Misleading the Public About Rail-Shoots from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii – Aug. 10, 2005

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Bill Brennan, Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s press secretary, attacked Cliff Slater in an opinion piece for ”’The Honolulu Advertiser”’ this morning, Aug. 10, 2005. As usual for rail proponents he plays fast and loose with the facts.

First though is his denigrating of Dave Rolf of the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association and Dale Evans of Charley’s Taxi for their “interests clearly vested in continuing Oahu’s dependence on automobiles.” Yet in the ”’Honolulu Star-Bulletin”’ there is this observation in an article also published today stating, “Members of Hawaii’s construction trade unions will also appear before the Council at Kapolei Hale today. They want the Council to approve Bill 40, for all the construction jobs it’s expected to provide. …”


Why is it that the “vested interests” of hard working entrepreneurs who provide jobs for people has to take a back seat to the “vested interests” of overpaid union workers who support the rail project because it will give them lucrative jobs for the next decade or so at taxpayers’ expense? Why isn’t the “vested interests” of the union workers considered on par with the “vested interests” of those who must struggle day in and day out to maintain businesses that make this island work?

It isn’t as if we have a shortage of jobs on Oahu, in fact it is just the opposite, we have a shortage of workers. The only reason the union wants the jobs provided by the rail project is that it will further fill their coffers at the public’s expense. The lack of qualified workers will drive up wages even more for all construction work on the island and enrich the unions even more. This whole issue is an exercise in disingenuousness.

To return to Brennan’s attack on Slater he says, “He calls the 1992 proposal a heavy rail project. Typical Slater fudging. It was light rail by any industry standard.” This is simply incorrect. The “industry standard” is set by federal government definition. Light rail runs at “grade level” which is a fancy way of saying “street level” along with cars, trucks and buses. Heavy rail is “grade separated” which is a fancy way of saying the rail is “elevated” above the roadway, like the “L” trains in Chicago or underground as in a subway, like New York. Commuter rail uses existing freight rail tracks as in Amtrak. What is proposed for Oahu is a grade separated, elevated, rail which is, by definition, “heavy rail.”

Cliff Slater isn’t “fudging,” he is using the accepted definitions, that’s all. It is Brennan who is fudging by misrepresenting the rail project, calling it “light rail” when it isn’t, by definition. This is typical of rail supporters who cannot admit the truth about their proposals or they would never get passed. The costs are always underestimated (the average national cost overrun for rail is 41 percent), the projected ridership figures are always inflated and in reality never reach those projections and the promised reduction in traffic congestion never materializes.

This is why when Brennan says “Slater misrepresents just about everything Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Transportation Services Director Ed Hirata and other supporters of transit have said, from the timing of federal requirements to tax calculations, highway capacity and a rail system’s potential to ease traffic congestion,” it is he who is misleading the public. Rail has virtually no potential to ease traffic congestion. It never has in any city in the U.S.A. where rail has been implemented. That is a verifiable fact. To the contrary, funding rail robs from highway and roadway funds that would actually reduce traffic congestion.

As I have noted in other columns before, by the time the rail project is built, the population increase on the leeward side of Oahu will more than overwhelm any capacity of rail to service commuters. The need for increased highway improvement will be that much greater when rail is complete than it is today. Rail will not and cannot solve the traffic congestion problem.

Again Brennan says “The governor, the mayor and other pro-transit elected officials have gone on record stating the advantage of funding construction with an excise tax is that visitors would pay a larger share of that than gasoline or property taxes. Slater ignores the point. Who’s being dishonest here?” The point isn’t the source of funding, the point is taxes shouldn’t be raised and rail shouldn’t be built. This is a red herring. The comparison with property and gasoline taxes is to give the public a sense of just how much money would be taken out of their pockets to fund this boondoggle. Only about 25 percent of the General Excise Tax is paid by tourists. The majority is paid by residents. They are the ones who are mostly going to be hurt by this tax increase.

Brennan then launches a web of obfuscation concerning the costs of rail versus the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) flyover proposed by Slater. What Brennan ignores in all his playing with the figures is that the state and county’s own projections of the cost of rail is $150 million a mile. These aren’t figures made up by Slater. Brennan twists Slater’s projections concerning a HOT lane flyover to conclude that rail should only cost $52 million per mile.

This can only be achieved by comparing apples to oranges. What is conveniently ignored is the cost of the rail itself, the cost of the rail cars, and the cost of the infrastructure needed to provide the electricity to power the rail. The cost of steel, concrete and copper are all at record highs and look to go higher. Whatever cost projections are made for rail today are sure to be inadequate. It will cost more, much more, than what is being touted now.

This simple fact has put the cabosh on several rail projects around the nation just this year. There is a cost ceiling that the Federal Transit Administration will not approve funding for rail if that ceiling is exceeded. That ceiling was recently reduced to $20 cost to attract a new rider. The formula is a complex one but the upshot is the high costs associated with the high cost of living here in Hawaii make it very likely that we will never see the federal dollars we are expecting, Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s support notwithstanding.

Further along Brennan continues “At this point, we don’t have all the answers and we’re not pretending we do. Some of those will come with the Alternatives Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Statement that would follow enactment of Bill 40.” This is precisely the point. Why raise a tax before you have a plan? How can you advocate something when you don’t even know what it is that you are advocating or the true costs involved? This is truly putting the cart before the horse.

Next Brennan says “We do note that dozens of American cities have installed or expanded rail transit systems since 1992, and very few have built HOT lanes. (And they’re charging up to $8 per trip for every vehicle that wants to use the HOT lane.)” First of all the expansion of rail systems around the country is mostly for the same pork barrel reasons that rail is advocated here. It is rail industry lobbyists and pork loving politicians pandering to the unions and construction companies that promote rail.

Second many urban areas have built HOT lanes in recent years to much public acclaim. They are the latest innovation and the fact is HOT lanes work. The dynamic congestion pricing changes every 15 minutes or so and gives the commuting public the option of deciding whether they want to spend the money or take the time. Peak commuting prices can be as much as $8 but this is typically only for a brief period during the heaviest congestion. Even the few cities with successful rail, such as San Diego have added HOT lanes recently and they work quite well and are very popular.

Third it is simply false to say “And they’re charging up to $8 per trip for every vehicle that wants to use the HOT lane.” Depending upon the system if a vehicles has 2 or more, or 3 or more (the latter called 3 plus) then they pay nothing to use the HOT lane. Only single drivers alone in their cars would pay the full rate. And as the congestion decreases the price falls as well. Thus “every” vehicle doesn’t pay, only those below the stated passenger threshold.

Then Brennan says “The mayor has said all along that if you don’t like what he’s proposing, come up with something better. Slater’s HOT lane isn’t it.” Simply dismissing HOT lanes doesn’t mean they aren’t better than rail. What needs to be done is to repeal the laws against jitneys (implemented to maintain TheBus monopoly) so that transportation companies can advertise regular route pickup points on the leeward side so that a number of commuters can carpool for an economical price.

This coupled with HOT lanes would have a greater carrying capacity of commuters than rail on its best day. HOT lanes are a vastly superior solution to traffic congestion compared to rail. Not only that, many are being built by private investors and cost taxpayers much less than subsidized rail. The maintenance costs are less and they are much more flexible. Emergency vehicles, tow trucks and police vehicles can all use HOT lanes.

Finally Brennan states “Traffic is the chief problem affecting quality of life on Oahu.” This may be his opinion but it is merely an opinion. The chief problem affecting the quality of life on Oahu, and all the state of Hawaii for that matter, is the high cost of living, driven in part by some of the highest taxes in the nation, which Mr. Brennan would raise yet more to fund a questionable solution to traffic congestion.

”’Don Newman, senior policy analyst for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Hawaii’s first and only free market public policy institute focused on individual freedom and liberty, can be reached at:”’ mailto:newmand001@hawaii.rr.com

”’This editorial is intended to provoke thought, discussion and an examination of issues. It does not reflect official policy of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. See the GRIH Web site at:”’ https://www.grassrootinstitute.org/

”’HawaiiReporter.com reports the real news, and prints all editorials submitted, even if they do not represent the viewpoint of the editors, as long as they are written clearly. Send editorials to”’ mailto:Malia@HawaiiReporter.com



Daily Policy Digest


Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005

Six prominent citizen groups recently sent a letter to the White House advising President Bush to veto the $286.5 billion highway bill. The statement, organized by the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and Taxpayers for Common Sense Action, was also signed by the leaders of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.

They pointed out that Congress’s decision to exceed the President’s recommended funding level by $2.5 billion was reason alone for a veto. However, they cited several other arguments against signing the legislation:

Congress used budget gimmicks to break the $283.9 billion budget ceiling by including an $8.5 billion rescission of past budget authority that conveniently takes effect on September 30, 2009 — the last day the bill remains in force.
Congress approved an extra $2.5 billion, which could have the effect breaking Bush’s budget ceiling by $11 billion for virtually the entire life of the proposed law.
The bill is packed with nearly 6,500 member-requested projects amounting to more than $24 billion, almost 9 percent of the total spending.
Signing the transportation bill as is would undermine the President’s expressed goal of halving the deficit by 2009, especially in light of the rescission tactic.
While President Bush described the transportation bill as “fiscally responsible,” the signatories contend that much more work needs to be done on the legislation before it is worthy of such a term.

Source: Press Release, “Costlier-than-Advertised Highway Bill Deserves Bush’s Veto, Six Citizen Groups Say,” National Taxpayers Union, August 4, 2005.

For text:


For letter to President Bush:


For more on Federal Spending and Budget Issues: Highways and Mass Transit:


”Sprout of the Day”

“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

– Ronald Reagan