Light Metro Woes in Hawaii

All is not well with Honolulu’s new light metro system.

A classic “I told you so” situation has occurred as the fiscal realities of light metro are hitting home very hard. I hope taxpayers have very deep pockets.

With proprietary light metro systems, politicians purposely forget that you can also build light rail as a light-metro if you want to throw more money at it, but with LRT you retain the ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways in the future.

This is certainly a lesson not learned in Vancouver.

City Council sets aside $150K for rail consultant

Posted: Jul 30, 2015 11:20 PM PST

HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) -

The City Council has set aside $150,000 for their own independent consultant. But according to the council chair, the new hire is less concerned with future obstacles and more about past problems.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation got a first glimpse on Thursday of a scale model of the driverless trains that will be running along Honolulu’s rail line when the project is complete.

The first full size train is expected to be delivered to Hawaii by Spring 2016.

Former Congresswoman Coleen Hanabusa was sworn in on Thursday as the newest board member of HART, as selected last month by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The Mayor’s new rail consultant met HART’s board for the first time Thursday.

“The project has no shortage of challenges. Many of those challenges have been overcome — however, there will be many more requiring resolution in the future,” explained Independent rail consultant Michael Burns. “I hope to provide constructive input toward meeting those challenges.”

City officials were quick to address the perception that the appointment reflects concerns about current leadership.

“It’s not a comment on the organization, their competence and their ability to do their job, it’s simply a desire by the mayor that we have somebody who looks over the mayor’s shoulder — looks at our processes and our policies, our governance,” said Department of Transportation Services Director Michael Formby.

But one vocal community advocate raised other questions about the independent consultant’s hire — in light of word the city council would hire its own.

“Rail is going to become and probably already has become a new political football that is going to figure very prominently in the next mayoral election,” said community advocate Dr. Jim Anthony.

Council Chair Ernie Martin is believed to be considering a challenge against Mayor Kirk Caldwell in 2016.

His office confirms a budget has been approved to hire a rail consultant — whose job it will be to determine how the project fell short nearly 1 billion dollars.

The mayor’s appointee — who has 40 years experience in the rail industry — says he’s well-versed in dealing with highly politicized environments and will focus on the work itself.

“I’m not carrying anybody’s water,’ Burns said. ” I am coming in as an independent — sort of a peer review type of a role, to see if there are ways that the project can look at things differently and in the end, make the project better.”

Officials also voted today on a new chair — Don Horner will now head HART’s board of directors.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.


7 Responses to “Light Metro Woes in Hawaii”
  1. Haveacow says:

    This is a classic story of why too much input is a bad thing. They have been arguing about this line in Honolulu since you guys opened your Expo Line in 1986! The sad thing was that, because of a court case between Mayorial contestants over this line the cost of the case got charged to the construction budget. It was already $70 Million in the hole before the first shovel hit the ground. I was amazed when they actually finished fighting over the line long enough to settle on a design and actually begin construction. You know there is going to be trouble when the people who wanted the line were bragging that not a single car lane will be lost and that luxury development would pay for all the stations by themselves. Oh yes, people who rent a luxury hotel suite in paradise want to ride transit to the beach! To be fair the car and truck traffic in Honolulu is very hostile to the notion of trying to sell the place as paradise. They (the state and local governments) also at the least made a commitment to solve their traffic problem by not building more limited access highways however, their transit solution leaves a lot to be desired. The line is almost 20 miles long end to end and has so many places and reasons it could and obviously has gone, over budget. They did so many things wrong there, you wonder where they actually got it right?

  2. eric chris says:

    Well, in 2013, I wrote Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu, Hawaii to warn him of the impeding disaster which he could expect unless he scrapped the elevated line and went with trams. To my astonishment, he replied and proceeded to tell me that I was wrong in my email.

    By the way, in this email, I predicted that Ian Jarvis would be gone. He is. I also warned that TransLink would be sued unless it removed the 99 B-Line diesel buses operating on trolleybus routes. It will.

    I’m confident that the Americans who don’t tolerate scams will eventually expose the driverless and elevated s-train garbage for what it is: a hoax. Here is the email which I sent to Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu:

    Sun 4/28/2013 4:40 PM
    “Hasta la vista – elevated transit and hart ceo”

    Dear Honolulu Council and Mayor,
    Elevated transit with distantly spaced stations as proposed by the HART CEO has been a flop in Vancouver and has not reduced vehicle use. Elevated transit costing billions of dollars in Honolulu will increase housing density but it won’t reduce road congestion and vehicle use. In Vancouver, transit is a shady business where condo developers, Bombardier (sky train supplier), and SNC Lavalin (engineering firm) have teamed up to tax drivers to create a transit empire to employ a large staff of transit executives and administrators making lucrative salaries and doing nothing to run transit.

    In Honolulu, the players are different but the scam is the same – transit is being used as a ploy to let developers over develop land along the elevated train route. If you want more people, more pollution and more traffic – go ahead, invest in elevated transit and let the developers cut down your trees and build condos in your parks. Unfortunately, four out of five people moving into the condos will drive and congestion will worsen on the existing freeways and roads.

    While the trip on the elevated train is fast, getting to the elevated train spaced one mile apart on average is slow. In contrast, trams which are inexpensive and efficient with closely spaced stops every 300 yards are faster than elevated trains, door to door for most transit users. More transit buses (fatal flaw of elevated transit) on the roads will be required to get people to the distantly spaced elevated train stations and road congestion from buses cutting off drivers will worsen – transit operating costs will soar to strain the operating budget for transit.

    Any increase in transit use in Vancouver can be attributed to either population growth or to coercive measures such as restrictions and limits to parking in the central business district and the University of British Columbia. Frequent and elevated transit has not attracted many drivers and 86% of the population does not use transit even after over 25 years of sky train. In fact, vehicle use has accelerated since the elevated trains were implemented, and exaggerated ridership on transit has resulted from getting existing transit users to make more trips on transit operating later into the night until 3:30 am, at a great expense to taxpayers.

    Transit commutes take twice as long as vehicle commutes. Most of the population in Vancouver avoids transit here as it is very inconvenient and crime riddled.

    According to University of Toronto researchers, Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner – transit has essentially no effect on traffic volumes. Consequently, transit by TransLink in Vancouver does not reduce carbon emissions and road congestion. While more transit might lead to slightly more transit use in Vancouver, it also frees up scarce road space for existing or new drivers to drive more – to effectively negate any reduction of vehicles on the roads from drivers taking transit. This paradox has foiled attempts by TransLink to reduce road congestion with spending on SkyTrain lines and frequent transit. Since the formation of TransLink in 1999, driving has not decreased and trips by drivers remained unchanged at 57% in 2011 (TransLink).

    Hope this clarifies things for you. The following email is relevant, too.

    Eric Chris, PE Vancouver, Canada

    From: eric.chris
    Sent: Sunday, November 18, 2012 11:49 PM
    To: ian jarvis translink ceo
    Subject: Hasta la vista – TransLink and friends

    TransLink CEO, Ian Jarvis et al:
    TransLink is very good at taxing drivers to spend an exorbitant amount of money to elevate outdated and automated trains fitted with linear induction motors (coined SkyTrains). It is not to improve transit or for transit users. Most certainly, it is to benefit you.

    There will be no further gas taxes, carbon taxes, road pricing, bridge tolls or any other taxation of drivers to pay for SkyTrain by TransLink. If you believe that you can succeed in the further taxation of drivers to pay for more SkyTrain by TransLink, you are all terribly deluded and will be impeached, instead. You are profoundly obtuse or technically inept individuals who have been instrumental in the current SkyTrain debacle and in the ongoing attempts to tax drivers under the guise that the money is for more transit when much of the money is to pay down the bad debts incurred by SkyTrain and to either save your jobs or reputations.

    You will not proceed with the 11 kilometre expansion of the current SkyTrain network along the Evergreen route (costing approximately $2.5 billion with the requisite upgrades to integrate it into the existing SkyTrain network, instead of the purported $1.4 billion cost presented by TransLink). Rather, you will proceed with a tram line costing about $300 million at grade along the Evergreen Line route to conform with good engineering practice enhancing safety, improving operability and reducing costs.

    Tram lines move more people than SkyTrain lines for much less money than SkyTrain lines and with far fewer carbon emissions than SkyTrain lines (2009 UBC research paper). Properly designed by competent engineers, tram lines blend seamlessly on the road network with cars and off the road network along grass paths. Quaint tram lines are ideal for Metro Vancouver and in particular along the Broadway corridor as the following video of the Citadis tram shows:

    Furthermore, you will do what has to be done to remove the 99 B-Line diesel buses and hybrid diesel buses operating on the No. 9 trolley bus route by Christmas Day 2012. Otherwise, TransLink could be facing a class action lawsuit from drivers seeking the recovery of all the parking, gas and other taxes imposed upon drivers by TransLink under the pretence that transit by TransLink reduces traffic gridlock and air pollution. In 2011 after 12 years of transit by TransLink:

    • 57% of the trips were by drivers
    • 14% of the trips were on transit
    • 11% of the trips were by walkers (not zombies as in the Walking Dead on AMC)

    While TransLink views 14% of the trips on transit as a great accomplishment (increase since its last study) and can’t shut up about it in the media – it is really an abysmal failure by TransLink because the increase in transit use has not been through the reduction of drivers; it has been achieved significantly by increasing regional transit use with people who once walked and who weren’t producing carbon emissions on transit or vehicle traffic on roads. When TransLink was formed in 1999 (see attachment):

    • 57% of the trips were by drivers (same as in 2011)
    • 10% of the trips were on transit (four less out of 100 commuters)
    • 13% of the trips were by walkers (two more out of 100 commuters)

    Vehicle trips are the same in 2011 and in 1999. As a corollary, transit by TransLink has done nothing to reduce traffic gridlock and air pollution. Yet, in the media, TransLink continually pretends to be taking cars off the roads and to be improving the air quality in an attempt to continue unabated with more SkyTrain transit which is a disaster after the billions of dollars spent on it. TransLink is a fraud.

    In Vancouver, TransLink operates the 99 B-Line route as an express service with 13 stops over 14 kilometres every day until about 2:30 am in the morning even though it must go through 50 traffic lights, making the express component of the 99 B-Line service all but useless during off-peak hours on weekdays and Saturdays as well as totally useless on Sundays and holidays (Christmas Day, for instance). It is an asinine service and operates in parallel to other bus routes required to shuttle passengers to it because the stops of the 99 B-Line service are about one kilometre apart in distance and too far apart for most transit users to reach without a transfer from another bus (No. 9 or No. 14 operating along the 99 B-Line route, for example).

    Apparently the only purpose of the 99 B-Line “express” service for the majority of the time is to double up on transit to keep bus drivers employed or to create the illusion that transit demand is much greater than it really is along the Broadway corridor. Many buses such as the No. 9 and No. 14 buses on the Broadway corridor function merely as shuttle buses for the 99 B-Line express service. Especially west of Arbutus Street, the No. 9 and No. 14 buses have very few passengers on board for any length of time. Buses used as shuttles along the Broadway corridor might register a large number of people hopping on briefly and then off but have few people or no people on board much of the time.

    In fact, the demand “measured in bus seats required” for transit along the Broadway corridor is very much less than suggested by ridership figures reported by TransLink. Tricksters at TransLink appear to have purposely made transit as inefficient as possible along the Broadway corridor to win sympathy for more funding to extend SkyTrain to UBC. Occasional over crowding during peak hours on the 99 B-Line service in operation along the Broadway corridor is artificially induced by TransLink and can be easily remedied by tweaking the dozen bus routes going to UBC to make all the bus routes to UBC more synchronized, utilized and efficient.

    Transit by TransLink is loud and offensive to many residents living on the 99 B-Line route. Transit by TransLink exposes residents along the 99 B-Line route to elevated particulate matter levels causing respiratory and heart diseases, forces residents to wear ear plugs to get to sleep, rattles windows in homes to unnerve residents and sets off car alarms to annoy residents. Along the 99 B-Line route, transit by TransLink harms and upsets many people, greatly.

    TransLink is remiss for offering the 99 B-Line (diesel and hybrid-diesel) service operating entirely underneath trolley bus lines intended for trolley bus service. To reiterate: TransLink will remove the 99 B-Line diesel buses and hybrid diesel buses operating on the No. 9 trolley bus route by Christmas Day 2012. TransLink will abandon regional transit based on SkyTrain as it is an unsuccessful transit strategy and will adopt tram lines in the future to avoid the further taxation of drivers and to encourage transit use. If you are incapable of making the switch to tram lines, you can surely be replaced with other more capable individuals who are more resourceful.

    Eric Chris, Vancouver

    Sustainability by Design – 2009 UBC research paper

  3. Rico says:

    This article is a bit confusing and poorly written, doing a quick search it appears that the problem is a billion dollar shortfall in expected revenue from the GET tax (because of the economy I would expect). I think this will be a good, successful project.

  4. Rico says:

    Looking further they are forecasting an increase of costs between 550 and 900million.

  5. Haveacow says:

    Guys keep in mind, Hawaii is an island, virtually every thing except the concrete for the line has to be brought in by ship. Just ask people in the US Navy, prices for everything at the naval base stores are 30-40% higher than their equivalents in San Diego. A minor increase in the cost of shipping translates into a major increase in cost for the customer once everybody in the supply chain has added their extra to make up for the slight increase in the cost of shipping.

    Having been their for RIMPAC Naval Exercises I can tell you that, Honolulu has grown linearly along the island shore line. That means every new major road and rapid transit line has to travel parallel to that shore line if it is to be useful enough. This makes a series of ever more expensive and long transportation corridors all parallel to the coast and each other. This means travel times are long and the traffic travelling parallel to the coast is always heavy.

    There bitter history of arguing over traffic and transit is understandable. Paradise as they sell it involves beaches, sport cars and convertibles with surf boards and kids, not public transit. I am just surprised that they did not try a Bus Rapid Transit Service first, simply because it is easier and would involve a lot more supplies and services that are available locally, thus lowering their costs. The last time Hawaii built a major rail line or project of any kind was in the 1960′s. So there is not a great deal of local experience in large 20 mile long passenger rail transit projects. It’s no surprise their over budget given all these challenges. Even if less money was available in GET taxes which often happens with American Transit projects that use these types of funding sources. The design chose is not a simple one and has many places even expert builders could have construction/engineering blunders occur.

  6. eric chris says:

    @Rico, you still haven’t answered my question on the Seattle light metro and now you’re making spurious comments about the Honolulu light metro debacle. What part of $1 billion and climbing over budget don’t you understand about the Honolulu disaster? Contact the mayor of Honolulu and confirm it. Here’s his email address:

    I’m beginning to think that you’re a paid propagandist for SNC Lavalin. Are you going to answer the following question or aren’t you?

    @Reek, how are your calcs coming? What’s taking so long?

    “How about you do the math for us, Rico? Show us that three trams lines at grade to UBC with a combined capacity of 40,000 pphpd do not have more capacity than one subway line having 12,500 pphpd in capacity to UBC? Show us that the capital and operating costs of the subway line to UBC are less than the capital and operating costs of three tram lines to UBC.

    Okay, do it. I’m waiting for your “math”. Of course, there will be no math forthcoming from you as usual. You know the reason, Rico? You’re an idiot. Saying that s-train has more capacity than the tram (for the money spent) is like saying that water flows uphill by gravity.”

  7. Like most major infrastructure work in Hawaii, construction of the rail line is likely to uncover historic human remains, notably in its downtown Honolulu section. Thomas Dye stated, “The council is absolutely right that you should expect to find burials on Halekauwila Street”.