By Panos Prevedouros, PhD –  Dr. Steve Polzin is a fellow civil engineer with whom I share identical paths in graduate school. He is also earned Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University, a leading institution in transportation studies.

Steve is the director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Transportation and serves on several Transportation Research Board and American Public Transit Association (APTA) Committees. He knows what works and what doesn’t in public transit. In 2006 I nominated him to be the City Council’s coordinator of the Transit Task Force, but everybody else ganged up on me and hired the pre-selected person.

His June 4, 2010 article on “The Cost of Slow Travel” is eye-opening about the pitfalls of mass transit. (Some of the pitfalls can be effectively corrected by running express buses on HOT lanes.) Here is an excerpt from his assessment:

“Transit’s slower average travel speeds result in approximately 3 billion hours annually of additional travel time. If valued at the TTI time value of $15.47 per hour, this equates to approximately $44 billion annually in lost productivity due to travelers having or choosing to use transit. Thus, the few percent of persons who use transit (approximately 2% of total person trips are on transit {5% of work trips} and approximately 1% of person miles of travel) incur 70% as much lost time relative to driving as is incurred by the total of auto travelers due to congestion, $44 billion for transit users versus $64 billion for driving in congestion.”

His conclusion is the inescapable truth that speed leads to effective transportation of people and goods, which in turn generates a strong and competitive economy. In his words:

“One of the reasons the country and individuals have become more productive and the country has had growing gross domestic product over the past several decades is that we have been highly mobile and travel has gotten faster until recent years. Part of the reason for faster travel has been the shifting from slow to faster modes and facilities. There are lots of good reasons to enable and encourage use of alternative modes but analysis of the consequences should strive to be objective about the travel time and productivity consequences.”

The correct alternative in the case of Oahu is HOT lanes between the H-1/H-2 merge and downtown which:

  • provide the choice to pay for express travel
  • combine with free vanpools which reduce the amount of solo driver cars by encouraging the successful VanPool Hawaii! that the Feds support
  • facilitate point-to-point express buses; example Waikele to downtown in under 15 minutes; Mililani to Waikiki in under 30 minutes (these sample commute times are for the middle of morning rush hour)
  • serve as a resilience and recovery transportation corridor in case of major storm, severe congestion on parallel freeways or other emergency.

Panos Prevedouros is a professor of traffic engineering at UH Manoa and a candidate for mayor in 2010

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