Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Honolulu Rail Cost Escalation

It is important to understand how much costs escalate in megaprojects. All these costs in bond-financed public projects are to be borne by the taxpayer. Oahu has fewer than 400,000 taxpayers so the possibility of a twelve billion dollar bill for a long rail line presents a staggering liability. Over $30,000 per taxpayer.

In 2005 Mayor Mufi Hanneman and his supporters went to the Legislature and asked for a temporary (20 year) 1% tack on to Hawaii's 4% general excise tax in order to develop a large rail system for an approximate cost of $2.7 Billion. The Legislature approved a 0.5% tack on to the GET in hopes that Federal Transit Administration and other taxes will cover the total. Here is the letter to The Honolulu Advertiser by Mayor Mufi Hannemann promising that the 20 mile system will cost $3 Billion.

In 2008 General Elections there was a City Charter Amendment asking the city to install a steel on steel fixed guideway system. The cost of the 20 mile system had grown to $4.6 billion and almost $1 Billion was the contingency funds. TheBus funds were not touched in 2008.

In 2010 outgoing governor Lingle procured a financial analysis report for the rail that she had supported, in light of the escalating costs of rail and the 2008-2009 fiscal crisis. IDG, a reputable financial and risk analysis consultant based in Washington, D.C., estimated that the 20 mile cost will be more likely $7.2 Billion.

Despite these facts, Governor Abercrombie signed off on the State EIS and Mayor Carlisle dismissed the financial report as "an anti-rail tirade."

In summer 2012 the City submitted its final application to the FTA for a Full Funding Agreement. In it, the cost of the 20 mile line has grown further to $5.17 Billion but contingencies have been reduced to about $600 Million and another $150 Million is "borrowed" from TheBus fleet funds. In other words, the 2012 cost estimate would be $5.7 Billion if they did not fudge the amounts and kept them at the 2008 level.

In May 2012 Councilmember Kobayashi asked HART to estimate the cost of the full 34 mile system from West Kapolei to the UH and Waikiki. HART's response was $9.03 Billion.

If we apply IDG's cost escalation of the 20 mile system to the 34 mile system we get $12.6 Billion. Hanneman's rail has ballooned from $3.6 Billion to $12.6 Billion!

Rail was a bad idea at a cost of $3 Billion. Now that the likely cost is three times higher, the choice is clear. People have made their choice quite clear by handing both mayors Hannemann and Carlisle their walking papers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Honolulu Rail on Trial

Malia Zimmerman interviews Professors Randy Roth (law) and Panos Prevedouros (engineering). In this video filmed on O'lelo's Palolo studio a week ago, Professor Roth correctly predicts the outcome of the State Supreme Court. See below.

Congratulations to Paulette Kaleikini and her native Hawaiian hui for scoring this legal victory: Rail Construction Shouldn’t Have Started, Hawaii Supreme Court Rules. In other words, Mayor Carlisle and HART clearly broke the law.

Ninth Circuit Court Judge Teshima heard the Federal Lawsuit against Honolulu rail. Listen to the YouTube above where I indicate how the attorney for FACE clearly lied to the judge. Professor Roth expects that this lawsuit will also be successful. Decision expected in a couple months.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

TECHNOLOGY and INNOVATION Survey -- The Economist and Hawaii Results

I like people, global and local issues, and numbers ... so I present a mini-series of surveys on major issues which have been debated at The Economist. Obviously the results only represent people with at least a basic level of computer and Internet savvy. However, the results may be sufficiently indicative because most questions along with the careful wording of questions lead to a straightforward answer: Agree, Disagree or Do Not Know. The Economist has received a few thousand responses to each of their questions. I post results only when Hawaii surveys exceed 100 responses.

TECHNOLOGY Results (click to take the survey, part 1, and technology survey part 2.)

The results are summarized in the Table and discussed below.

The original debate questions in The Economist address various issues relating to technology. Ten questions were selected and International and Hawaii responses are compared.

For the first four issues, both The Economist and Hawaii respondents agree. For the next two issues either International or Hawaii responses are neutral, and for the last four issues the opinions are clearly opposite.

Both Hawaii (80%) and international response (62%) disagrees with the position that genetically modified crops and sustainable agriculture are complementary. Both agree that the Internet is making journalism better and that we are now in a new tech bubble. More international respondents (61%) than Hawaii respondents (56%) agreed that social networking technologies will bring positive changes to education.

Economist respondents want NASA to send astronauts to the moon but Hawaii is clearly ambivalent on this. Hawaii respondents believe that innovation works best when government does least but The Economist habitual government subsidy readers overwhelmingly place government at the center of innovation (84%). It does not take a genius to know who's right. Just think about the last time that a PC, smartphone or search engine was invented in Europe...

Hawaii respondents clearly agree (81%) that if the promise of technology is to simplify our lives it is failing, but The Economist respondents mildly (53%) believe that technology has simplified our lives. Technology has simplified my life. As an engineer and researcher, the Internet and digital scholar tools have cut down by annual time spent at the university library from 1 to 2 weeks a year in the late 1980s to less than two hours per year after 2000.

Exact opposite responses to the argument that the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of education: 56% of international respondents disagree and 57% of Hawaii respondents agree. In other words, Hawaii respondents believe that technology doesn't do much for education. Maybe that's a generic response because public education in Hawaii produces poor outcomes. Or, perhaps in Hawaii we buy a lot of technology for schools but don't use it in an effective and exciting manner. (However, that's not the case at Liholiho Elementary that my 5th grader attends since kindergarten.)

Underutilized technology is certainly the case with intelligent transportation systems (ITS) on our highways. Hawaii has spent upwards of $500 million on ITS and signal infrastructure since 2000. Yet traffic signals still operate mostly like Christmas lights and, like Chicago in the 1970s, we get our traffic conditions from ... Jason Josuda on FM radio. In 1994 I bought a Saab 900 with a Radio Data System. The car could show on the dash messages about road conditions. It was disabled for the US and if I still had it, it could be useless in Hawaii in 2012.

Hawaii respondents got the next one right: 65% agree that we're on a post-PC era, and that smartphones and tablets will soon dominate. No question that this will be so by 2020 in most of the US. Only 28% of international respondents agreed to this. Much lower disposable income (due to lower incomes and higher taxes) do not allow Europeans to change technology items frequently.

Finally from President Obama, to Linda Lingle and many luminaries in the between, math and science education is the best way to stimulate future innovation. Correctly, 74% of international respondents agreed but only 33% of Hawaii respondents agree. Sun, surf and R&R does not jibe with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Innovations We Can't Live Without: US and Hawaii

Earlier this year Consumer Reports published a small survey in a sidebar answering this question: Which of these innovations of the past few decades would be hardest to live without?

I used my AIKEA FOR HONOLULU newsletter and Facebook page to invite people to respond to an identical survey and make two choices among these innovations: Bank ATM – Broadband (fast) Internet service – Cable or satellite TV – Cell phone – Digital camera – GPS – Home computer – Microwave oven – Smart phone. The survey is still live; feel free to take it if you haven't done so.

The results are summarized below. They are listed from high to low according to their Hawaii share. For six out of nine innovations, the USA and Hawaii results are very similar, i.e., within two percentage points (green cells.) However, the other three reveal a different pattern:
  • USA folks are more focused on food and ready-to-eat meals. They chose the microwave oven as their top innovation!
  • Hawaii folks are more focused on technology with personal computers and fast Internet connections being their top two choices.
We have to be cautious with this outcome because Hawaii respondents were contacted by email and Internet social media, thus my survey touched only a computer savvy Hawaii population sample. However, both surveys agree that four innovations based on Intelligent Technology (IT), namely PC, digital TV, Internet and cell phones get the lion's share of the responses: 58% in the Consumer Reports USA survey, and 74% in my limited, computer-based Hawaii survey.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Faith-based Transportation Policy

Washington Post, George F. Will, A Golden State train wreck, August 8, 2012.
  • In faith-based transportation policy, rail worshipers think people will park their cars in Tampa and then rent cars in Orlando.
  • California Governor Brown’s reverence for his rail bauble is fanaticism.

How will people in Honolulu

  • go to their second job ...
  • manage their school and job ...
  • take kids to school ...
  • go surfing ...
  • go eating ...
  • go to their doctor, hospital, blood test lab, dialysis location ...
  • do their groceries and run other errands ...
  • have a diverse and fulfilling life ...

... without the independent transportation on roads with cars and buses that serve all neighborhoods?

Railigion is the affliction or belief that most "other people" will be able to use the rail regularly to make the trips that take them to the activities above. This is faith, affliction or outright stupidity. Whatever you call it, professional and responsible transportation planning is not.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

HOT Lanes and Tunnels are Hot and Free to the Taxpayer

$52 Billion Chicago Plan. Carefully targeted investment to modernize the greater Chicago region's highway system would reduce projected 2040 congestion by 10% overall and by 20% within Chicago itself, according to a major report from the Reason Foundation's Galvin Mobility Project. The plan includes a 275-mile HOT lanes network, a new Outer Beltway, and several urban highway tunnels. All the new capacity would be variably priced, and projected revenues of $58 billion would exceed the $52 billion construction cost, according to detailed modeling carried out for the study.

Steps Toward DC-Region Express Toll Network. On August 1st, Virginia DOT and the Fluor/Transurban joint venture that is nearing completion of the Capital Beltway (I-495) Express Lanes, reached commercial and financial close on the $940 million I-95 project. It will convert the existing two reversible HOV lanes to three reversible Express Toll lanes along 28 miles of I-95. Across the river in Maryland, the Maryland State Highway Administration is studying potential express toll lanes for the I-270 corridor, which heads northwest from the Beltway.

Largest Infrastructure Fund Exceeds $7 Billion. Infrastructure Investor reported on July 31st that the world's largest infrastructure investment fund, Global Infrastructure Partners II, has amassed $7.02 billion in capital, towards its target of $8 billion. Overall, such funds have raised an estimated $200 billion over the past decade.

Port of Miami Tunnel at Half-Way Mark. The massive tunnel boring machine that is creating the tunnel between the Miami area's expressway system and the Port of Miami on Watson Island has completed the first of two 4,200-foot tunnels under Government Cut. The next step is for the TBM to be turned around to dig the parallel tube over a six-month period. The $607 million tunnel is being procured under a 30-year concession.

Dutch Pension Fund Buys Stake in Texas Managed Lanes. Pension fund APG from the Netherlands has invested $300 million to acquire a 12.3% equity stake in the North Tarrant Express and a 13.3% stake in the LBJ managed lanes project. Both are being developed by a Cintra/Meridiam concession company. Both concessions are for 52 years.

Source of the summaries: Robert Poole, the Reason Foundation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Take the Rail to Watch a Rainbow Warriors Game?

It's 2023. The rail hui won and got rail running.

The Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii are having their homecoming game. Two families of four, one from Makiki and another from Kapolei are getting ready to attend the game. Both of them will go by rail.

How much will each family pay in fares? Thirty four dollars for eight adult tickets at $4.25 each. Not a bargain. (The $4.25 is based on city estimates. Actual fare will likely be higher. For example today’s adult fare on the BART from the Fruitvale TOD to Embarcadero is $3.55.)

The rail does not go to Makiki or Kapolei as it does not go to over 90% of places and neighborhoods on Oahu.

Walking to the nearest station is too far and they are thinking that by the time they’re back it'll be too late to wait for a bus. Both decide to drive to the nearest station. So both families spend 10 to 15 minutes and gas to get to the station by car.

The Makiki family cheated and parked at Ala Moana Center, but the lots were quite full so it took them a while to find a spot. The shopping center is working on a plan to curb rail freeloaders. The Kapolei family drove to the park-and-ride facility but the lot was full so, like many others, they parked on the grass and hoped to avoid a ticket.

It's Saturday and instead of the weekend schedule the City is paying heavy overtime to run trains at a fast schedule to accommodate the Aloha Stadium ridership. The Rainbow Express and other bus routes to the stadium have been cut. All transit users have to take a feeder bus to a rail station. The glory days of TheBus are over. It’s been “restructured.”

Trains run every 5 minutes. Trains run full with 300 passengers and half of them are standings all the way. In two hours, full trains manage to get 12,000 people to Aloha Stadium. But this fills only 24% of Aloha Stadium’s seats. The other three quarters must arrive by car, taxi, limo or bus.

So far the two families spent about 45 minutes to reach the crowded Aloha Stadium rail station. After a long walk and a couple road crossings they are at their seats.

UH wins. Go Warriors!

Now 12,000 people start walking to the station. They are tired and would like to go home. Many have an early church service or other early to dos on Sunday. (They'll need a car for those activities.)

The trains are running like mad. People pack in like sardines. Each train picks up 300 people at a time…. 300 eastbound and 300 westbound. But there are 12,000 people who need to go home.

How long do they have to wait? The very first 600 people got lucky and had no wait. The very last 600 had to wait for 76 minutes!

The average waiting time to board a train for all the folks who went to Aloha Stadium by rail was 38 minutes.

Tempers flare, BO and beer smells. Pushes, shoves. Some groping and pickpocketing too. The Kapolei and Makiki families are tired, frustrated and very late.

Thirty four bucks for this? Never again!

Rail wins? We lose!

It's a lose-lose. Here is why:

If rail is a success and people use it in large numbers, then it'll be overcrowded, smelly, and expensive. Most people will travel as standees and a lot of time will be wasted in waiting and transferring. Why is this better than using a bus or being in bumper to bumper traffic? Why did the average family of four have to pay $20,000 to build this rail?

If rail is a failure and only ex-bus riders, carpool passengers and a few others use it (these are the usual riders of modern rail systems) then why did we spend six billion dollars for an underutilized system that did nothing to relieve traffic congestion?

If we install a 19th century "solution" for our 21st century problem of traffic congestion, then there’s no win.

Today’s population has a complex and diverse demand for mobility that stems from our independent, multi-purpose life-style. Only unscrupulous transit professionals and misinformed politicians would claim that a single line of rail with 20 stations is a mobility and congestion solution for our island.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Free Bus?

That's a question that comes up often in public forums I attend. Why don't we make public transit like Honolulu's TheBus free?

The Transportation Research Board, a unit of the National Academy of Engineering has just released a report titled Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems.

The quotes below help us conclude that tiny systems like the one on the Big Island are better of being free because it costs more to collect money than the money that will be actually collected. Large systems like Honolulu's can't be run for free. They will run out of funds quickly and they'll likely become movable homeless shelters. Recall that TheBus is cutting routes because it cannot afford its fuel bill. Actual ridership of free bus systems also showed that free bus does not translate into less traffic congestion because even at zero cost, too few motorists switch to the bus.

Here are the main findings of the report:
  1. No public transit system in the United States with more than 100 buses currently offers fare-free service. (Honolulu TheBus has over 550 buses.)
  2. The largest jurisdictions currently providing fare-free service are Indian River County, Florida, and the island of Hawaii, both with populations of approximately 175,000. (The free bus on the Big Island basically transports workers from Hilo to resorts in Kailua-Kona.)
  3. Fare-free public transit makes the most internal business sense for systems in which the percentage of farebox revenue to operating expenses is quite low. In such cases, the cost associated with collecting and accounting for fares and producing fare media is often close to, or exceeds, the amount of revenue that would be collected from passengers.
  4. Providing fare-free public transit service is virtually certain to result in significant ridership increases no matter where it is implemented. Ridership will usually increase from 20% to 60% in a matter of just a few months. (Note: It's worth exploring a low cost bus fare between the Waianae coast communities and the Kapolei transit center.)
  5. Some public transit systems that have experimented with or implemented a fare-free policy have been overwhelmed by the number of new passengers or been challenged by the presence of disruptive passengers, including loud teenagers and vagrants.
  6. Systems offering fare-free service in areas of higher potential demand for public transit need to be aware that increased ridership might also result in the need for additional maintenance, security, and possibly additional equipment to provide sufficient capacity and/or maintain schedules.
  7. A relatively small percentage of the additional trips (from 5% to 30%) were made by people switching from other motorized modes. Most new trips were made by people who would have otherwise walked or used a bicycle, or would not have made the trip if there was a fare to pay.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New Lane on EB H-1 Freeway!

Bravo Hawaii DOT. Now the Koko Head bound (east-bound, or EB) direction at Makiki has four through lanes between Ward Ave. and Punahou St. With a simple re-stripping, the freeway viaduct over Piikoi St. changed from a total of 6 lanes to 8. That's a 30% improvement for "peanuts."

Before the EB Vineyard Boulevard on-ramp the freeway has its the typical 3-lane configuration, like so:

The new lane is the continuation of the fourth lane that comes from the Vineyard Boulevard on-ramp like so:

The Ward Avenue on-ramp adds a fifth lane but this lane merges onto the fourth lane. Now next to the Piikoi Street on-ramp the freeway is 4 lanes wide!

This location was a perennial midday bottleneck. Now outside the peak hours, flow should be much smoother on both directions. Recall that the west-bound direction was modified from 3 to 4 lanes a couple weeks earlier, as presented here.