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by Panos Prevedouros

Randal O’Toole, economist and author of several books on transportation and urban planning was in Honolulu last week where he spoke on two distinguished panels in Kapolei and in Honolulu.

He summarized his opinion about Honolulu’s rail in this eye-opening Designed to Fail article.

A few highlights:

  • Honolulu rail … will have the high costs of heavy rail and the capacity limits of light rail.
  • Honolulu rail … has too few seats so bus riders question whether people will be willing to stand for 20-minute trips.
  • Honolulu rail … was planned to go to Kapolei, which has about 35,000 people, but the city decided it didn’t have enough money to go that far. Between East Kapolei and Honolulu the rail line will pass through Waipahu (33,000 people), Pearl City (48,000 people), and by Pearl Harbor Naval Base (its 20,000 people work right on the base). The rest of the rail line goes through light industrial and commercial areas. So the rail line will serve, at most, about 15% of the residents of Oahu and probably no more than 20% of the jobs. That means no more than about 3% of workers will both live and work on the rail line.
  • Honolulu rail … ridership projections are questionable and average at 110 passengers on board the two-car trains at any given time. US light-rail cars carry an average of 24 people, and the most crowded in San Diego carry just 37 people, 110 is highly optimistic.
  • Honolulu rail … proponents argue that the project will relieve congestion, but even the final environmental impact statement says that, at every place evaluated, congestion will be worse in 2030 with the project than without it (see page 3-51).
  • Honolulu rail … will not save energy: at 2,020 BTUs per passenger mile, Honolulu’s bus system already uses less energy than almost every other light-rail and heavy-rail line outside of New York City. By 2030, under the Obama fuel economy standards, the average car on the road will also use only about 2,000 BTUs per passenger mile, and cars in Hawaii (where gas prices are higher than the rest of the U.S.) will probably use even less.

Finally speaking about deficient (low) capacity, O’Toole calculates this:
With 64 seats, the two-car trains supposedly have room for 254 standing passengers. But that’s at “crush capacity,” which is far more crowded than Americans are willing to accept. Assuming the city increases the seating to 76 seats, actual loads are likely to be limited to a total of about 150 to 200 people per train. At a maximum of 20 trains an hour in each direction, the line will be able to move about 3,000 to 4,000 people per hour inbound in the morning and a similar number outbound in the afternoon. By comparison, a highway lane can easily move 600 buses per hour, and at 40 seats per bus that represents 24,000 people per hour, none of them having to stand.

Overall O’Toole observes that in order to pay for this and other rail contracts, Honolulu’s city manager quietly “suspended” the city’s debt limit without consulting the city council or, apparently, the mayor. As Wendell Cox points out, the city faces billions of dollars in expenses fixing its sewer, water, and other infrastructure, and spending $5.3 billion on rail, which at best is a luxury (and at worst a curse) will make it harder to do anything else.

Panos Prevedouros is a member of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s Board of Scholars.

Panos Prevedouros’ blog, which is from where this has been reposted (with permission), can be found at :http://fixoahu.blogspot.com

Panos D. Prevedouros, Ph.D. is a professor of traffic and transportation engineering at the Department of Civil Engineering, Univ. of Hawaii-Manoa since 1990. Panos graduated from the Aristotle Univ. of Greece in 1984, and with Masters and PhD degrees in 1990 from Northwestern Univ. (Evanston, IL), a leading academic institution in engineering and transportation. He chairs the Freeway Simulation Subcommittee of the Transportation Research Board. He was president of the Hawaii Highway Users Alliance from 2006 to 2008. Panos co-authored a Transportation Engineering textbook and over 100 reports and technical papers. He received the 2005 Van Wagoner Award of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. He co-organized the 1st International Symposium on Freeway Operations (ISFO) in Athens, Greece, and the 2nd ISFO in Honolulu in June 2009. Dr. Prevedouros served in the Transit Advisory Task Force in 2006 and in the Technology Selection Expert Panel in 2008 of the City Council of Honolulu. He ran for mayor of Honolulu in the 2008 elections and finished 3rd in the primary elections with 18% of the vote from a field of nine candidates.