Three words summarize our unfortunate rail situation: corruption, collusion and ignorance.

But first, the good news: A realistic transportation solution that we can afford is still possible. Honolulu should terminate elevated rail at Middle Street at the bus transfer station in Kalihi, where passengers get off the train and board an express bus traveling nonstop on North King Street to downtown.

This 3-mile trip could be done in 10 minutes with synchronized lights, bringing commuters rapidly to the heart of downtown. Compare that with elevated rail plans that require five more station stops after Middle Street to Aloha Tower, then a long walk to work.

An express bus is quicker and can easily be extended to the University of Hawaii Manoa and Waikiki.

The author produced a video to demonstrate how North King Street can be modified to accommodate express buses:

Unfortunately, given the nature of our corrupt political structure, any hope for such obvious correction is unlikely.

With hindsight it is clear that rail was never really crafted as a plan to reduce future traffic congestion, but instead was a scheme to extract billions from a reliably inattentive public and spread maximum loot around to favorite supporters. With plans for a special session of the Hawaii Legislature next week, this real motivation has reached a climax.

First, let’s define what’s wrong with rail:

  • Corruption — Greed for power and money drives the corruption scenario, crafted by our political leaders (nearly the entire Legislature, Honolulu City Council, the governor and mayor), banks, Hawaiian Electric Co. and Pacific Resource Partnership.
  • Collusion — Key operators here are the media, especially the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, in cahoots with politicos and their corporate overlords, in cooperation or conspiracy to cheat and deceive us.
  • Ignorance — Unfortunately, the general public (not all of us, dear reader) is guilty for not seeing through the nonsense and lies foisted on them by Mufi Hannemann and Kirk Caldwell, as delivered to us by the daily paper, political propaganda and TV news.

Combine low-information voters with skilled public-relations deceivers, funded by huge vested interests, and the result is mass delusion creating our worst political nightmare, with $10 billion down the drain. In the end, Leeward Oahu will suffer much worse traffic congestion than now.

The phony excuses for building rail were complete lies: There will be no traffic relief, or long-term employment, or transit-oriented development for affordable housing. Our rail boondoggle is but a mini-version of the President Donald Trump disaster, a gullible public easily misled.

Now our overlords are set to call themselves into special session to supposedly give thoughtful consideration to solutions, but the outcome is obvious: There will be a tax increase to pay for this disaster.

Bus Facility Middle Street. 22 june 2016
Need to catch TheBus? Middle Street is the place, so let’s end the rail line there. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It is not possible for these narrow-minded, docile legislators to go against the mandate of the political bosses and campaign funders. The vote will be controlled, the outcome is inevitable: more unfair sales taxes imposed on our oppressed public, who are already the worst-off in the country in terms of per-capita government debt and cost of living.

The handful of courageous legislators who do listen to reasonable alternatives are outgunned by external pressures.

The dilemma is especially tragic because a bus alternative would provide an ideal solution that could be easily implemented but is unlikely to gain traction due to our disgraceful political situation.

Take Rail To Middle Street, Then Bus It

Bus is faster, and express routes can easily be extended to Waikiki and the UH Manoa, utilizing synchronized lights, available road space and our excellent bus system, at no major extra charge. With proper station design the transfer from train to bus at Middle Street can be done efficiently.

This bus plan could actually transform the dreadful rail scheme into a reasonable mass transit solution, rescuing it from the inevitable disasters of low ridership and killer expenses it otherwise faces. 

Rail advocates falsely claim there is no room for an expanded bus fleet on our existing downtown roads, but this can be fixed by improving North King Street, which is now under-utilized, varying 23 times in width from four to six lanes.

North King has been ignored, neglected, abused and underused, and now it’s time to correct this problem. It can be easily widened to a uniform six lanes, making space for Bus Rapid Transit and providing an ideal route.

Bus lanes can easily be extended along South King Street, South Beretania Street, Kalakaua Avenue and Kuhio Avenue, completing a comprehensive BRT system at a fraction of the cost of rail, providing effective transportation and much less damage to our city center.

Compared to rail, this bus alternative will solve major problems:

  1. It will be less expensive because existing tax revenues are sufficient;
  2. it will not disrupt the appearance of urban Honolulu;
  3. it can provide express transit service to major destinations;
  4. it can be created quickly;
  5. it would improve Kalihi and provide new development opportunities;
  6. it utilizes and builds upon our existing excellent bus service;
  7. it should have no problem meeting federal funding requirements;
  8. it would have broad public support;
  9. it makes the elevated rail a useful delivery system feeding into the bus station;
  10. it can be easily expanded and modified with demand, part of a serious new approach to comprehensive traffic solutions; and
  11. it can adapt to future technologies of autonomous vehicles.

If we follow the existing political plan and extend elevated rail to Ala Moana Center, it will cost another $4 billion and bring riders to a dead end at our tourist-oriented mall, which is not even open during morning rush hour. The mayor and bus manager recently admitted the obvious, that Ala Moana is not even a destination but is instead a bus transfer point.

Ala Moana is not even a destination but is instead a bus transfer point.

So, why not transfer instead to bus at Middle Street, where it is more effective and so much cheaper to build? The feds would not object to a reasonable solution that will save money and enhance the project.

While we do have existing revenue that is locked into contracts obliging us to build to Middle Street, there are no contracts requiring elevated rail to go any farther, nor is there funding or logic for such an extension.

This bus plan would avoid sending an elevated monstrosity through our downtown for no purpose other than to provide construction jobs and spend another $4 billion, half of which is for interest on borrowed money heading straight to mainland banks.

The logic is clear, but, as stated above, we live in a corrupt political environment with a public that has generally not been paying attention. Honolulu is going to suffer unless an unlikely miracle happens.

All the legislature needs to do is say no. Then the city will be forced to come up with a better plan: Bus Rapid Transit.

I would like to see a demonstration project testing the speed of a nonstop bus with green traffic lights from Middle Street to downtown, to UH and to Waikiki. This test could be done immediately at no cost, probably yielding stunning results, demolishing the Ala Moana option.

This would be an easy test of the BRT hypothesis, before committing to billions of dollars to an elevated extension of dubious value. Meanwhile, scrap the special session and wait for audits and alternative analysis to be considered at the next regular session.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Dennis Callan
    Dennis Callan has been involved for many years with transportation issues including past terms as co-founder and co-chairman of Stop Rail Now, chairman of the Manoa Neighborhood Board, former chairman of the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizen Advisory Committee on Transportation and former president of Life of the Land.