Poverty Rights Advocates Should Rally Against Rail

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The people in Hawaii and elsewhere who usually advocate for poverty rights are remarkably absent from the debate over whether the City & County of Honolulu taxpayers should be forced to pay without a public vote more than $4.6 billion for a rail system on Oahu.

Yet the lower income residents are those who are usually hurt by expensive rail projects.


First, a hike in the GE tax is a hike in the most regressive tax we have; it harms lower income residents disproportionally more than those with higher incomes. Basic rent and food and other necessities are all subject to the General Excise Tax.

Second, in order to boost rail ridership numbers, transit officials routinely change routes so that they dead end at rail stations. So people who may have a straight shot to work on TheBus may find themselve with a bus/rail/bus journey.

Third, rail transit chews up so much money that transit officials tend to cut bus service rather than rail service. A lawsuit was won on these grounds by the NAACP a few years ago. They found that Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority was spending 70 percent of its budget on the 6 percent of riders who used rail while only spending 30 percent of its budget on the 94 percent who used buses. And, of course, the rail riders were the more affluent ones.

The lawsuit called ”’Labor/Community Strategy Center v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)”’ resulted in a court-ordered Consent Decree, commiting MTA to agree to invest over $1 billion in the bus system. It was the largest settlement in civil rights history .

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