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Consensus on Rail Transit
STATEMENT: May 18, 1990
The proposed fixed guideway rail system's high costs are not justified by the almost meaningless reduction in traffic that it can be expected to bring. Giving drivers incentives to take The Bus or to car pool; giving them disincentives to use their cars; making better, more efficient use of buses; and providing additional buses will reduce traffic congestion by a comparable (or higher) degree -- and will do it in a manner that is far less costly and disruptive, more socially equitable, and more quickly realized.
If needs, technology, or demography change, rail may be reconsidered and judged appropriate at some future date. For now, however, for the reasons cited above, the League of Women Voters of Honolulu views the proposed rail system with disfavor.
1. AUTOMOBILE TRAFFIC AND HIGHWAYS
Honolulu has a peak-hour traffic problem. It can be expected to grow worse, although to some extent, gridlock is a self-limiting problem. That is, once it happens, people will be induced to turn to alternative means of commuting, and when they do, this will alleviate traffic somewhat.
Much of the problem stems from having too many cars carrying just one passenger. Drivers continue to see the costs of commuting in their own cars as being balanced by benefits in time and convenience.
Other elements contributing to the congestion are too few buses; infrequent bus service; lax enforcement of bans on peak-hour parking on heavily trafficked streets; and subsidized parking for employees in both the private and public sectors.
Approaches to dealing with some of these problems include: helping traffic flow by constructing viaducts at key intersections; developing park-and-ride lots along bus lines; encouraging owners of parking lot that are used little during the work week to rent out parking spaces to commuters, who could then bus the remainder of the distance into the central city area; making more extensive use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes and contra-flow traffic patterns; and eliminating all free parking. Also, employers should be encouraged to give workers flexible hours and to decentralize their operations, perhaps through the use of telecommuting centers.
2. THE BUS
Today options for commuters are limited to basically two: private cars (single-occupancy or car pools) or The Bus. The private market could be encouraged to give commuters a wider range of choices. Guaranteed-seat vans, providing door-to-door service on a subscription basis, might encourage more people to get out of their cars.
Scheduling and timing of bus runs must be improved as a means of encouraging ridership during peak traffic periods.
Another reason many people are disinclined to use The Bus is the crowding. Many riders, especially the elderly, who ride free, are not on their way to jobs, but are simply on their way to visit friends or shop. This segment of The Bus' clientele should be discouraged from riding et peak hours. One way to accomplish this would be to allow the use of free bus passes for senior citizens only during non-peak hours.
Students also make up a sizable segment of peak-hour ridership. We would suggest that MTL work with private schools to develop special ways of dealing with students. If bus service could be tailored to serve their needs, the, benefits would be two-fold: First, seats on buses serving the central area would be freed up for people who work there; second, students who now drive (or who have their parents drop them off and pick them up) would be able to take The Bus more easily, taking more cars off the roads.
The Bus should also consider special express buses, where riders would pay a premium for guaranteed seating.
3. FIXED GUIDEWAY (RAIL) SYSTEM
The League disagrees strongly with the position that immediate construction of a fixed guide way transit system is necessary to alleviate Oahu's traffic problems. Ridership projections supplied by the City and County of Honolulu suggest it will at best result in a small percentage reduction on traffic (and even that will not necessarily occur at peak-hour times). Construction costs will far exceed costs of improved traffic system management options, to say nothing of the disruption to traffic that will occur during the years it takes to build the rail system.
If fares are not raised, the costs will be borne by the taxpayer, and most likely through an increase in the excise tax -- one of the most regressive means of raising revenue. If fares are raised, ridership would likely decrease -- resulting possibly in fewer people using the rail system than now ride The Bus. This has been the experience in several U.S. cities where elaborate fixed guideway transit systems have been installed.
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