Autonomous Vehicles And Rail

Trains can handle far more passengers than self-driving cars (April 23, 2018)

Let’s not be so quick to hail autonomous vehicles as the answer to all our transportation needs. (“Why Honolulu Rail Will Be A Moot Point”) Or to dismiss the role rail transit will play. The two are much more complementary than they are mutually exclusive.

As recent accidents have highlighted, autonomous vehicles will take many years to develop, cost more, and provide smaller benefits than many assume. The director of the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center says it may be decades before a vehicle can drive itself safely at any speed on any road in any weather. Similarly, the Toyota Research Institute’s CEO Gill Pratt stated autonomous driving, “is a wonderful goal but none of us in the automobile or IT industries are close to achieving true autonomy.”

Even if the technology is developed, self-driving cars won’t be alone on the roads for a long time. Michael Shick/Wikimedia Commons

While we can all look forward to a future of electric and driverless cars on our roads and highways, automobile congestion will continue to be one of the biggest challenges to mobility on Oahu, whether or not the vehicles are driven by people or computers.

Rail transit remains the best solution for providing frequent, reliable, high-capacity transportation. The Honolulu Rail System will be able to move more than 7,000 passengers per hour per direction, and can be expanded in the future. This additional transportation capacity far exceeds any anticipated capacity increase from autonomous vehicles.

Bill Brennan, communications specialist, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation

Self-Driving cars will be too expensive for many of us (April 23, 2018)

Steven Dang asserted that in 12-15 years from now, Honolulu rail will be a moot point. I strongly disagree. Dang’s conclusion seems entirely founded on his assumption that self-driving cars will be established within that time frame. His assumption seems to discount critical factors to this discussion on tech obsoletion like adequate self-driving car infrastructure, sufficient legal framework in place, and economic prosperity.

You see, there’s a whole lot more to self-driving cars than the capacity for a car to drive itself. That autonomous car has to deal with other people on the road, the roads themselves, and state-specific regulations — none of which is within the control of any autonomous vehicle manufacturer. In addition, unless our economy is booming, and the vast majority of residents are cashing in, it’s likely that most cars on the road in 15 years won’t be self-driving. The technology might be adequate in that time, but everyone won’t suddenly be able to afford one.

Mass transit systems will continue to have value. And they should have value! We should look to express rail routes and the utilization of light rail lines for personal rapid transit systems (driverless pod cars). Rail can definitely benefit us.

— Zuri Aki, Mililani

Improving Air Service To Hilo

Here are a few steps that Hawaiian Airlines should take (April 24, 2018)

Sally Kaye’s unpleasant experience with Ohana by Hawaiian Air (“My Recent Experience With Ohana Air Was (Spoiler Alert) Not Good”) reinforces my frustration with Hawaiian Airlines, which is short-changing half the population of the Big Island — those of us who live in Hilo and East Hawaii.  HA is the only interisland carrier flying in and out of Hilo. But three changes in HA’s service would go far to overcome our isolation from the rest of the state and its capital city:

1) Lower fares. Even with so-called sales and promotions, it costs about $200 to fly from Hilo to Honolulu and back. This puts school excursions, family visits and even business travel out of reach for many if not most people here. A couple of half-price round-trips a day would be appreciated.

2) A late-evening return. The last flight to Hilo leaves Honolulu around 7:45 p.m. Since you have to get to the airport during rush-hour, to arrive by 6:45 or so, there’s no way to have dinner, or even share much pau hana time, if you want to get home that night. A 10 p.m. departure would enable going there and back in one day.

3) Hilo-Kona shuttle. There is only one flight a day from Hilo to the mainland and back (United via LAX), but there are several mainland flights, and some international service too, in and out of Kona. Since it’s a two-hour drive between the Hilo and Kona airports, a 15-minute shuttle flight to and from Hilo would be a viable alternative.

I don’t imagine that these suggestions would be cost-free.  RE: fares, HA spokespeople have pointed out that its interisland fares are comparable to those for flights over comparable distances on the mainland. That seems to be true, but it ignores the reality that (except in Alaska) people have many other — and cheaper — transportation options for getting to their state’s capital city. As for a late-evening return, that might entail overnighting the plane in Hilo; but hotels are close by, to accommodate the crews, and Hilo airport stays open late to service the United planes.

Hilo-Kona shuttle service would probably be best met — at least until the option caught on — by turboprop aircraft; but (if its other problems could be resolved) a subsidiary like Ohana could be tasked with providing that service. When you buy a ticket from Hilo to (say) the mainland via Honolulu, HA’s fare is bundled in, and the revenue is shared (in some formula) between the airlines involved. So the cost of operating the shuttle could likewise be shared with the long-haul carriers.

I think Hawaiian Airlines could afford to do all these things. According to Hawaii Business Magazine, Hawaiian Airlines is the second-most-profitable company in the Islands; and according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser it has just given extremely generous bonuses to its senior executives. Some of those profits could surely be used to improve service to Hilo.

— Hal Glatzer, Hilo

Tip For Buying Coral-Friendly Sunscreen

Checking the ingredients on packages can be frustrating (April 22, 2018)

Mahalo for your optimistic article on banning coral-damaging sunscreen (“Hawaii Seems Poised To Ban Coral-Damaging Sunscreen”) .

I’d like to share this tidbit with you. I have found that it can be very difficult and discouraging to try and find eco-friendly sunscreen by going to the stores and trying to examine the fine print product labels. There are very few products here in Honolulu that meet the criteria of oxybenzone-free. Then, you don’t know how effective the product is as a sunscreen. Consumer Reports says that many sunscreens tested provide SPF protection nowhere near their claimed number.

So here’s my tidbit: I went to and did a search on “oxybenzone-free and octinoxate-free sunscreen.” They listed over 50 products available, most with customer reviews. I cross-compared them with highly-rated sunscreens at and found one that was highly rated.

That’s it! It arrived a week later without a hassle.

— Stanton Lum, Makiki

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