Tuesday, January 19, 2010


CHASING THE BUS: The screamin’ meemies are out in me-me force over the county’s energy sustainability study and it’s proposed fiddy-cent a gallon gas tax, ignoring the rest of the idiotic study which pooh-poohs windmills and extols an incinerator to generate electricity despite the proven lack of enough trash to make it cost effective even if we foolishly burned all our recyclables.

The main problem with the 50c fuel tax is what they would use it for- promoting the interim technology of hybrid cars.

But apparently even those that get that the idea can be a good one in order to provide public transportation seem to be blind as to what is really necessary to get people out of their cars and onto the bus.

The newspaper article on the presentation of the plan to the council reports the expected knee-jerk politically expedient reaction of most of the councilmembers by headlining “Members criticize ‘ridiculous’ 50-cent fuel tax proposal”.

But it also reports that at least one councilmember gave it due consideration reporting

Councilwoman Lani Kawahara agreed with the goal of the fuel tax but said it is too much, too soon...

“I don’t think we’ve provided enough options besides automobile transportation for us to be able to even consider doing a 50-cent gasoline tax right now,” she said. “Unless we get a bus system that runs 24 hours or every day including Sundays, that would be something that should happen first, I would think.”

Although she didn’t make the connection of using the tax to support a “bus system that runs 24 hours or every day including Sundays” a least she’s connecting it to a “full service” bus system.

Juxtapose that with KIUC board member and founder of Apollo Kaua`i founder Ben Sullivan’s weekend letter-to-the-editor that did make the connection but also came up a bit short on thinking it through.

After pointing out that for most people, especially in this recession, “it’s gonna be quite a while before we can afford to buy a new car, especially one that carries a price premium like a hybrid or a yet-to-be-seen plug-in hybrid” he does propose an expansion of the bus saying “(o)ne suggestion that has come to the surface is to allocate a major portion of the revenue to fund dramatic improvements to the Kaua`i Bus”.

The problem is that his “vision” still has cars in it. He writes

You jump in your car in the morning (or on your bike) to drive to a nearby park and ride, and board the bus for your daily commute to work. You don’t have to worry about the schedule because it runs every 15 minutes during morning and evening rush hour. You have a bus pass through your employer’s special discount program for employees. They offer it so they can preserve valuable parking for customers, help their employees during hard times, and to get a tax break. Instead of white knuckling it through traffic, you ride in to work sipping hot coffee (with a no-spill lid) and use the on-board Wi-Fi to check your e-mail. The bus drops you off only a block from your job. Late day at the office? No problem. The last bus isn’t until 9:30 at night. Hey, you can even ride to church on Sundays with your neighbors because of new expanded weekend bus service. With a bus system like this, we might even see a return to one-car families who can save thousands of dollars annually between insurance, car payments, maintenance and, of course, gasoline.

The solution runs down the middle of Kawahara and Sullivan’s apparitions.

The only way to reduce the number of cars is to provide a level of service that will enable people to live without owning a car. It really comes down to that and that alone.

Who the heck is going to buy- or really invest in- a car and then get in it to drive a quarter mile to leave it in a parking lot all day and then take the bus?

The answer is no one. With the exception of a few who either buy into Ben’s leisurely ride concept or even fewer hardcore socially and environmentally conscious, if you own a car you’re going to drive it.

Right now, especially with the service/tourism jobs on Kaua`i that depend on shift work, people have to have a car. The bus doesn’t run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it doesn’t serve enough residential areas.

And that’s just for work. People go out in the evening, sometimes returning late. They go out on weekends. Even if you don’t do it very often it’s reason enough to own a car.

Also people need to be able to carry packages on public transportation, another self-inflicted wound the current system has imposed for no particular reason except for the clout of the rent-a-car and taxi lobbies.

In order to make it practical to live without a vehicle the bus must run 24/7 even if it only comes once an hour after midnight. And in order to make it available to people who live in residential areas off the main highway it must expand into all of the major and even some minor feeder roads in the mostly mauka but sometime makai (such as in Kalaheo) districts.

A few years back when the legislature gave Honolulu the ability to fund public transportation via a half-a-percent excise tax we asked around among some reps and sens about giving the neighbor islands that option even though we usually eschew regressive taxes.

All said it’s a non-starter unless and until the counties ask them for it.

Unless and until that day the Kaua`i bus is going to be a useless appendage because people will be forced to own a car for the times when “da bus no more come”.

And if we own them we will use them. It’s really that simple.


Unknown said...

Glad to see your banter turned to the bus...and I'll concede that the reference to 'driving to the bus stop' is a bit counter to the long-term vision. The way I see it, though, if gas gets to 4 or 5 bucks/gallon (or more) and an annual bus pass can be had for $180 (or better) people might just 'drive to the park & ride'. Maybe I'm lacking vision but I just don't see the bus system going down every winding road & I don't think too many people are ready to walk home 1-2 miles in the dark & the rain. As to 24 hour service, yeah, maybe that's where we need to get. What's the improvement that brings a tipping point? How does one eat an elephant? What are the chances of getting a 50 cent tax actually passed the first time out so we can fund the kind of massive scale jump you're talking about? Thanks again for 'getting on board' in this discussion. Ben

Andy Parx said...

Thanks for the comment Ben. Yes transition funding will be hard but of course once it’s “done” the highway expansion money can go to sustaining public transit. But the main thing is making the system sufficient to get people to give up their cars entirely. Sure, not “every windy road” service- there has to be a diminishing return for the number of people served... its not going to be for a mile long road with three houses. That’s why I referred to feeder roads. But we need to get to a point where it serves 90-5% of the population, within a quarter mile of them, 24/7. Then when gas if $5 a gallon or more people will consider giving up their car which is the key.