Honolulu’s Mass Transit Rail

Honolulu’s Mayor is holding the 2nd Annual Transit Symposium. This symposium is scheduled for Tuesday, November 13, 2007 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall in the Pikake Room. This is certainly a way for citizens to see the real impact of this rather unpopular project, and to ask questions of some experts.

Mass Transit Rail System

Is this what it will look like? Will there be drawings of what they’re envisioning for us? Is it worth the expense? Are we giving up too much of our skyline for this? Yes, we need help with the traffic situation, but will people actually use the darn thing?

Mayor Mufi Hannemann is excited about this event and the City and County of Honolulu’s Public Communications Division quotes the mayor saying, “There is much that we can learn from these cities about what works and what doesn’t.” It is very important that we avoid what doesn’t work! I also think the mayor is trying to get others excited about this project too. You can’t blame him for that I suppose.

I’m trying to be fair about this thing. There are places that have good things to report like this award-winning one in Arkansas as reported by Scientific Frontline. When they say things like, “Planning study shows how light rail development in Northwest Arkansas could maintain economic competitiveness and spur environmental sustainability,” how can we not be at least a little inquisitive? (Mahalo to the Voxant Newsroom for that tidbit.)

The symposium will have leaders from Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco and Denver in attendance. These are people who have reportedly developed fixed guideway transit systems and created transit oriented development in their own cities. I won’t be able to be there, darn it! I hope there will be a lot of coverage because, what we thought would just go away as a bad idea, looks like it’s here to stay. We might as well get used to it. To be continued…

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30 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pua // Nov 8, 2007 at 11:01 am

    hey you guys have already a well functioning bus system, which residents + tourists use quite frequently. this might be another good way to reduce pollution on the islands from bus and car traffic. you should see car traffic on the big island (kona!) with no real public bus service available. one can’t count the hele-on. aloha, pua

  • 2 Evelyn // Nov 8, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Good morning, Pua. When was the last time you were here on Oahu? It’s getting so bad! We have more cars than people, I swear! We do have a wonderful bus system. It’s very efficient, very well-managed, but the fact remains that people would rather drive their cars. Even with the price of gas the way it is the roads are packed!

    The last bus strike killed us — it let everyone find out how wonderful it is to drive their own car rather than ride a public bus. You should see the price of parking in downtown Honolulu! I walk, but only because I’m close enough that I can. I don’t like this mass transit thing, I’m still mad at the Mayor about this and other things, but, it’s looking more and more reasonable.

    Trying to be open-minded and intelligent. My biggest worry is that people will still insist on driving rather than riding. Time will tell.

  • 3 Dave // Nov 8, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Evelyn, I saw your article linked from another former Hawaiian’s blog and thought I would say a quick “hello”.

    I spent my childhood in Hawaii (in Honolulu), though I’ve since left and settled on the “mainland” in San Francisco.

    No flames intended here, this is just opinion. Hawaii is a wonderful place, but I do think that it is unfortunate that Honolulu lacks a viable mass transit offering (beyond buses). I believe Hawaii has the dubious distinction of being the only municipality in the U.S. to turn down federal funds for a fixed-rail project not once, not twice, but three times over the last several decades. This, at a time when other cities were able to seize the vision and build successful transit systems (here I’m thinking of Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas and even Los Angeles among others).

    I think people fear the unknown. If they’ve never experienced a city with great or even decent transit options (think Paris or Tokyo), they don’t know what they’re missing out on. San Francisco has a decent offering (good compared to other U.S. cities, but the U.S. lags behind Asia and Europe in this respect). Trains are desirable because they are much more comfortable and faster than buses. But ultimately, a system that integrates these two modes is ideal.

    Will it reduce traffic congestion? Probably not. BUT, it will give people choices and a really nice alternative. And it will encourage better land use planning and development around transit hubs.

    Whether or not an elevated rail is the right solution is another question. But I’m pulling for Hawaii to use some of that Island ingenuity to come up with a creative way to make something work.

    Best of luck with this…my only fear is that this project stalls and some other municipality that has its act together will be granted the federal funds and Hawaii will be out of the running for another decade or two…

  • 4 Evelyn // Nov 8, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Hi Dave! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be getting the negative publicity it did at first. That’s why I was hoping for extensive coverage of this upcoming symposium.

    I’ll admit that I was against it as well. But, the more I read about the other cities and look at the mess we’re in, the better it’s sounding. If we can just avoid the pitfalls that other cities have already had to overcome, i.e. learn from their mistakes!

    Please come around once in a while and let us know what you’re thinking about. 🙂

  • 5 Link Sharing: 11/9/07 » Webomatica - Technology and Entertainment Digest // Nov 9, 2007 at 2:29 am

    […] Honolulu’s Mass Transit Rail: Picture of what it might look like. Personally, I think this is overdue. […]

  • 6 Mike Hu // Nov 9, 2007 at 9:36 am

    Council Barbara Marshall has the best idea yet: make the buses totally free.

    The Mayor says it would cost the city $40 million a year in lost revenue. However, $40 million into $5 billion would even out in 125 and then save the $40 million a year to subsidize the rail system.

    Except for a few peak loads, the buses are running empty — and it’s not going to help the traffic situation by having a rail option running empty in addition to the buses.

    The other great idea is the high-occupancy (toll) road to manage traffic flow.

    Or, I suppose we could continue the OPTION of paying ten times as much while taking twice as long — as another city-inspired “success” story like The Boat.

  • 7 Evelyn // Nov 9, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Hi Mike! Good to hear from you. I have heard the toll road and bridges mentioned before. A lot of people think that would be a good idea as well. Thanks for stopping by and talking about things. 🙂 We’ve got to do something, that’s for sure!

  • 8 Mike Hu // Nov 9, 2007 at 11:15 am

    We’ve got to do the right thing, and not just something, or anything. Just doing something is not going to solve the problem, because people are doing something — but not the right thing.

    It’s a lot like exercise — or doing anything for that matter, the right thing is not the same as just doing something, or anything — because people are doing something, which causes the problems.

    And that problem is that people drive their vehicles as single occupants at the same time that everybody else does — and wonder why all those other fools are getting in their way.

    Rail systems work wonderfully in high population desities of 20,000 people per square mile because that implies a critical mass, concentration and intensity of human activity — that doesn’t happen when population densities are 2,000 per square mile as it is through most of the route the rail would be traveling through.

    Honolulu won’t be a New York, Paris, London, Tokyo — and to many people, that is a good thing, and why they like coming to Hawaii and living here.

    A totally free public bus service for a large bus system, is world-class thinking — just as a world-class biking system would be. But just to build a rail thinking that is going to solve a traffic problem — is purely wishful thinking, because most of that population still has to drive or take the bus to get to the rail, and you’r no better off.

    Rail systems are successful because people don’t drive or take the bus to it.

  • 9 Evelyn // Nov 9, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    That’s why, Mike, that I’m hoping this symposium will shed some light on what works and what doesn’t! Are you going to be able to make it there? I need to find a way to get there to at least grab some literature. Sigh.

  • 10 Mike Hu // Nov 9, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, you can find out all you want to know about rail and other transportation solutions. The problem with attending those city-sponsored symposiums is that you only find out what they want you to know — and not all there is to know.

    If you go to Ask.com and inquire about rail systems, they’ll tell you when rail is appropriate and an overwhelming success and when it isn’t. The chief factor is population density; you can’t ignore that.

    And when they’re talking about a pricetag of $5 billion, that’s cash upfront — and not financing, which is not free. The city of Seattle was contemplating a rail system of $5 billion and when they figured in the financing, the final pricetag came to $30 billion — whereupon, they all turned against it.

    I’m surprised people are still debating it — for a lot of these middle-sized cities, although if one attends these city-sponsored symposiums, they’ll tell us Honolulu is the fifth largest city in the US, and all kinds of things you know not to be true so why bother?

    Let them tell it to somebody who hasn’t heard those lies before; maybe some people were just born yesterday.

  • 11 mel // Nov 13, 2007 at 11:50 am

    This rail proposal would not have gotten this far if it were not for the fact that on July 11, 2005, Governor Linda Lingle let the GE Tax increase bill beomce law without her signature.

    The fact that it did (Act 247 Session Laws 2005) allowed the City and County of Honolulu to enact that tax this year, and now without a single spike driven into the ground, we are already paying for what could be the biggest financial boondoggle ever for the city. I hate paying the extra 12.5% on our pyramidding GET to pay for a train that will 1. not ease congestion at all and 2. will not achieve the kind of ridership the city hopes to attract.

    Let’s face it. This is America. We love our cars. We won’t get out of our cars, even if gas sells for over $4 a gallon. The automobile gives us the personal freedom to come and go as we please in a manner that is convenient and highly presonalized. You can’t get that standing up in a bus or riding on a choo choo train.

    And the $5 BILLION figure the city is now kicking around went up from the $3 BILLION they played with only a few months ago. In January of 2007 Cliff Slater from HonoluluTraffic.com stated that the cost to build rail was already $6.4 BILLION. I highly suspect that figure is larger now.

    Rail… a terrible waste of taxpayer money!

  • 12 Evelyn // Nov 14, 2007 at 6:51 am

    Hiya Mel! I can’t say that I disagree with you because I don’t. I hate the new tax, I hate spending money for nothing and I’m most fearful that your comment about people not giving up their cars is going to end up our biggest nemesis! If you’ve got to sit for a while you might as well do it where you can be comfortable and have some privacy. I understand it. I used to drive from Makaha to UH three or four times a week for five years. I needed time to put on my mascara! 🙂

    The problem the way I see it is you either have to dump your car somewhere with no security (I’ve been ripped off at least three or four times so I’m sensitive to such things), or you have to catch the bus to get to the point where the rail has a loading platform (or whatever they call it). By that time I would be half way to my destination.

    Much like the Federal income tax we pay every year, I don’t see our increased tax rate ever going back to where it was because there will be one reason after another why we need money to sustain the rail and the staff that is needed to maintain and run it. More jobs, but at what price? Could we get private enterprise to run it? Uh, if you were a company with the capability of doing so, would you want to even attempt it after the Superferry fiasco? *Cha-ching!* More money out the window.

    Anyway, thank you for including that reference to the Law… I was wondering how he got away with that. I obviously missed that juicy piece of news. Where was the Gov? Why did it get passed without her? That was a serious question.

    I wish I could say you are wrong, Mel, but I can’t seem to figure out how to do that. Toll roads didn’t even seem to enter the discussions… except among citizens… you know citizens? The ones who pay for these things? You know… like you and me? Sigh. Now you’ve got me ranting again. I was trying to be nice and level-headed about this. We should just start a new post and call it, “Let’s Talk About the Rail” and the whole body of the post will be the comments. 🙂

    Thank you, Mel, I really do appreciate your comments… even if you did make me bristle again! 😛

  • 13 Mallory // May 17, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Hawaii is a very unique and special place. It’s where I and many others call home. After living in Los Angeles for a year, I realized how truly beautiful our state is and with this mass transit rail system, that beauty will surely diminish. Honolulu already looks like any other mainland city. I really don’t believe that it will help the traffic either. The traffic is caused by more than just people choosing to drive to work. The never ending road work, the lane closures, the HPDs lack of readiness in an accident. I just can’t see it helping a whole lot. We’ve already spent our hard earned money on these ridiculous ideas that never work.

    All in all, I’m opposing the mass transit system. Besides, I guarantee that the people who are for all of this will still drive to work.

  • 14 Evelyn // May 17, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Thank you, Mallory, for your visit and for your comment. Your comment holds a lot of weight because it is from a little bit more of an objective position than the rest of us.

    I think you’re right about the supporters being the ones who don’t use it! Let’s make all the officials catch TheRail and impound their cars! 🙂

    Do sign the petition, Mallory! I hope everyone does.

  • 15 Mallory // May 18, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Where do I go to sign the petition? I know tons of people who will sign it too.


  • 16 Evelyn // May 18, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    I’ll go find out if there is an easy way to get this done and post it here. In the mean time, you might want to follow this link and watch this video about the absurdity of it all!

  • 17 Evelyn // May 18, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Here is the link. You can print out the form, get as many signatures as you can and mail it in!

  • 18 mel // May 19, 2008 at 5:32 am

    Stop Rail Now will be holding an open house at their tiny office on South Street:

    From their newsletter:

    Please mark your calendars for the grand opening of our campaign HQ Tuesday afternoon/evening, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. The Stop Rail Now Headquarters is located at 627 South Street.

    More info and to volunteer, go to stoprailnow.com.

  • 19 mel // May 19, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Stop Rail Now’s open house has been rescheduled:

    “We’ve had to reschedule our grand opening’s date and time The new firm date/time is next Monday, May 26th, at Noon The Stop Rail Now Headquarters is located at 627 South Street, upstairs in Suite 4, between Halekauwila and Queen Street. Our phone number is 536-4384 and our e-mail is info@stoprailnow.com. You’re invited to stop by, visit with campaign leaders and fellow volunteers, enjoy light refreshments, and find out the latest news with the initiative campaign. We’ll also might do some signwaving and do some nearby

    The press is also being invited . . . so you might even be asked how for your opinion about the Mayor’s rail project.”

  • 20 Evelyn // May 20, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you, Mel! I cannot tell you just how important both your support and updates are to me! You’re the best! Thank you for keeping us informed on this!

  • 21 Manny // Jul 1, 2008 at 3:06 am

    I work in the middle east and vacation in Thailand. Bangkok has a elevated rail system that has been in operation for the last 4 or 5 years and I have visited Bangkok before and after the skytrain started operation.
    Here are my views of thier mass transit system.
    Before the skytrain opened for operation the only ways to commute through Bangkok was by taxi, bus,and to a lesser extent the highspeed canal boats. sitting in gridlock for 2 hours was a daily experience for commuters.
    Opening of the skytrain did not end gridlock in Bangkok but it has seemed to me to lessen it a bit. But for those who were able to take advantage of the skytrain commuter times were cut to about 30 minutes during peak rush hour. The speed you could fly across the city was a revelation to commuters. The trains did not have to deal with gridlock and could travel from station to station at 40 to 50 mph. During rush hours the trains are packed but the 20 minutes you are actually in the train is not unbearable. The skytrain has been such a success in Bangkok since it’s opening they have built a subwayline and are expanding the skytrain to reach further out of the city and linking the international airport.
    The skytrain was not a cure all for rush hour traffic but what it created was better options for commuters. If speed during rush hour was what you craved you use the skytrain. If the ability to visit areas not serviced by the train is important to you or you had a large group of commuters you carpooled (taxi or private vehicle, more economical). The bus system is still in place but they have retired the oldest and most polluting ones lessening air pollution.

    These are my views on Bangkoks skytrain and I think it would have similiar benefits for Oahu residents.
    Mahalo for reading my comments.

  • 22 D. M. Johnston // Jul 7, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Living in Vancouver, I am astounded that Honolulu, is planning to build a SkyTrain light-metro. SkyTrain has crippled transit in the region as it is too expensive to expand and highways become a cheaper option and it has sucked, like a black-hole, money from the rest of the public transit system.

    The total cost so far of the proprietary light-metro system is now nearing $6 billion, yet transit ridership, as a percentage of population, has remained at 11%. 80% of SkyTrain ridership are forced to transfer from buses so TransLink can claim high ridership, if the truth were to be known, ridership is less than claimed.

    SkyTrain cost twice as much to operate than Calgary’s LRT system (real LRT), which carries more passengers per day.

    SkyTrain would be a financial disaster.

  • 23 Evelyn // Jul 7, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Thank you, D.M., for weighing in on this and letting us know about the dangers we may face financially. There are a lot of us who are not happy about the whole thing!

    Again, I appreciate hearing from those who are in the middle of things. Oahu is different from most places but they challenges and the hardships are the same. So, thank you!

  • 24 D. M. Johnston // Jul 7, 2008 at 8:14 pm


    Here is a July 7, 2008 poll on CKNW Radio’s web site – 80.7% of Vancouver’s residents do not feel safe at a SkyTrain station.

    Tonight I have been reading much about Honolulu’s Mayor comments on SkyTrain, he has been sold a ‘bill of goods.’ Many TransLink employees find jobs with Bombardier Inc., the sole supplier of the proprietary metro system.

    Treat Translink’s ridership claims of ridership for SkyTrain with a ‘grain of salt’ as Translink’s ridership numbers can have never been independently verified.

  • 25 Evelyn // Jul 7, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Really? Well, well, well! Now doesn’t that open a can of worms. I’ll be honest and say that I am worried about the stations and spaces under the rail becoming places for homeless people, prostitutes and drug dealers. It hasn’t been built yet and I’m already afraid to be at those places.

    I will certainly use your comment to back myself up, if you don’t mind. It’s nice to know that I’m not crazy. I keep getting the visual of the movie, “Warriors.” A movie all about gangs who hung out in and around the subways. It gives me the creeps to think it could happen! Okay, maybe it’s an overstatement but I’ll wager not much! 🙂

    Thanks again!

  • 26 mel // Jul 7, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    We already have homeless people who use bus stations as shelters and toilets. I can imagine how bad it will be when the bigger train stations open and scores of homeless occupy those spaces when the rail is built. Surely the drug dealers, users and prostitutes are soon to follow.

  • 27 Evelyn // Jul 7, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Those are the visuals I keep having, Mel! I guess a lot of us are thinking the same way but not talking about the horrible because it does sound sensational. But, I honestly don’t think we’re wrong. I have to talk about our new candidate for mayor! 😉

  • 28 D. M. Johnston // Jul 8, 2008 at 5:59 am

    The problem with SkyTrain is that it is produced by Bombardier Inc., a favoured Canadian (Quebec) company which have very close ties with the federal and provincial governments. Vancouver’s SkyTrain projects have never been scrutinized by the public, but have been forced upon us with little or no debate.

    “You will get SkyTrain whether you like it or not.” were quoted by two different Premiers (1 right wing and the other left wing) forcing SkyTrain onto the taxpayer.

    Much of the stats from TransLink are not true and also remember that BC Transit, the first operating authority, was in partnership with Bombardier to sell SkyTrain abroad.

    Translink’s SkyTrain ridership stats. are pure invention and can’t be statically verified and watch out for the TransLink’s spin doctors, they would even make Herr Goebels blush.

    Canadian politics allow this nonsense to happen as the Premier and or Prime Minister have absolute dictatorial powers, with no public oversight, until the next election. True to say Canada isn’t very democratic and much of the safety valves in the US are just not available here in Canada.

    Just ask yourselves this, why, after being on the market for 30 years, SkyTrain has gone through 5 official names, ICTS; ALRT (2 versions); ALM; and now ART. Only 5 SkyTrain systems are operating, compared with almost 250 new LRT lines built, under construction, or in advanced stages of planning, around the world.

    You are being sold swampland in Florida.

  • 29 D. M. Johnston // Jul 8, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    For Evelyn – lots of ammunition here!

    For the past many years, I have been keeping transit experts appraised of our SkyTrain light-metro projects. Unlike TransLink’s consultants for hire , these chaps have given us a World Class view on how our so-called experts and consultants have achieved. It isn’t a pretty sight!

    Three e-mails, contains words of wisdom that everyone supporting SkyTrain, ignores.

    “Thanks for this – the whole situation in Vancouver bemuses us. We cannot imagine such an internecine “politik” running here in the UK.
    Understand the X files were filmed in your part of the world. Perhaps that explains it…….”

    “Thanks for this. As usual life in the transit business in the UK seems so mild compared to the hotbeds of transit in Vancouver! Really we look at this stuff in growing disbelief. Perhaps it’s out innate British character of always using extreme understatement to describe even the most perilous position.

    You know the sort of thing. A British Apollo 13 crew might have reported to Mission Control that “things are a trifle tricky at the moment”.

    Politics are the same really and we certainly have cultural shock with your more highly burlesque style of local politics and the public arena battles in the media. Perhaps we really are “a common people separated only by a
    common language” – Churchill was it?

    Please keep us up to date on the next thrilling instalment.”

    “Thanks for this – as always we become more and more bemused. It really is difficult to see what the proponents have to gain [as it were] and more importantly why their colleagues in political power or in opposition – or the federal authorities don’t call a halt to this tiresome behaviour, which is clearly perverse in some way, if only in that it seems to contradict what
    every other city and conurbation is doing. The only other case, of similar behaviour, which springs to mind was the construction of the guided bus in Adelaide to the north east suburbs some years ago and the moves to close the tramway to the south-side. Usual rubbish about cheaper to build and run and so on. Usual result – a bus is a bus and people “don’t do buses” anymore.
    “sorry chuck, you can’t fool me – it’s a bus”.

    Funny how these bus systems are always “tricked out” to disguise they are busses and are styled to look like trams. It is also dangerous for any transit system to be “product locked” into a particular suppliers patent system when looking at best value for extension and refurbishment and renewals. Almost like buying betamax video systems in the 1980’s.

    One of the major problems for LRT is that many systems are designed and deployed by heavy rail people and are often over the top in terms of cost as a result, so much so that building the system as heavy rail would have cost as much. Many new LRT systems world-wide are too often simply heavy rail infrastructure with “lightweight” LR rolling stock. In the UK this is a major barrier for developing secondary heavy rail routes since even the most remote branch lines need to comply with mainline ” Group Standards”. The point that many of these secondary lines were never built originally in this way to comply with high speed main lines standards.

    Proper light rail modus operandi could be a branch line blessing in the UK as elsewhere. We can hope that the disaster of rail privatisation requiring the UK Government to declare it will “invest” £35 Billion to rescue Railtrack Ltd from bankruptcy just about sums things up to the ever gullible taxpayer over here. Of course this public taxpayers money isn’t to denationalise the fixed assets of British Rail, but to create a “special purpose vehicle” – a new private company to acquire the assts and operate them on a not for profit basis – something some of us thought Railtrack had done quite well! ”

    These guys know that out politicians are idiots!

  • 30 Evelyn // Jul 8, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    All the more reason, D.M., that we should have an engineer in the office that is pushing this! We need a politician who will NOT be fed nonsense and propaganda from people looking to make a buck! Snakes! Thanks for the amo, D.M.!

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