“There’s no sense criticizing if you don’t come up with some kind of solution.”

That’s what Ben Cayetano said the day he announced he was running for Honolulu mayor, two months ago this week.

Cayetano tried to make clear that January morning that he isn’t a one-issue candidate. But stopping the $5.2 billion rail project is a central tenet of his campaign.

Specifics on Cayetano’s transit alternative have been slow to trickle out. But he doesn’t dispute that a transit alternative is needed between Leeward Oahu and Downtown. Traffic will only grow worse in coming years.

So far, he’s talked about small fixes like moving more jobs to Kapolei and starting school and work later so rush hour is spread out longer in the mornings. He’s also repeatedly said he prefers Bus Rapid Transit to rail.

Asked at a press conference last week to talk about how to solve the city’s traffic problem if rail doesn’t happen, Cayetano told reporters he’s working with University of Hawaii engineering professor Panos Prevedouros, former city transportation chief Sam Callejo and former state transportation czar Rod Haraga on a plan much like one developed by former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

“Those people know me because I represented West Oahu for years and I lived there for 22 years so I know what the traffic is like. We will provide these alternatives,” he said. “Our plan is comprehensive, but at the core of it is a Bus Rapid Transit system.”

Cayetano told Civil Beat Editor and General Manager John Temple in an email that he would share the full transit plan by mid-April.

“I’ve heard that some people, including one person here, has questioned well where are the specifics? So let me answer him right now,” Cayetano said at the press conference, referring to rail subcontractor Doug Carlson, who maintains the “Say Yes to the Honolulu Rail System” blog and contributes frequently to Civil Beat discussions. “The specifics are in a plan approved in the year 2000 by the very same company that’s doing the rail system now, Parsons Brinckerhoff. In 2000, Parsons Brinckerhoff did an alternative analysis study. It compared rail, it compared BRT, it compared other systems. And they concluded that Bus Rapid Transit was the most cost-effective because it cost a fraction of the cost of rail and because it could deliver about the same level of services.”

In a Fact Check last year, Civil Beat determined that BRT would indeed have a similar impact on transit ridership as rail for a lower price tag.

“That’s where we’re going to start,” Cayetano said last week. “That’s what we’re going to do. We have the best bus system in the nation. We rank No. 1 in terms of our ridership and all that. My view is that the first step, if we consider something as expensive as rail, is to improve the bus system.”

Cayetano acknowledged BRT had problems, particularly with the in-town section that would have taken lanes of traffic and dedicated them to buses. But the regional plan that would have implemented a non-stop express segment on new dedicated freeway lanes would have helped mitigate traffic, he said.

Cayetano won’t be able to use the general excise tax surcharge revenues earmarked for rail to pay for his expanded bus system without help from Hawaii lawmakers.

“I would have to go to the Legislature and ask them to revise the law,” he said when Civil Beat asked him how he’d pay for BRT. “I would propose to them a deal that, I hate to use this line, but an offer that they can’t refuse. Basically, we’ll leave the state with at least a billion dollars for their own use.”

How much will the BRT system cost?

“We don’t have a figure right now, but the BRT system was supposed to cost a billion dollars,” Cayetano said. “So if we come up with a system that is less or more, it’s far cheaper than rail.”

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