ rail to make it sound even less
Census 2000. Honolulu’s
population was 876,000 for the same time.
Metro Area Population
New York--Northern New Jersey--Long Island,
Los Angeles--Riverside--Orange County, CA CMSA
Jose, CA CMSA
Miami--Fort Lauderdale, FL CMSA
Year 2000 Census Data
 Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and
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Holm, M. K. S. (1999). Inaccuracy of traffic forecasts and
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Kain, J. F. (1990). Deception in Dallas: Strategic misrepresentation in rail
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Leavitt, D., Ennis, S., & McGovern, P. (1993). The
cost escalation of rail projects: Using previous experience to re-evaluate the
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J. (1998). Twenty-one sources of error and bias in transport project appraisal.
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Merewitz, L. (1973a). How do urban rapid transit projects
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352). Crowthorne, UK: Transport Research Laboratory.
The $500,000 entrance marker to Nuuanu
Valley and other places
is one example. You would think that its residents don’t know where they
live. Other examples are the median
strips on Lunalilo Home Road,
which the supposed beneficiaries, the residents, were out in force protesting
against. And I would love to know the full cost of such efforts as Brunch on
the Beach. A fully-funded City Auditor could tell us that.