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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 8, 2002

Drive-alones won't change

By Cliff Slater

This is the fifth in a series of columns on curing traffic congestion. The earlier columns showed that:

• Hawai'i has fewer urban highway miles per resident than any other state.

• Private operators are not allowed to compete with TheBus despite its annual $100 million losses.

• The idea of fixed rail/bus curing traffic congestion is a fallacy of which "true believers" must disabuse themselves.

• Congestion pricing is a success in Singapore and California.

This final one discusses the impact of parking regulations on traffic and then sums up the opportunities to reduce congestion.

The city requires building owners in most of Honolulu to provide at least one parking space for every 400 square feet of office or retail space. This is about twice as much as owners would build if they had the choice.

One indicator is that prices for parking are way below what it has cost to provide it. For example, a parking space costing $75 a month is renting for the equivalent of 25 cents a foot. Rented as mini-storage or warehouse space — were it legal — it would fetch four times that.

Thus, the city encourages automobile commuting by requiring far more parking than is economically justified.

It is absurd for elected officials to whine about too many motorists driving alone to work when at the same time they maintain a policy that encourages them to do just that.

And no projection of drive-alone commuters switching to the city's Bus/Rapid Transit proposal has any meaning unless it takes into account the value that commuters place on their time. Many studies show that people value their commuting time at half what they earn if they are sitting and twice that when walking, waiting or standing. These are real costs, and for commuters they are, together with parking cost, the ones that most affect their commuting decision.

Drive-alone commuters will not change their habits unless the time and money savings offered by any alternative is sufficient to justify it. Using door-to-door HOV vehicles operating on uncongested HOV tollways or busways will do that; BRT will not.

Ask yourself, which of the following is going to get commuters out of their cars and cut traffic congestion?

• The Bus/Rapid Transit proposal wherein commuters walk to their local bus, wait, take TheBus to a transit center, transfer to the BRT, then at the stop nearest their destination, typically face either a long walk or have to transfer to a local bus to get to their workplace.

• Have a vanpool, shuttle or jitney bus pick them up at their home, take the congestion-free HOV busway or tollway to downtown, then be dropped off at their workplace.

The only unpleasant aspect of daily life in Honolulu — government aside — is traffic congestion, but we don't have to live with it. There are undeniable opportunities to significantly curb it through the HOV tollway proposal or to even end it completely with the addition of congestion pricing.

Unbelievably, the city's current proposals actually promise to increase traffic congestion. This is why BRT is such an astonishingly dumb idea; only a political mind could conceive it.

Unlike the city's BRT proposal, the ideas put forward here have all been shown to work elsewhere. And they are ideas that deal with Honolulu's traffic comprehensively. The BRT plan merely improves life for the 10 percent who use TheBus while making life worse for the 90 percent who drive.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater.