Ron Magana sits under a canopy at Ka Makana Ali’i, a new Kapolei shopping center just down the road from the west end of the Honolulu rail line. His young daughter plays on her iPad next to him.
You might think that people like Magana who live or work in West Oahu would be excited about the prospect of a mass transit option that theoretically would transport them east or west much quicker than they could drive on congested highways.
In many cases, you would be wrong.
Where the rail guideway begins 4 miles east of Kapolei ‘s core.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“I think it’s insane to continue the project,” says Magana, who lives in Wahiawa in Central Oahu and works at Disney’s Aulani resort hotel near Kapolei. “You think that benefits me?”
Magana says that increasing taxes on people already struggling to make a living isn’t a fair way to build rail. He works night shifts at the Aulani and drives to work, which he says many Oahu residents will still choose to do even if rail is an option for them.
It’s not just the construction cost of rail, currently pegged at $10 billion, that bothers Magana. Factors like ticket prices, maintenance, parking space, car burglaries and many other issues that city officials have yet to hash out all make rail an undesirable option for him, and one he fears may have lasting repercussions.
“The next generation is going to suffer eventually,” he says.
Will Bus Riders Jump To Rail?
More than 20,000 residents call Kapolei home, in addition to the nearly 50,000 people farther up the Leeward Coast between Nanakuli and Makaha.
About 10,000 people currently ride one of TheBus routes between Kapolei and downtown Honolulu each day, and rail officials expect most of them to make the switch to rail.
One of them who plans to ride the rail is Morgan Griggs, who wakes up at 5 a.m. to get to her shift at the Pearl Highlands T-Mobile store on time.
Griggs lives within walking distance of the future East Kapolei Station, and could have her commute time cut in half with the rail.
TheBus takes almost an hour to get to Pearl City from Kapolei, while the estimate for rail is 28 minutes. Griggs also wants to start school at the University of Hawaii Manoa or Kapiolani Community College, both of which could become accessible through several of the bus routes that would be added to supplement the rail system.
Bus riders spend upwards of two hours on trips between Kapolei and downtown. Trains are expected to get make the journey in 42 minutes.
“I think it’ll work,” Griggs says of the rail project. “It makes sense if it cuts time down in commutes.”
And that’s exactly what the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation wants the rail to do: save time and drives. HART estimates that the rail will eliminate 40,000 daily car trips while shuttling 800 passengers in each of its four-car trains.
Where It All Began
The Honolulu rail line begins 4 miles east of Kapolei’s city center, slithering across former farmland and several thousand acres of lonely, barren red dirt. In 2011, city officials plunged their shovels into the ground here to herald the beginning of construction. Since the East Kapolei segment was completed in 2014, the lonely guideway has stood waiting for trains that are still years from rolling.
The inactivity contrasts markedly with the quick rise of Oahu’s so-called Second City. What was once 41,000 acres of dust and shrubs purchased by James Campbell for $93,000 in 1877 has blossomed into a city with shopping centers, government buildings and neighborhoods.
The new Ka Makana Ali’i shopping center and UH West Oahu lie on the same road as the westernmost rail station.
The guideway to the east is out of sight, but not out of the minds of Kapolei’s residents and workers.
Onika Tirado lives and works in Kapolei, so she doesn’t see herself riding rail.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
While wiping down tables at Pacifico Pizza Napoletana, Onika Tirado says riding the rail may not be for her.
Every morning, Tirado and her shift mates prep the pizzeria for an 11 o’clock opening.
She moved to Kapolei 12 years ago, and finds that she never goes near the rail guideway.
“I feel like some things are unnecessary,” Tirado says of the rail project.
She won’t need it anytime soon, because she lives and works in Kapolei and rarely leaves. She may have even less of a reason to see it, much less use it, as she will be launching her own woodworking business out of her home.
If Seth Kokualani rides the rail, it would be for the occasional joyride.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Though Tirado might not use rail, she says that people who already catch public transit might want to give it a shot. For those in Waianae who need to drive to even get the chance to use the rail, she doubts it will help.
“It’s good for some people,” Tirado says. “But probably not for me.”
The same goes for Seth Kokualani, who sits on a bench and scrolls through social media while waiting for his 11 a.m. shift at the AT&T store in Kapolei. He’s indifferent to the structure that has polarized the opinions of many others and shrugs when asked if he thinks rail is good or bad.
Still, the Waianae resident supports rail for the jobs it creates. He says many of his family members work for construction companies contracted to build the guideway.
But, Kokualani won’t use the product of his relatives’ work for daily transportation. Instead, he may just take it for a joyride to see what it’s like.
“It’s not going to stop people from driving,” Kokualani says. “If I work in town, I’m just going to drive.”
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell