Survey: do students want rail?
The rail transit controversy has been one of the most heavily disputed issues on O‘ahu, particularly in the mayoral debates.
We have one of the worst traffic problems in the nation. Residents of the west side of O‘ahu are
affected by this problem the most, experiencing bumper-to-bumper traffic coming to and from school or work almost every day. Although rail construction has been postponed (the required assessments were not completed to assure that historical Hawaiian burial sites will not be disturbed), the topic is still in heated debate. The essential question is how to enable people to arrive at their destinations more quickly and to reduce the number of cars on the road.
In an online survey of a hundred ‘Iolani high school students, 21 percent were “pro-rail.” The present plan for rail is an elevated, “heavy rail” steel-on-steel system that will run from east Kapolei to Ala Moana with a total of 21 stops, including the airport and downtown. Rail’s main attraction is that the passengers will arrive at their destination on time, every time, regardless of traffic or the number of occupants. People living on the west side will be able to come to town more quickly and efficiently.
In the anonymous survey, one student said, “When the streets are crowded with traffic . . . there needs to be an easier route for transportation. I personally catch the bus to school and back home, and if rail was in use today, my life would be much easier, and I would have a safer and faster way to go to school and home.”
Despite these favorable points supporting rail, an overwhelming 70 percent of surveyed students are against the present plan for rail transit, with 9 percent having no opinion in the rail issue. Students’ main points of dislike include the rail plan’s cost, its route, and its effect on the O‘ahu skyline. In the same anonymous survey, one student pointed out, “Hawaii is increasing (its) debt by pouring billions of dollars into the rail project . . . on a system that half the people in the state don’t like and probably aren’t going to use.”
The estimated cost for the project is $7 billion. In the survey, another student said, “One of the biggest reasons for traffic jams are the UH students, so there should be a stop by the university.” Another student asserted the need to “keep the country, country.” The anti-rail view also includes the thought that building an elevated rail would make O‘ahu look ugly and ruin the view.
There are a few alternatives to the present plan. Instead of a heavy rail system, the state could build a light rail system, which would have the same benefits as heavy rail, except that it would be on the ground. This would make it blend with the landscape better, and it would also cost much less than heavy rail, especially to extend to UH.
Another alternative would be to have no rail whatsoever. Of the survey respondents, 38 percent are against any rail; instead, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) could be implemented. This plan would improve Oahu’s bus system by increasing the amount of buses, especially direct and express buses, on the road, creating separate bus lanes, and adding more seats. Hawaii already has one of the best and most used bus systems in the country, so we might as well improve on our strengths instead of adding a system that may not even work or reach enough people. BRT would cost over $1 billion, still 86 percent less than the cost of heavy rail. This system would improve traffic island-wide, instead of just from the west side to Ala Moana. Plus, the bus routes are flexible enough to meet future needs, whereas rail would literally be “set in steel.” Even though a lane would be taken up at a few points along a route, if BRT were executed well enough, more people would take the bus, and the lane would not be necessary.
The main question in the rail dispute is whether or not it will work. This depends on which solution will be more widely supported: heavy rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, or no rail. Which one will make more people want to use it on their daily commutes? Which one will give residents the most for their money? The best and safest solution is Bus Rapid Transit, as it is affordable, flexible, and already has high ridership. Our state cannot afford the additional burden of constructing a rail transit system. People already know and love our bus system; it’s better to enhance what we already works than to depend on a plan with too many drawbacks.