Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Honolulu City Council deadlocked on transit vote, but that's a gain for Phileas

by Larry Geller

I thought I would drop in and give my one minute testimony in support of rubber-on-concrete technology for the Honolulu transit system today. I figured I'd be out by noon. Wrong. It was 6:45 p.m. before I left, after a day of high drama and intrigue.

In the end, the Council was deadlocked on every vote 4-4 (Council Chairperson Barbara Marshall was absent).

While many present in the peanut gallery rolled their eyes and mocked the situation, actually, I think I can say that it is a gain for the Phileas system, the bus-like train (they don't like me using the word "bus" but it has those qualities I think). Months ago I was convinced that the "fix" was in for rail. Actually, at the Mayor's office, it is, but the Council has insisted that it has the right to choose the technology. And rubber-on-concrete has moved up so well that it was able to deadlock the decision, overcoming overwhelming odds in favor of steel wheels on steel rails.

There will be all kinds of slants in the news reports. An early Star-Bulletin article, for example, fails to mention the tie votes on the rubber wheels amendment, indicating how far it has come.

This is a $5 billion decision (at least) that the Council has to make, and it is a difficult one. Perhaps whatever happens is necessary to sort things out.

Councilman Djou proved a master at parliamentary procedure and basically controlled the outcome. I don't agree with his transit thinking, but he demonstrated real skill this evening. If you have a chance to watch the `Olelo coverage, check out the last two hours or so to see him in action. It was better than most TV dramas. There were several recesses called while the acting chair consulted with their parliamentarian on what to do.

The Council seemed to both attend to and object to the testimony early in the day of former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. I mean, why was this guy here except to shill for steel wheels on rail as a choice? The Administration's radio ads run at taxpayer expense also drew criticism.

I did get my one minute and did my best. A few other ordinary citizens testified for the Phileas system as well. Developers, union spokespersons, real estate people, they all want steel wheels. Some people objected to steel because of the potential for noise.

I learned also why the westernmost stations will come into service first and not the stations near the city. It's because there is no space in town for the maintenance yard, which will be at the Ewa end of the line. So service has to start there and work its way east, even if not too many people ride the train as a result. Makes sense, I guess.

I was at the edge of my seat several times during the day. Very exciting.

Now the spotlight will be on Barbara Marshall. She will be able to determine the technology next session, assuming the others hold their ground.

So if you want to urge her to vote one way or the other on this (steel, rubber or maglev), you have until April 23, the next full Council meeting, to convince her of your thinking.


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