October 1992 Home   Newsletters

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President's Message (Arlene Ellis)
Policy Statement on Alternatives to Rail for Honolulu (Astrid Monson)
Voter Service Committee Highlights (Jacqueline Vogt)
People's Water Conference #9
Help! Help!
Membership Directory
General Membership Meeting
Voter Service
Silver Legislature at the State Capitol Building
Day for Women
Would This Work Here? California Town Confronts Deficit
Public Forum - Ottawa's Bus Rapid Transit

Policy Statement on Alternatives to Rail Rapid Transit for Honolulu

"The central theme of any transit strategy that is to be successful must be the concept of priority for public vehicles at some discomfort to riders of private vehicles... .What is needed is a strategy to make better use of existing resources ... Buses are inherently capable of average speeds equivalent to those of rail rapid transit ... They can attract patronage and operate at per passenger mile costs similar to those of the rail alternative. . .The only difference is the capital price tag."

Andrew Hamer, 1977

It is not the 10% of Oahu's workers who commute by bus who are causing our traffic congestion. It is the 80% who drive, two-thirds of whom drive alone.

For over twenty years the city has followed a policy of "balanced" transportation-- of improving highway facilities while at the same time planning to build rail for those who will use it. It hasn't worked. The proportion using transit has gone down while highway congestion has increased. With rail costs insupportable, the time has come to develop a new transportation policy.

We have defined as alternatives to rail a number of "TSM" (traffic systems management) measures, some of which have been adopted. These were geared principally to helping automobiles to move easily and rapidly on existing streets and highways.

What we have not done is to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve our existing mass transit system -TheBUS. Whether deliberately or out of neglect, the number of buses on the road has remained virtually constant for years, service on many routes has been cut, and potential passengers, faced with long waits and standing room only, have abandoned transit and gone back to their cars.

For medium-sized cities - population 500,000 to 1,500,000 -- the "bus rapid transit" approach is gaining increasing acceptance. Such a system can be developed incrementally, step by step, and used as each element is completed. The cost is far less than that of rail. Its principal elements, as applied to Oahu, could be:

  1. Give priority on existing roads and freeways to public and other transit vehicles during peak commuter periods. Measures to include signal priority at intersections and more HOV, reversible and contra-flow lanes. Rules to be enforced.

  2. Expand bus fleet to 600 (more or less), including shuttles, hill climbers, articulated buses, and other transit vehicles geared to specific needs and conditions. Increase express bus service.

  3. Integrate into the system private transit and para-transit services, such as BusPlus, licensed jitneys, ride-share programs, etc. Designate selected appropriate lanes on existing roadways for exclusive use by buses and other transit vehicles only, during peak periods.

  4. Develop a bus rapid transit system on exclusive busways and transitways, integrating the above but also, if necessary constructing limited over- or under-passes, or grade separation where essential.

  5. Apply selected viable TSM alternatives. (See OMPO study.) Include elimination of free or heavily subsidized downtown parking, employer provision of free bus passes, staggered work hours or flextime, school and special UH buses, and other incentives geared to encourage transit usage, not easier automobile usage.

Some will say that giving priority over the private car to public transit will result in more traffic congestion, not less. This would certainly be true if bus service remained unsatisfactory. This is why we have to have more buses, more express buses, greater accessibility, better routes, better schedules, more reliability, enough seats, and bus-only lanes allowing speeds of 30 or 40 miles per hour without interference from other vehicles or cross traffic.

In Ottawa, Canada -- a city about Honolulu's size -they have a nineteen-mile bus rapid transit system, with 28 stations and 85 million passengers a year. Transit usage has increased two and a half times since the '70's. Transit use per person is up 60%; 70% of downtown work trips now use transit; seven out of every ten households includes a transit user; even including stops, buses average 27 to 35 miles an hour.

With a bus rapid transit system in operation, commuters could choose between a rapid, comfortable bus trip at speeds better driving, or crawling along bumper-tobumper. If even 10% of them shifted to the bus, automobile traffic would be reduced more than the rail system was projected to achieve.

And, we would have reduced automobile usage and increased transit ridership without compulsion or monetary penalties -- surely the aim of any rational transportation policy.

Astrid Monson
Chair, Transit Study Committee
October 14, 1992

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