Political Considerations Taking Precedence Over Practical Reality

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I watched Olelo Public Television over last weekend and it was a fascinating experience. There were two programs in particular that came to my attention. In their own way each program demonstrated a different aspect of the problems facing TheBus on Oahu. They both illuminated how political considerations take precedence over practical reality.

The first program was from Honolulu Hale and was the City Council questioning Transportation Director Cheryl Soon about proposed fare increases and service cuts. What was most revealing about this program was the condescending attitude and obvious antagonism towards the council by the Transportation Director. Rather than just answer the council member’s questions simply and directly she prevaricated, complained, challenged, and at times personally attacked the members for simply asking questions. She even went so far as to accuse the Council of political manipulation for insisting upon answers to tough questions.


Transportation Director Soon’s attitude was akin to, “How dare you question me? Who do you think you are, anyway? You just want to oppose the mayor, so why are you bothering me?” I was truly astonished to see a public appointee sarcastically challenge members of the City Council for asking questions, when those members have every right to ask tough questions because they represent the people of the City of Honolulu who elected them. And the people of Honolulu, who the City Council members represent, are Cheryl Soon’s boss. But the Transportation Director clearly doesn’t hold this view.

Soon’s preferred answer to most questions was, “I’ve already answered that question.” The fact that if she had already satisfactorily answered the question in the first place, further questioning wouldn’t be needed, obviously escaped her. The Committee Chair, Ann Kobayashi, insisted upon knowing why, mere months ago when the previous increase in fares was passed, the Transportation Director didn’t know or make clear that ”’that”’ fare increase was inadequate and would require another just months later.

While the question was obvious and reasonable it took repeated and pointed questioning by Chair Kobayashi to get the explanation clear. And it was this questioning that Soon so objected to, to the point of accusing Kobayashi of playing politics.

The truth of the matter proved quite the opposite. The mayor submitted a budget of $132 million, which was $9 million less than last year’s budget. Director Soon eventually admitted she knew the budget was inadequate but never sought to challenge the Mayor about it, and never went to the City Council to inform them either, which Kobayashi pointed out other department heads had done, the result being the council increased their budgets.

The mayor was punishing the people of Oahu for not supporting the tax and fee increases he proposed and Soon was just going along, knowing there would be trouble later — but that would teach the people a lesson, wouldn’t it? Talk about playing politics.

All in all the program was very informative. If I had any doubts about what precisely precipitated the upcoming crisis for TheBus all doubts were removed. The mayor cut $9 million for its budget to keep his ribbon-cutting and feel-good projects going, knowing full well that this crisis was coming, forcing the City Council into a corner where they would have to raise fees, fares and taxes. Soon Mayor Harris will ride pleasantly off into the sunset and whoever succeeds him is going to have quite a mess on his or her hands. But then Jeremy Harris will be able to point to all the wonderful things he did for Honolulu, won’t he?

The other program was the explanation of a computer analysis of what the BRT will do to traffic flow in the city. The analysis was done by Panos D. Prevedouros, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Graduate Program Chair at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

This show was utterly spellbinding. Step by step Professor Prevedouros took us through various parts of the city and explained that the computer models showed how traffic congestion due to the BRT would increase, and by precisely how much. At one point they predicted a 47 percent increase in traffic congestion for certain sections of roadway, Ala Moana in particular if I remember correctly.

The professor took us through how many projected cars would take alternate routes, how this would increase congestion elsewhere, how the loss of traffic lanes would increase congestion in the remaining lanes. The traffic slow downs and jams were color coded, so they were quite easy to see. The final result was clear and depressing.

Things a layman would never consider were discussed. For example, suppose a certain traffic light has a full cycle of 100 seconds. When one throws the humungous BRT buses into the mix, one has to consider that they take a full 10 seconds to go through the light, and since they have exclusive rights in many cases, either the rest of the traffic loses 10 seconds or the light must be increased 10 seconds. Either scenario increases traffic congestion for everyone else by a considerable amount. Multiply this by the dozens of intersections affected and the extent of the problem becomes staggering.

On street after street, Kapiolani Boulevard to Kalia and Kalakaua, Professor Prevedouros showed how both commercial carriers such as taxis and limos (which were conveniently coded white in the computer animation) and individual autos alike would find more congestion, longer drive times and increased inconvenience in commuting throughout the affected areas. Not to mention resultant loss of revenue for all.

The conclusion from the computer models is clear. The BRT will make traffic congestion much worse between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. This is the study that should have been done long before the BRT was even contemplated. Had it been done, the BRT would never have been taken seriously. But governments rarely work that way.

This is the evidence presently needed to stop the BRT. This is where the best guesses of science and knowledge we have at hand come head to head with the social programming of our government representatives. It is where the best scientific projections contradict socialist theorizing.

And this is where I would like to tie the salient aspects of the two shows together. Committee Chair Kobayashi kept asking Director Soon why the City had advocated an increase in service just a few years ago, when now it was thought it wasn’t possible maintain that same level of service. In other words, what was wrong with the planning then. Unfortunately, the chair never got her answer. So permit me to venture one.

A good portion of that earlier increase in service revolved around the creation of the “Express” lines. These were added to move large numbers of people around various parts of the island. They have been less than a smashing success. Quite the opposite.

If one looks at the publicly reported costs of running TheBus previously compared to after the implementation of the Express lines, then it is clear that the costs of the latter greatly exceed the revenue. The percentage of fare revenue versus operating costs for the system took a downturn as soon as the Express lines were put in operation. In fact, one of the current proposals for raising fares is to raise Express fares precisely because they don’t have as great a return as regular buses.

In other words, the larger buses are more costly to run and have driven up costs for the whole system. It is a significant factor in the crisis we are facing. Despite the theory, the larger the bus the less efficient it is economically. This has proven consistent everywhere across the nation. The larger the project the more expensive it is in contrast to fare revenue.

Now, multiply this element a hundred times when considering the BRT. No one has the slightest idea the costs of running and maintaining these behemoths but there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of: It will cost far more than the most pessimistic projection. It will be a burden upon the City well beyond anything anyone is currently contemplating, or can possibly imagine. When did a government estimate of cost ever, ”’ever,”’ come in less that the projected amount?

Time is running out to stop this boondoggle. It is time to besiege our City Council members to put a hold on this thing. I noted that the City Council is planning a meeting specifically on the BRT for Sept. 5th. I suggest the Council invite Professor Prevedouros to attend and give the demonstration that was on Olelo over the weekend, or barring that, at least acquire and view the tape of the show. Failing to do so, there will be no way the City Council can say they’ve made an informed decision whether to continue with this ill thought out project.

We will just have to remember that come the next election.

”’Don Newman, a free-lance writer in Honolulu, can be reached via email at:”’ mailto:newmand001@hawaii.rr.com