Charles Djou’s “Alternate Plans” for mass transit getting crazier and crazier.

Like many other programs for middle and working-class families, Charles Djou, as a Republican, has always been unfriendly to public transit. And in the case of rail, he’s been openly hostile. His lack of support was noted once again in the recent Star-Advertiser endorsement of Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

But even as the signature issue of his mayor campaign, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Charles Djou doesn’t understand the rail transit issue at all –financially, operationally or even using simple common sense.

In fact, Djou’s latest “plan” could cost more than double – first to build, and then to operate – than completing rail transit as planned to Ala Moana, as Mayor Caldwell advocates.

Charles Djou first pledged he will not spend enough money to get rail any further than Middle Street. In fact, he said he would “veto” any additional funding of any kind. Since then, Djou has offered a hodgepodge of “alternate plans” – all of which would likely cost more time and/or money to undertake than to simply complete rail as planned to Ala Moana.

The first Djou “alternative” proposed is Bus Rapid Transit, essentially the old Ben Cayetano “FAST Plan” that was harshly criticized by transportation experts and the Honolulu-Star Advertiser four years ago.

The plan would flood city streets with hundreds of buses, take traffic lanes away from automobiles and dedicate them exclusively to buses, making bad congestion much worse. And when those dedicated bus lanes reach downtown, those hundreds of buses would be funneled into our already crowded streets, an experience that would be anything but rapid.

The Djou-Cayetano plan will have significant financial disadvantages as well. Oahu taxpayers will have to pick up the entire tab, since it would not qualify for federal funding under the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA). And because Charles Djou doesn’t support extending the GET surcharge (much of which is paid by tourists) the funds for his BRT system would have to come entirely from taxes on property owners.

The carrying capacity of Charles Djou’s BRT system will also be significantly less than rail transit and will do little to alleviate the crushing drive-time congestion that Leeward and West Oahu drivers endure daily.

Next, Djou offered up Light Rail. But Light Rail could have even greater impact on automobile traffic than BRT. With train tracks taking away lanes on city streets, while forcing traffic to stop when trains cross an intersection, drivers would experience greater traffic congestion and an increased danger of trains crashing with drivers and pedestrians (which has been an issue in other cities.) Rail at ground level would also require a driver on every train, doubling operational costs over our planned fully automated system.

And now, Djou is suggesting that we scrap the trains and tracks altogether, and instead, run city buses on the elevated rail guideways. There are significant, possibly insurmountable, and completely obvious problems with this approach:

  • The City would have to spend tens or even hundreds of millions to remove rail tracks that have already been installed, re-engineer the guideways for buses, build on/off ramps and repave the already completed guideways.
  • Buses could barely pass each other without creeping along at low speed. In fact, it may not be possible at all within required safety standards.
  • Each four-car train would have to be replaced by 10 or more buses.
  • Every bus would require a driver (rail transit is automated and requires no drivers), skyrocketing operation costs.
  • The City would totally waste nearly $2 billion already invested/contracted to build the trains, install computerized operations and control systems and the just-completed Rail Operations Center.
  • The City would have to pay back UP TO $1.5 BILLION to the federal government.
  • One flat tire could shut down the entire system.

No wonder, then, that Djou’s new plan is already being rejected and ridiculed by transit experts, community leaders and the media.

Perhaps because of his disdain for public transit, Djou’s suggestions show that he does not even have a functional understanding of how a transit system operates.

It has become alarmingly clear that Charles Djou has NO real plan for mass transit whatsoever. And “being open to all ideas” isn’t leadership…or even simple common sense.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has reiterated his commitment to building the entire rail transit system to Ala Moana Center, including all 21 planned stations and the accompanying improvements, such as park-and-ride facilities. Recent public opinion polls show the overwhelming majority of O‘ahu residents share Kirk’s vision for Honolulu’s future.

Kirk began his administration by restoring cancelled bus routes and improving transit services. He has been a tireless advocate of an integrated multi-modal transportation system that will reduce traffic, while delivering commuters to work and school safely, reliably and quickly.