Thursday, April 29, 2010

HOT Lanes Are Very Popular in the US

There is no question that except for the frequent inspections and re-timing of traffic signals, the other major solution to traffic congestion is HOT lanes, or High Occupancy and Toll lanes. They present a quadruple win situation.

Win number 1: They are an efficient transit-way for buses and vanpools. Any vehicle with five or more people in it goes free at all times. This can be our new HI-5 expressway. Our HI-5 HOT lanes make bus public transit competitive to driving. Thanks to HOT lanes as designed in the University of Hawaii Congestion Study, congestion between the H-1 and H-2 merge on the west side, and Waikiki on the east side can be reduced by over 25% in the morning commute.

Win number 2: Toll is not a penalty or tax. It is a congestion insurance fee that low occupancy motorists have the option to purchase. The HOT lanes cannot fill up with buses and vanpools. They have plenty of room for other traffic. But a variable toll is established so that the lanes are not a free-for-all which would make them congested. The gradual toll is there to provide the guarantee that those who choose to pay it, they will travel at over 50 miles per hour. That's a trip from Waikele to downtown in under 15 minutes in the middle of rush hour! That is worth a few bucks, right?

Win number 3 is the relief of congestion on H-1. Since buses, vanpools and several paying motorists switch to the HOT lanes, there is less traffic on the H-1 and those who stay on it realize a modest reduction in travel time for free. As a result, both HOT and H-1 traffic conbined realize large reductions in both travel time and fuel consumption.
That's better quality of life and lesser dependency to fossil fuels. And an overall boost in the economy because, for example, a plumber can save 30 minutes at the AM and PM peaks and that allows for another house call and added income! (Try deal with business calls, freight deliveries and emergency services with the rails...)

Win number 4 is the revenue collection. HOT lanes is a road that actually collects some money. That makes it a bankable project. You can borrow in order to develop it or you can take private companies as partners and share the risk and the revenues. HOT lanes are well established PPP projects or Public-Private Partnerships.

Of course except for a few people, all the above is a "secret" in Honolulu who is still planning to address its acute traffic congestion problems with 19th century rails. San Fransisco plans for over 750 lane-miles of HOT lanes and Oahu's transportation plans do not even include the words HOT lanes.

As the table below shows, 45 (!) HOT lane projects are open or in various stages of getting done in the United States, including most cities with rail and the nation's capital. Of those 45 projects, 24 are at stages that are more advanced than Honolulu's rail, which is still in paperwork with no environmental, state and federal approvals. (As I mentioned in my March 1, 2010 post, there is plenty of time to do the right thing for Oahu.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

George Carlin - Saving the Planet

The late George Carlin and his reality-based views on sustainability ... from bike lanes to plastic bags ... seven minutes well spent (some vulgarity.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wai’anae Coast disaster preparedness plan

"House and Senate negotiators today in conference committee advanced a bill that would require the state and county civil defense agencies to prepare a disaster preparedness plan for the Wai’anae Coast of Oahu and submit it to the 2011 Legislature."

I applaud Representative Karen Awana for introducing this bill. At least it exposes a critical vulnerability.

Both in my 2008 and current campaigns for mayor "2nd access to Waianae" has been one of my top-10 priorities.

Unfortunately the call for a Civil Defense plan won't do much when Farrington Highway is blocked or washes away by Kahe point.

We do not have enough airlift capacity and we no longer have a couple of SuperFerries and a dock suitable for them in order to provide some rapid relief. We don't have a basic plan that includes the stationing of dump trucks and front loaders to begin the cleanup in the community. We don't have medical care of sufficient capacity. Also water supply will be an issue if there is a prolonged power outage. But unlike other neighborhoods, water trucks may not be able to get to the Waianae coast.

A simple example to show you how unprepared we are is a plain look of Farrington Highway. It is a continuous length of untrimmed trees and utility poles that will render it unusable for weeks after a basic category 1 hurricane. At the same time, boulders and other debris can render the Kolekole Pass impassable for days or weeks. Did we learn anything from Iniki?

An independent second access is essential. To economize, it can be built as a low-standard emergency-only road designed to be resilient to flooding and debris. It should be able to evacuate 4,000 vehicles (approximately 6,000 people per hour) and provide aid and supplies for many-many more.

It is sad that the 0.05 tack-on to the excise tax on Oahu cannot be used for real solutions in transportation relief. I still wonder for how long our Legislature will maintain its delusions about rail service.

A natural disaster hitting Oahu will be calamitous for the Wai'anae coast and will expose our poor priorities for projects and expenditures as currently applied.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Delusion and Deception in Rail Forecasts

Professor Flybjerg of Oxford University has made a career in proving the fallacies involved in the planning and management of megaprojects, and in providing ways to avoid major pitfalls and deliver projects with transparency and accountability. Of course his advice is ignored by Honolulu city administration and its consultants who follow the traditional "Community Railroading Handbook" where smoke-and-mirror shows and media commercials provide grossly inflated views of project benefits and hardly mention any of the disadvantages.

Proponents of megaprojects are both deluded and deceptive. Delusion and deception are two fundamental reasons why things go wrong with large projects. Every forecast contains an amount of delusion and deception. It comes with the territory because of bias and future uncertainties.

We are all familiar with weather forecasts. Only a small amount of delusion and deception is involved there, as shown in the figure below. Meteorologists have no desire to deceive anyone about the weather; but sometimes they use words that brighten the picture or accentuate the risk. Meteorologists are not deluded because they consult with a comprehensive weather model; but the weather model has some built-in inaccuracies which lead to some wrong predictions.
In Flybjerg's analysis, the weather forecast is a best case scientific prediction when it comes to deception and delusion. What are the worst? Top worst are unique projects like the Sydney Opera House and our infamous all-steel Aloha Stadium. A close second worst is rail projects as seen below. Who would have thought that good ol’ steel wheel on steel rail projects would be so rife with delusion and deception. But data from dozens of actual projects show just that. The promoters of rail projects are deluded about ridership and cost forecasts. And the same promoters deceive the public about ridership and cost forecasts.

One thing we can say for Honolulu's administration and its consultants when it comes to the proposed rail is that they are consistent with past experience elsewhere. Their forecasts are full of delusion and deception. Here is some evidence.

Denver, a city with substantial rail construction expertise and a more balanced political climate ran a large deficit for its
FastTracks rail --planned to cost $6.6 billion, now it needs an extra $2.4 billion to get it completed as planned. On the other hand, Honolulu insists that its planned cost of $5.4 billion will hold. That’s without completing the environmental process and without the recent airport rerouting to clear the airport runway. Many cities two to five times larger than Honolulu cannot get more than 40,000 daily riders on their light rail systems after several years in operation. But Honolulu insists that on opening day its rail will carry 97,000 riders and some years later this will balloon to over 130,000. That's simply nuts.

How about
Tren Urbano of San Juan, Puerto Rico? This is a good comparison with Oahu because Tren Urbano is heavy rail, it is on an island, it is planned by the same consultant, it had the same Federal Transit Administration oversight, and it is only five years old.

The consultant forecast a cost of $1.25 billion. FTA approved it. The actual cost was $2.25 billion. Nearly double!

The consultant forecast 80,000 riders. FTA approved it. The actual ridership was under 25,000 and for months they had to run the trains for free. Now after five years it carries 38,700 daily riders. Not even half of the original forecast!

So what did the
Tren Urbano delusion and deception accomplish? It cheated the system itself. The project proponents cooked the numbers so that FTA's required cost/benefit value of no more than $25 per new transit rider is met. This is a critical estimate. If the cost projection is under $25, then a transit project is eligible for federal funding.

Let's say that the
Tren Urbano just made the FTA cut by having a cost ratio of $24.8. Once the system was built, all delusion and deception went away and San Juan suffered the results of a poorly planned project. The actual ratio came out to $92.3 or 270% higher than the approved ratio! With accurate forecasts, this system would never have a chance of receiving federal funding.

Tren Urbano, TheRail forecasts are full of delusion and deception. It's a good thing that “the train hasn’t left the station” and it ain’t leaving any time soon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Proposed Rail Creates 1,000 Local Jobs and Destroys 4,000 Jobs

Here is my analysis of jobs due to Honolulu's proposed rail system. The rail has not cleared any important environmental hurdles, so it is over a year away from construction. However, the City propaganda on rail jobs must be challenged.


The City claims that rail will create 4,500 construction jobs and 10,000 total jobs. Take a look at this Internet video

UH economists estimate that first year rail construction job count will be about 360 jobs and only in peak years the construction job estimate will reach about 2,000 jobs. But most of them will be unsuitable for carpenters that are suffering the brunt of construction sector unemployment now. Also almost all of the rail construction materials and technology comes from off-island sources, so at best 1,000 of these jobs are local. The City estimates for rail jobs are false. They are advocacy estimates.

The other half of the story is that rail jobs are paid by tax dollars, mostly local. Taxes reduce people’s incomes and shrink the economy. Read below why the rail tax destroys at least 4,000 jobs.


The "multiplier effect" like 4,500 construction jobs and 10,000 total jobs is fantasy. It’s rooted in depression era economic theory. If this was true, then Honolulu should build a rail system that costs ten times more and yields 45,000 construction jobs and 100,000 total jobs!

Unfortunately tax and spend does not work. Look at Greece and California now; both are broke. Oahu will be in 2020. California Legislative Analyst’s non-partisan office said that "the scale of the deficits is so vast that we know of no way that the Legislature, the Governor, and voters can avoid making additional, very difficult choices about state priorities." This means deep cuts, severe hardship for low income people, and higher unemployment.

Spending public money on the wrong project leads to huge loses. Here is a good example. Spain spent $19 billion to create so called green jobs; 6,825 direct jobs and 8,175 related jobs were created at a cost of $1.4 million per job. For every "green job" developed by government money (taxes), 2.2 jobs were lost from the general economy. The proposed Honolulu rail will be far less productive than green technologies, so many more that 2.2 jobs will be lost for every 1 rail job.


Taxation prolongs the downturn. Here is an analytical example. Washington State contemplates a 1% increase in state sales tax to fund its ambitious transportation program. The economic impact of a 1% increase tax can be summarized as follows.

Private employment would drop by 19,400 jobs, and public sector employment would increase by 8,100 jobs. The net effect would be a loss of 11,290 jobs. The job losses, combined with the increase in the cost of goods, would lead to a fall in real disposable income by $1.85 billion. So their overall state economy will suffer more if the tax is added.

What does this mean for Oahu's 905,000 population and 0.5% general excise tax surcharge for rail? Every man, woman and child on Oahu pays about $500 per year for the rail which based on the Washington State model and proportioned for Oahu destroys a net of 4,000 jobs for every year that the GET surcharge is levied. So rail will create a maximum of 2,000 jobs and regularly destroys 4,000 jobs.

To build rail we need trains, rails, escalators, elevators, electric lines, switches, computers, ticket machines, air conditioners, rebar and concrete, and heavy rail maintenance equipment. All the fed contribution and much of our local taxes for rail will go out of state to purchase the rail stuff. And to pay for mainland rail experts and technicians like those who design it now. So less than half of the 2,000 rail jobs will be island jobs.


(February 1, 2010) Denver’s $6.6 Billion FastTracks rail can't be completed within budget. It needs an extra $2.4 billion. Similarly, Honolulu cost estimates are not credible. They are advocacy estimates. City said $2.7 billion in 2006, $4.6 billion in 2008 and $5.3 billion in 2009. The real cost will be at least $6.4 billion for the first 20 miles.

Do you doubt that the City, its consultant and the Federal Transit Administration are wrong? Let’s look at a recent rail project on an island. San Juan in Puerto Rico had the same consultant as Honolulu and the same FTA oversight. The forecasts and real outcomes are as follows.

The consultant predicted a cost of $1.25 billion. FTA approved it. San Juan’s actual cost was $2.25 billion. The consultant predicted 80,000 riders. FTA approved it. San Juan’s rail carries fewer than 40,000 riders after several years in operation.
How about this reality vs. fantasy: San Juan has a population of 2,509,000 and Honolulu has 905,000. San Juan’s rail carries 38,700 daily riders. For Honolulu, the hired “experts” forecast 97,000 riders on opening day and 130,000 riders in 2030.

Let me also clarify what it means for Honolulu to enter a Full Funding Grant Agreement with the FTA. It means that FTA will give Honolulu X amount of dollars and Honolulu is mandated to complete the agreed upon system. Honolulu can't stop short if the money runs out. It must collect more local taxes and finish the job. Like Denver and all the others. The average cost overrun for FTA projects is 40%.

Worse yet, Honolulu already is deep in the hole. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the city to upgrade its two major waste-water treatment plants, which could cost up to $1.2 billion.” City lost both the lawsuit and the appeal. So on top of degraded water, sewer and road systems, Honolulu has a current $1.2 billion budget liability for developing secondary sewage treatment.

If ever-increasing property taxes, sewer fees, and other taxes or fees become politically unsustainable, the State will have to bail the City out. Ever higher City taxes drive out businesses and shrink State revenues. A bankrupt City (with roughly 80% of the state’s population) diminishes both City and State ability to issue bonds and get projects done. Are you not seeing a tax black hole?


Was any of this information available in the 2008 elections and the taxpayer funded rail commercials? In 2008, a slim majority voted in favor of a fake "light rail" that cost under $5 billion and went through Salt Lake. The bases of 2008 are false in the 2010 proposed rail. Is the 2008 vote valid now? No. Instead we have heavy rail, fake ridership, fake costs, and fake jobs gains. Only the future economic calamity due to the rail is certain. Each local rail job will cost $2.6 million in local taxes!



Washington State Model

Green Jobs in Spain

University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, Hawaii Construction Forecast Update: Global Downturn Hammers Construction,
UHERO, March 6, 2009

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Are Urban Rail Systems Good for the Society?

You'll have to agree that this is a great question.

The good thing is that two of the nation's top economists evaluated urban rail systems and have an answer.

In their 2006 study, economists Winston of the Brookings Institution and Maheshri of the University of California at Berkeley concluded as follows:

"We find that with the exception of BART in the San Francisco Bay area, every system actually reduces welfare and is unable to become socially desirable even with optimal pricing or physical restructuring of its network. We conclude rail’s social cost is unlikely to abate because it enjoys powerful political support from planners, civic boosters, and policymakers."

What does their conclusion mean in plain words?
  • Urban rail systems have a negative value for the society, even if a rail system selects the best route and the best fare price.
  • The only reason city rail systems get built is because politicians and special interests are promoting them forcefully. They make a (short term) profit at the expense of society.