Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summary of Scoops on Honolulu's Elevated Heavy Rail: From Bad to Worse

Honolulu's per person cost for rail will be $4,300. No other community has paid such a heavy tax. Phoenix recently opened its light rail service at a cost of under $180 per person! Normally, rationally this cost per person would be a show-stopper. That is, at ten times the cost of rail in other cities, Honolulu's proposal is insane. Insane proposals should not proceed. But with "strong leaders" and many special interests lined up to make billions, this boondoggle is still alive.

The $4,300 per person is based on numbers from the project's promoters, Mayor Hannemann and his well paid consultants. The fact is that the project will cost much more because utility relocations, stoppages for iwi (ancient burial grounds) and delays from lawsuits are not included in the costs. Not enough taxes are being collected due to the prolonged slow economy, so property taxes will have to be raised to cover the escalating costs. Honolulutraffic.com FOIA documents shed critical light into this.

If Honolulu builds rail it will face two predictably bad situations: Low ridership and high cost to run the system. Here are two examples for 2009:

(1) New Seattle light rail has low ridership. It is empty outside the peak. Only during football games it is packed. "Link trains make about 248 one-way trips a day, about 48 in the peak direction during peak hours, and there are 148 seats per 2-car train." They carry just under 15,000 people per day, much less on Sundays. So it would seem that on the average weekday, each rail car carries 30 people and the average train load is 20.4%.

That's the definition of "near empty" but it is an over-estimate because it assumes that these passengers traveled the entire length of the line. In reality, many passengers do short trips. If the average trip is one half of the rail line length, then the average number of people per rail car drops to 15 and the train load to 10.2%. That is a poor level of performance and it is typical of rail systems outside New York City. At least light rail cost Seattle residents a bearable cost in taxes (still a waste of money.) There are two Seattle Link lines. One cost Seattle $335 per person and the other $579 per person.

(2) Phoenix light rail underestimated their operating expenses. "Metro is so alarmed at the pace that power bills are climbing, and by other unforeseen costs, it has begun a top-to-bottom review of operations." (What a surprise!)

B. R. Horton's Ho'opili development with 13,000 proposed new homes next to a gridlocked freeway is a non-starter. The Land Use Commission is not likely to re-zone prime agricultural land into urban land. So the proposed rail will drive piles through prime ag land and two stations will be available for the exclusive use of tomatoes and watermelons. Ewa and Kapolei residents are not as lucky as produce. They won't get any station.

Bishop Estate, Architects and Planners are mounting a fight in favor of light rail. Ian Lind has many important scoops including the strong-arming tactics by the Hannemann administration. Some mayoral candidates are likely to jump on the light rail bandwagon. Unfortunately for them, there is no light rail design anywhere in the city's federally mandated NEPA process, so if light rail is chosen by the next mayor, then transit plans have to start from square one. The heavy rail "choice" was a trap created by specific politicians and willing professionals.

Here is a letter by Mayor Hannemann with his 2006 promises (please scroll to the bottom of the link.) Observe that the price of rail has nearly doubled in three years from 3 billion to well over 5 billion dollars. And we have not started building anything yet! He also promised partnerships with the private sector to pay for rail. (
Private funding for rail is zero dollars.)

Do you remember those pro-rail radio and TV ads "paid by city taxpayers" during the 2008 elections? Were they designed to dupe the voter? Yes! This has been a classic bait and switch: This is Not What 50.6% Voted Yes For.