The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has been in business for less than a year.

But, according to a new Civil Beat poll, it’s got a long way to go if it wants to win the confidence of Honolulu voters.

The automated telephone poll asked 1,172 likely Oahu voters “Do you think that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is competent and can carry out the project successfully?”

Forty-five percent said “No,” with just 24 percent saying “Yes.” Thirty percent were unsure. The poll, conducted on Feb. 26 and 27, has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent.1

Honolulu voters overwhelmingly approved the formation of HART in November 2010. They were asked whether they supported revising the city charter to create a semi-autonomous public transit authority to manage the city’s mass transit system.

Last week the HART board appointed the agency’s first CEO, picking a manager from the mainland, Daniel Grabauskas, over the local engineer, Toru Hamayasu, who had filled that role in an acting capacity.

Board members said Grabauskas’ ability to communicate the benefits of the rail project was critical. The selection came after a State of the City speech by Mayor Peter Carlisle in which he said rail proponents have not done a good job getting their message out.

“We in the city are not doing a good job helping you discern what is accurate,” the mayor said. “You deserve the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Whether he’s right about accuracy is one thing, but the poll shows that voters are not buying the message.

A negative view of the competency of the authority and its ability to complete the project successfully was shared by every age group. Men and women had about the same view, but more women were unsure than men, 36 percent versus 23 percent.

Republicans were the most likely to view the authority negatively, with 57 percent answering “No.” But half of independents, 53 percent, also shared that view. Democrats had the most positive view, with 29 percent saying that they think HART is competent. That reflects the general findings of the poll, which showed that Democrats view the project more positively than Republicans and independents. But even among Democrats, more voters view HART negatively than positively, 38 percent to 29 percent.

Only voters with no high school diploma were essentially deadlocked on the question, with 28 percent answering that HART is competent and can carry out the project successfully and 31 percent disagreeing. The gap between “Yes” and “No” for all other educational categories was at least 20 percentage points. The negative view is also consistent among income groups.

And just as opposition to the project doesn’t vary between those who live in the rail corridor2 and those who live outside it, the question of competency is answered roughly the same way by those who live in the corridor and those who live outside it. Forty-three percent of voters in the corridor said they don’t think HART is competent and can carry out the project successfully. Forty-eight percent of voters outside the district said the same thing.

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