Tipping the scales on rail

In February 2012, Honolulu Rail Transit received approval from the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) to move forward with the next phase of construction. This means work on foundations, columns, a maintenance and storage facility, and stations in Waipahu. This month, utilities are being relocated and soil-samples are being taken along Farrington Highway; pre-engineering crews are working along Kamehameha Highway for the second section of the transit route; and archeological survey work will resume in urban Honolulu.

But public support seems to be waning. Opinion polls reveal that 53% (Honolulu Star-Advertiser) or 55% (Civil Beat) of likely voters on Oahu oppose rail.

Meanwhile, the House Budget Committee proposed a 36% cut to the Highway Trust Fund last month – which could affect federal funding of Honolulu Rail. And HonoluluTraffic.com’s legal action against the FTA and the city of Honolulu is still in progress.

Whether you support or oppose Honolulu Rail, let’s take a moment and consider the “opportunity costs” of rail. Here are five things we could be doing right now to improve traffic with the Honolulu Rail Transit funds:

1. Build more TheBus park-and-ride facilities. There are currently only five park-and-ride facilities, in Hawaii Kai, Mililani, Royal Kunia, Wahiawa, and Haleiwa. We could build more parking facilities near bus routes, which would encourage bus ridership.

2. Integrate public school buses with public bus service. The Hawaii Department of Education is requesting $42 million for school bus service for the 2012-2013 school year, but may have to eliminate school bus service on Oahu entirely because of budget cut-backs. The city of Honolulu has already stated that it cannot expand its service to accommodate students. One alternative is to add more city buses before and after school, with special routes that stop at public schools.

3. Install more electric charging stations for hybrid buses. TheBus has 60 hybrid buses (11% of the fleet) and has purchased 19 more hybrid buses. Hawaii’s EV Ready Program will install 120 charging stations at 100 stations around the state. But we need charging stations for buses too.

4. Add “Special Event” bus routes. Five Oahu venues could really benefit from special bus routes: Aloha Stadium (for swap meets, football games, carnivals); Magic Island (for carnivals and fireworks); the North Shore (for surfing competitions); the State Capitol, Civic Fairgrounds, and Honolulu Hale (for special events and rallies); and Waikiki (for parades, fireworks, and block parties).

5. Start an electric car sharing service. Honolulu could start an electric car sharing service so that legal drivers could rent a car by the hour, including car insurance, within urban areas like Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. Instead of driving a car and paying for gas and parking, people could rent a car for 1-3 hours and return it to be recharged when they are done. Companies like Zipcar.com and cities like San Francisco (citycarshare.org), Philadelphia (phillycarshare.org), and Boulder (carshare.org) are already doing it. Why not Hawaii?

If nothing else, the tax that funds rail transit could be allowed to expire, so that taxpayers can choose how to spend their money.

Do you think Honolulu Rail Transit can be built, on schedule and on budget? Will you ride it? What would make you give up your car?

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