Friday, May 9, 2008


GOING GREYHOUND: The Kaua`i Bus has always been somewhat of a joke. Other than those forced to use it because they don’t have a car no one can use it without oodles of spare time and a residence and workplace that are somewhere near the limited number of lines and stops. And in a rural place with a small sparse-density population, that eliminates half the people right off the bat. And by not running past sundown barely running on Saturday and never on a Sunday who’s left?

But it sounds like some concerned citizens tried to take on our public transit deficit at the County Council public hearing on the budget Wednesday (5/7/08).

According to an earlier article at Andrea Bower’s local alternative news site Save Kaua`i “Apollo Kaua`i and Malama Kaua`i, along with many other community organizations, are asking the mayor and council members to make improvements to The Kaua`i Bus in order to increase ridership.”

They state the reasons- all great ones- for the need for expansion of the Bus saying among other things that “(c)limate change has become an undeniable global crisis, and it is our responsibility to take part in solutions to slow its progression. CO2 produced by automobiles is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Increasing bus service, thus ridership, is an effective way for the County to reduce emissions on our Island dramatically.”

But the devil is always in the details and although their proposal for expansion is meant to deal with the need to get us out of our cars and into public transportion it doesn’t deal with the core of the problem- the need to have a car in the first place to live and work on the island.

They propose four major expansions:

“1. An increase in the frequency of busses during peak commuter times on the main lines. The main lines run from Lihue westbound and from Lihue northbound. They currently run every hour from early morning to about 7 pm. We’re asking for the service to be stepped up to every 1⁄2 hour from start of service until 8:30 AM, and from 4 PM until service stops. We feel that this, in combination with the establishment of designated park & rides, will give the largest number of commuters a viable option to use the bus to get to & from work. Estimated cost – approximately $400,000*

2. An increase in service to Hanalei. Currently, on the mainline northbound route, busses run ever hour to Kapa`a but continue only every two hours to Hanalei. Along with the above increases, we are asking that this service be increased to hourly throughout the day.Estimated cost – approximately $300,000*

3. An extension of service until 9:00 PM currently, bus service on all routes stops at 7:00 PM. We are asking for an increase in hourly service on the two main lines until 9:00 pm, which will allow more people to use the bus for evening activities and service jobs whose hours often run into the evening. Estimated cost – approximately $450,000*

4. An extension of the ‘Saturday Schedule’ to Sundays also. The Bus runs on a reduced schedule on Saturdays, but does not run at all on Sundays. We are asking for the same reduced schedule to be extended to Sundays as well. Estimated cost – approximately $350,000*

While these measures might increase ridership among those either forced by their circumstances to take the bus or those who are socially conscious and want to do their part or even those who want to save money and not drive their car sometimes, they don’t address the main cause of people driving their cars- the fact that they have one.

Kaua`i is not a 9-5 community, or even an or 8-4 or 7-3 as is more common among those with professional or trade jobs. Most work in the tourism industry and most of those jobs are in service and an awful lot of that is “shift work”.

These are the lower paid among Kaua`i residents and the ones who need the bus the most. But they can’t rely on a bus if they don’t work daytime only- and so they have to have a car.

And most people who have a car will use their car. It saves time and makes it possible to run errands before and after work. Even if it’s a day when they don’t have errands they will use their car for the convenience if they have one even if the bus were to “work” for them.

This yields a situation where the ones who need the bus the most and so will use it the most- and would be most likely to not even own a car if the service could provide dependable transportation when they get off work at 10 or 11 p.m.- are the ones who can’t possibly live and work under either the current level of service or proposed expansion and so must have a car.

It’s not a forgone conclusion that if the bus ran 24 hours a day- at least once an hour from midnight to 4 and more often otherwise- that everyone will immediately give up their cars, even if all areas and routes were set up to get people to shopping and tourist service areas with minimal need for transfers.

Things like express and local service and enabling people with packages might help more too but there are many who will never give up their cars. But the fact remains that when you look at places that have full-service public transpiration most people don’t even think of owning cars.

And until it is not a question of whether to use the car but whether to own a car, the bus will continue to be our white elephant that everybody wants but no one quite knows how to use or what it’s supposed to be for.

As fuel costs continue to increase exponentially public transport will make more and more economic sense to more and more people. And as younger people move into the job market if they were raised with a full-service public transportation system they will be much more likely to use it.

And perhaps some of the tourists who look at the current state of our system and immediately run to the rent-a-car lot upon arrival might see their way to getting some of those cars off those roads.

But the economic pressure alone won’t overcome the convenience, comfort and time and even necessity factors if those pressures to own a car aren’t fully managed, mitigated and ameliorated.

Money is the main factor but Kaua`i will get it’s fair share of transportation dollars from the State and Federal governments. It’s just a matter of our vision- is it an automobile based six and eight lane superhighways or something else?

Infrastructureal investments will be what determines the future of transportation on Kaua`i and the question is whether the next $100 million chunk will be spent enabling private or public transit.

While the band-aid of the current proposal is a start, until we have a 24/7 system it won’t do anything but perpetuate the current transportation modalities.

And the longer we take to get there by concentrating on the low hanging fruit rather than pruning the trees and planning for future production of the entire orchard, the more fruitless the our efforts and expenditures will be.

Update: The usually responsive County Administration’s Public Information Officer has failed to respond to repeated requests for further information and/or comment on the Dayne Apioalani incident as of close of business hours today.

Meanwhile over at Councilperson Mel Rapozo’s blog concerned citizen Jimmy Trujillo posted Juan Wilson’s account of Dayne Apioalani’s arrest asking Mel to “comment and provide insight on the recent police action taken against Dayne Apoilani last week”.

We wanted to know if Mel could explain something to us and asked the following:

One thing Mel is that, if Juan’s account is basically factual, it seems that KPD has plenty of resources for executing warrants and didn’t really need to contract with you to bring these people in... especially ones whose locations are known and who can be contacted with a phone call. I certainly hope you are going to try the telephone before hiring a bunch of goons to bring in people who failed to show up in court.

No wonder the KPD budget is stretched if this is what they consider to be a wise use of resources.

Update 2- The county PIO says that she "asked the Police Chief if he had a response to your query. He declined to comment."


Anonymous said...

Hi Andy.

I agree that a public transportation system is a kind of all-or-nothing proposition. A system that operates on limited hours and routes is as good as useless.

I didn't start driving until I was in my twenties because I spent my youth in a city with a good public transit system so it never occurred to me that I needed to drive until I moved to a suburban area with a non-functioning system.

But that's one of the big differences: grid-like urban areas are relatively easy to route with public transit, whereas suburban and rural areas are not. I gather that in earlier times people in rural and semi-rural places simply didn't have a daily routine that required many miles of travel from home. Yet as people's daily lives shift to ever greater travel to work, etc., we have to come up with solutions.

My admiration and gratitude goes to people like Ben and Andrea who are working on solutions. I think Andy has a good point that younger generations growing up with a good public system are the key to its success in the long run.

What's nice is that the system can be useful to young people even now. Parents can get in the habit of having their kids ride the bus instead of giving them rides everywhere. That's what I'm doing now, whenever possible!


Ace Harbinger said...

Andy maybe you saw this in today's New York Times:

Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
Published: May 10, 2008

DENVER — With the price of gas approaching $4 a gallon, more commuters are abandoning their cars and taking the train or bus instead.

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.

So, Andy, it may be that if we build it, they will come.


Anonymous said...

The same article notes that fares only cover about a third of the cost of such systems.

So if you build it, can we pay for it?

Andy Parx said...

Public transportation never pays for itself. but neither does the gas tax pay for every penny- or even close to- used to build and fix roads.

As I said, we “get” literally hundreds of millions for widening roads- some of which we don’t even really need such as the project to widen the highway past Puhi going to the west side. That’s an absolute waste but we asked for it and got it and now we’re building it.

We will get our “share” of federal and state transpiration money. The money is there if we ask for it for public transit rather than widening roads. But that would take foresight and vision, something no one in Kaua`i government has. And of course we could use the state authorization for the .5 cent GET to pay for it like Honolulu has done although I can’t see that as being popular until gas is 10 a gallon... which could be in a year or two... which makes the vision things even more important.