Monday, January 1, 2007

Transit decisions based on ideology

Honolulu HI - The Hawaii Reporter has an article regarding the recent decision to build a fixed guideway mass transit system in Honolulu. The writer, Richard O. Rowland, brings a good viewpoint regarding why these plans are approved.

Rowland correctly points out that if it was a private business that built a fixed guideway system and it failed, the business would lose it's money and go out of business. When government does such things, the public continues to pay regardless if the line is a failure or not.

Too often, the handful of politicians that come up with these plans use their personal ideology to drive the idea rather than the facts or what is best for the people they represent. While forward thinking is needed, plans such as Honolulu's push for light rail are driven by past thinking and fantasy dreams of the future. Rowland points this out in his article rather well.

While I agree with Rowland's premise, he missed one point. That point is that the Honolulu Council members are also looking for a legacy. Many politicians will sell their constituents up the river just to get their name emblazoned on a brass plaque that's placed on some edifice that will be there long after they leave this world.

Personal ideology often clouds the decisions that are made in politics. Public transportation politics are no different and are often more blatantly obvious in the abuse of personal ideology. It's why we have expensive transit projects being built in many cities across the United States. Projects that will further strain transit systems that can't even afford to operate what they already have.

The fixed guideway plan for Honolulu has little basis in reality for relieving traffic congestion. The plan is based around the hope of future development which the proponents also hope will bring economic boom times. It is also based in looking at the past with rose colored glasses. The good 'ol days when life was easy and streetcars and passenger rail ruled the transportation of the area.

The desire to go back to those good 'ol days is one of the personal ideologies that drives many decision makers when it comes to approving these expensive transportation plans. When it comes to rail, the rose colored glasses are put on to drive them towards the legacy they all want. I've questioned politicians before regarding this where I live and you could just see their reality drifting away as they transported themselves back to the past in their own mind when everything was better, the air was cleaner and rail was king. A definite look back with rose colored glasses in my area of the country considering the time frame that one politician drifted back to when I asked why he was supporting an unneeded extension to the rail line in Pittsburgh. He drifted back to the 1940's when Pittsburgh was pitch black at high noon due to pollution but you'd never know that from from his descriptions of how clean the trolleys made the air.

Even putting such a plan up to a vote of the residents wouldn't deter the proponents of these expensive plans. They routinely feed the public half-truths based on questionable studies and that would continue. All too often I see people who were totally disillusioned after one of these projects are built. They were promised all kinds of things to support the project but once built, they realize they were handed a bill of goods that includes increased taxes, increased fares and reduced transit service.

Transit projects need to be based in reality. Not future hopes and dreams or looks back to the past. Yes, the preceding are important in the fine tuning of the decision but they shouldn't be the basis of the decision. The majority of transit projects planned for the U.S. aren't based in reality and in fact, reality is often ignored in order to ram the expensive and unneeded projects through.

A Laurel goes to Richard O. Rowland. He gets what so many out there don't. Politicians need to wake up to reality and stop trying to ram these expensive projects down the taxpayer's throat and the already over stressed public transit agencies that will be forced to come up with a way to operate them.

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