Transportation

You Can Have That Road, Alphonse … No! You Take It, Gaston!

CNBC’s recent rankings of “America’s Top States for Business” pegged Hawaii at #50 overall, despite a #1 rating for quality of life. One factor that led to Hawaii’s rock-bottom position was the condition of its roads and bridges. A big contributor to this state of affairs is that the State and counties aren’t clear on which roads they own, they don’t want to maintain them if they don’t know that they own them, and so there are a number of roads that are not getting maintained. Welcome to “Roads in Limbo.” When Hawaii was a kingdom, there were no counties; all roads belonged to the people through the sovereign. The counties were established in 1905, and while the counties were given certain rights and duties with respect to the roads in the following years, the division of roads into territorial and county highways did not happen until 1947. The law now defining state versus county highways, which dates back to 1963, refers to state highways as those acquired by or under jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, and county highways as all other public highways. The law also mentions private roads that are surrendered or dedicated to the government and clearly says that in that context the government’s legislative body (such as the county council) needs to accept the dedication before the government takes over the road. The big question left open by these provisions is what happens to roads that were never private, but were originally government roads. Is the State allowed to say, “Hey, county, this road is in miserable, substandard condition so it’s now yours, you...

And the Lowsman Trophy Goes to … Hawaii!!

You may have heard about Marcus Mariota, the “favorite son” from Hawaii who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and was then picked in the first round of the NFL draft. What you might not know is that there’s also a Lowsman Trophy, for the pro football player who is picked dead last in the draft. The player winning that trophy also gets the coveted title of “Mr. Irrelevant.” CNBC, the business news network, recently published its rankings of “America’s Top States for Business.” They score the 50 states on more than 60 measures of competitiveness, separated into 10 broad categories and then weighted based on how frequently each is used as a selling point when the states market themselves. This year the categories were workforce, cost of doing business, infrastructure, economy, quality of life, technology and innovation, education, business friendliness, cost of living, and access to capital. Hawaii was ranked #1 in quality of life. However, its scores in the nine other categories were either miserable or abominable, leading to an overall finish at #50, dropping one place from last year. We were ranked #50 in cost of living and cost of doing business, and #49 in infrastructure (just behind Rhode Island, last year’s Lowsman winner). Our highest rank in categories other than the one we aced was #36, for technology and innovation. One of the report’s authors observed that part of the problem is unavoidable. We are in the middle of the ocean, more than 2,000 miles away from the mainland and the bulk of U.S. resources. The same factors that make us an expensive place...

To Taxi or Ride-share?: Limiting Government’s Role

Across the nation, a “horizontal” battle between taxi cab companies and emerging ride-share networks such as Uber and Lyft is unfolding. Unfortunately, a profound “vertical” battle, can be overlooked – and that is the battle between the free market and government over-regulation. Asked where Grassroot stands, we are promoters of the free market. There are many heroes of the free market in the taxi industry who have struggled for decades to cut a path through government over-regulation. There are also emerging entrants to the market via ride-sharing who are seeking a place. Unfortunately, government regulation can be wielded as a tool to favor or oppose selected competitors. Legislators should, therefore, be urged to limit regulation to what is minimally necessary to ensure the public safety and welfare. And these regulations should then be applied equitably to taxi and ride-sharing companies and drivers. As a principle, government regulation should not be used to decide the contest between market competitors. After all, the consumer should be king, not the government. When the free market works to this end, competitive businesses become even more competitive, and consumers gain more and better...

Senate Transportation Committee Approves Interisland Ferry Resolution

On March 31st, the Grassroot Institute was one of several organizations to offer testimony on SCR 181, which would request the state Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of an interisland ferry. Grassroot has been an advocate of a ferry system–which holds great economic potential for our islands. And now there’s good news. The Committee not only passed the resolution, but took into account the suggestions made by Grassroot and Michael Hansen of the Hawaii Shippers Council in expanding the scope of the study. Formerly, the resolution only considered the Washington State ferry as a model, but now it has been expanded to other possible jurisdictions as well. Given the promise and the significance of this endeavor, it’s important that this first analysis be a comprehensive one. The resolution does not, unfortunately, explicitly mention that the Department should also consider the possibility of requesting an exemption to the Jones Act build requirement in the acquisition of the ferry itself. However, that is an issue that should be covered by an inquiry into the costs and parameters of the vessel. As we work together to create a coalition in support of an interisland ferry, Grassroot will continue to advocate for best practices that can put the project on the path to success. The amended resolution reads: SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING AN INTERISLAND FERRY SYSTEM SIMILAR TO THE FERRY SYSTEMS OPERATED BY WASHINGTON STATE AND OTHER JURISDICTIONS. WHEREAS, unlike other states, Hawaii does not enjoy the benefit of being linked to other states, cities, or towns via the federal interstate highway system or...

Grassroot Testimony on an Interisland Ferry

March 31, 2015   To: Senate Committee on Transportation Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Chair Sen. Breene Harimoto, Vice Chair   From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.   RE: SCR 181 — REQUESTING THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING AN INTERISLAND FERRY SYSTEM SIMILAR TO THE FERRY SYSTEM OPERATED BY WASHINGTON STATE.   Dear Chair and Committee Members: The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SCR 181, which requests the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of an interisland ferry system similar to that of Washington State. The creation of an interisland ferry system is one that would be of great benefit to Hawaii’s citizens, businesses, tourism industry, and overall economy. It demonstrates that when we work together to find effective solutions to improve our state’s economy, we can do great things. We would like to offer only two suggestions. First, that in order to give the idea the greatest scope for success, it should not be limited to the ferry system of Washington State, but be broadened to include other ferry systems that present a good model for Hawaii–such as the Alaska, New Zealand, and Australia/Tasmania ferries. In addition, we suggest that any feasibility study include an examination of whether the proposed interisland ferry would benefit from a limited Jones Act exemption allowing the purchase of ferries at best cost from shipbuilders in American-allied nations. Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments. Sincerely, Keli’i Akina, Ph.D. President, Grassroot Institute of...

Grassroot Testimony on The Rail Surcharge

March 19, 2015   To: Senate Committee on Transportation Sen. Clarence Nishihara, Chair Sen. Breene Harimoto, Vice Chair   Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Sen. Will Espero, Chair Sen. Rosalyn Baker, Vice Chair   From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli’i Akina, Ph.D.   RE: HB 134 — RELATING TO TAXATION   Dear Chair and Committee Members: The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer comment on HB 134, which would permit all counties to adopt ordinances allowing for surcharges on state excise and use tax at a rate of 0.25%. This bill makes permanent and more wide-reaching a surcharge that was initially intended to be temporary, albeit at a slightly lower rate (for the time being). However, though a lower surcharge is a step in the right direction, we are concerned that the long term effect of raising the state excise tax is being overlooked. The nature of our state’s General Excise Tax already places Hawaii among the worst states for sales and user taxes. The 2014 ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index (otherwise known as Rich States, Poor States) ranks Hawaii 50th among all states for its sales tax burden, meaning that the GET contributes a significant negative effect to the state’s economic outlook.[1] The Tax Foundation ranks Hawaii 37th in state business tax climate, in part because of the GET (ranked 31st in their study). [2] At least one study of OECD countries has found that along with corporate and personal taxes, consumption taxes like the state excise tax can be economically harmful over the long-term.[3] In fact, economic theory recommends using...

Does the TSA Make Us Less Safe?

Sometimes when I’m in line at airport security, I like to imagine that I’m a ninja trying to get through their defenses.  I imagine hopping over the scanner, throwing some ninja stars, and then flying up the escalator with my grappling hook.  It’s a good thought experiment to see if there’s a hole in their security. But then one day I realized, there is a hole.  A huge hole.  It’s a design flaw at the checkpoint which invites anyone to wreak all kinds of havoc.  If a terrorist wanted to kill a bunch of people, he could simply throw a grenade into the middle of the crowd of people at the TSA. And if a grenade seems too far fetched, then what about a luggage bomb?  It would be pretty easy to get a whole bunch of luggage bombs to go off in that big crowd of people. Many times the airport security can be easily accessed from the road.  A car with bombs and guns could easily take out a whole crowd of people waiting in line to take their shoes and belts off. A study by the RAND corporation showed 11 holes in TSA defenses, and the top three were truck bombs, car bombs, and luggage bombs.  The study recommended that the best way to keep people safe is to, “limit the density of people standing in line”. Yeah, that sounds pretty good!  Let’s speed up the line.  Maybe then more people would make their flights on time. After all, the whole point of airport security is to protect people in airplanes where everyone is huddled together.  So how...

GE Tax: Will Cost Overruns Lead to New Rail Showdown?

The city and county of Honolulu approved construction of a rail transit system in 2005 under the direction of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART). Stretching 20 miles from East Kapolei to Ala Moana, this $5.26 billion rail line is projected to partially open in 2017 and be completed in 2019. But cost overruns created by an artificially compressed construction schedule are eating away at the financing. If HART does not act to rein in contract spending, moves to extend the GE Tax surcharge could lead to another rail showdown. Passed by legislators in 2005, the 0.5% General Excise Tax surcharge was to aid only in construction costs, but recently some politicians have been intimating at an extension to the GET surcharge. Mayor Caldwell suggests continuing the GE tax “in perpetuity” to support operating costs. The present rail surcharge will expire on December 31, 2022—two gubernatorial terms from today. Public approval of the rail project is waning. In one poll performed by Civil Beat in October 2013, only 35% of residents supported the Honolulu Rail project, down from 43% in 2012 and 50.6% in the 2008 general election. At the recent Grassroot Institute candidates’ forum, Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona said that “if they’re going to present any proposals as far as extending that financing, they will meet opposition from the 5th floor when I’m governor.” Randal O’Toole in a recent Cato Institute analysis, explained: “Honolulu is building a 20-mile elevated rail line that costs well over twice as much as the average light rail. Yet those lines will be limited to little (or no) more than light-rail capacities.” In addition, the increase in local jobs has been paltry compared to...

Video: Is Uber Super?

In this edition of E Hana Kakou, Grassroot President Keli’i Akina interviews Dale Evans, owner of Charley’s Taxi. After exploring the history of how taxi services developed in Hawaii–especially in contrast to the closed-market “medallion” systems often used in the mainland–Keli’i and Dale go on to discuss the place of government regulation in the industry. The revelation that Honolulu’s taxi services are fundamentally small (often family-owned) businesses creates a different perspective from which to consider the growth of unregulated ride-sharing services like Uber. Watch the episode in its entirety below or click here to view on You...

Dale’s Top Headlines

By Dale Evans Quotes The entire transit industry is beset by high overtime pay. More than 8,000 (that’s more than one out of nine) transit workers in New York City earn more than $100,000 per year. The highest-paid city employee in Madison Wisconsin is a bus driver. — Randal O’Toole Highways in this country are typically designed to last about 50 years—if properly maintained (which is often not the case). Bridges can last 75 to 100 years, but often need replacement much sooner if their capacity is no longer sufficient. What this means is that a brownfield concession of 50 years or longer will very likely require substantial capital investment to reconstruct much of the pavement during its term of years. And unless economic growth stops, or cars and trucks become obsolete, most such highways and bridges will also require capacity expansion during a 50-year concession period. — Robert Poole Top Headlines Construction is complete on behemoth airship, first flight planned, W.J. Hennigan, LA Times, 1.04.13 Fiscal Cliff Deal Moves Nation Closer To Bankruptcy, E21, Economnic Policies for the 21st Century, 1.02.13 Cox and Archer: Why $16 Trillion Only Hints at the True U.S. Debt. Hiding the government’s liabilities from the public makes it seem that we can tax our way out of mounting deficits. We can’t. Chris Cox, Bill Archer, Wall Street Journal, 11.26.12 A Budget that can’t be balanced! Hal Mason,YouTube, 3.14.12 Documenting 24 Hours In The Lives Of Transportation Workers Across the Globe,Fastcoexist, The incredible shrinking stimulus, Suy Khimm, Washington Post, 12.21.12 Taxes and Economics Louisiana Governor Jindal proposes ending state income tax, Kathy Finn, Reuters, 1.11.13 The Top Transportation Issues to...

Kirk Caldwell Compares Honolulu Rail to Landing on the Moon?

During last night’s mayoral debate, former Honolulu managing director Kirk Caldwell sarcastically asked retired Governor Ben Cayetano whether or not he would ask President Kennedy what his backup plan was in response to his challenge to go to the Moon. I think it’s worth reminding the former managing director of a few things: Funny Caldwell should mention going to the Moon, because the cost of a single Saturn V rocket launch was $185 million in 1969. By contrast Honolulu Rail is $5.3 billion. One could therefore say it is cheaper to go from the Earth to the Moon than from Kapolei to Manoa. (And for those of you wondering, the last Space Shuttle launch into orbit only cost $450 million.) There is absolutely no comparison between an Apollo space capsule and Honolulu Rail. I mean, is this the best our elected officials can come up with? President Andrew Johnson rode on rail in 1869, while the NASA Apollo astronauts rode on a rocket in 1969. I was born in 1979 and I was told we’d have flying cars by now. In case anyone has forgotten, this is the 21st century. Rail? Really? Is that the best and most awe-inspiring technology that our politicians aspire to these days? If rail is the Apollo spaceship of 2012, our politicians either have a shrinking imagination or a such a low opinion of the average voter that they think someone would actually be inspired by that. This being said, one can’t help but concede that space travel and Honolulu Rail do have one thing in common: both have out of this world, astronomical...

In Pursuit #7: Up and Down on Rail

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is proud to announce the release of the seventh research paper in our “In Pursuit” series of policy analysis. The Honolulu Rail project was rushed through on the series of half-truths and unfulfillable promises that tend to characterize most attempts to extract large amounts of money from the public before they realize what’s going on.  As the Grassroot Institute has been a long-time opponent of the Rail project, it should be no surprise that we offer it as an example of government overreach.  However, you may be interested to see how completely the Honolulu Rail fails the ↑UP/↓DOWN analysis....

Do The Math

“ I’m trying to think, but nuttin’ happens ! ” Curly Howard,  The Three Stooges: Calling All Curs, 1939 All too often it seems our political leaders take actions that just don’t add up.  Perhaps they didn’t think it through all the way themselves, or perhaps they really did but they are deliberately hoping we don’t figure it out on our own. Take for example the recent proud purchase of 5 Chevy Volt cars for the County of Hawaii by Mayor Kenoi. A recent news article shows him standing like a proud papa next to the shiny cars at the formal blessing and display ceremony, proclaiming “It couldn’t come at a better time, when we look at rising fuel prices….Hopefully we can grow the electric fleet and have it be the county fleet.” These plug-in-electric / gas hybrids cost us $47,000 each, totaling $235,000 for five. They can go about 30 miles on electric power alone, then need recharging. When the gas engine kicks in, they get about 37mpg and require premium gas. Recharging the 16 kwH battery daily at our highest-in-the-nation electric rates, about 40 cent / kwH, costs about $6.40 / day. For less than half the purchase price ($21,000) , a comparable sized and powered Chevy Cruze uses regular gas and gets about 30 mpg. Lets take an extreme case, and say gas is $5.00/gallon. That means that the Volt costs $1.40/day more than the Cruze to drive 30 miles, and costs twice as much to buy. For the same cost we could have had eleven Chevy Cruze, and saved on operating costs as well. And...

What Has Been the Biggest Failure in Transportation in Recent History?

by Panos Prevedouros A well known transportation academic posed this question recently to other transportation experts. Failure he said. You decide the criteria. Failures could be big small, but not too small and localized. I am looking for projects, systems, technologies, or policies that have been failures. To provide a response in a general way, I had to define failure in a general way. So I defined it as “the usefulness of a transportation mode or infrastructure to my adult life and the quality of it—the mode with the least usefulness would be a failure.” Here’s my assessment looking back in the last 30 years which also coincides with the length of my adult life, more or less. Roads and cars allowed me to access everything that was out there… people, sights, activities, opportunities. Roads and buses let me travel intra- and inter-city when I was making little money. Roads, bicycles and mopeds made college life much easier and efficient. The bicycle as exercise on public roads and bikeways is among the least demanding and most enjoyable. It works for me. Airplanes took me the world over. Nowadays, large airports like Incheon in South Korea allow me to get to Asia in one flight from the US and then the rest of Asia is one flight away. Helicopters allowed me to study the main freeway in Honolulu and observe traffic shock waves in action. They are the best mode to view volcanoes in Hawaii and among the best means for rapid rescue the world over. Bridges and tunnels. All had an obvious utility in time savings and safety. Small...

HART’s Job Estimates Are Wrong

by Panos Prevedouros Back in 2009, UHERO provided some rail jobs estimates that said employment will start with 300 jobs, and at the peak of construction, there may be 2,000 jobs, but at that time UHERO did not know that a $1.4 billion contract to build the rail cars would go to Ansaldo Breda in Italy.* However HART testified at City Council that the rail will create 4,000 to 17,000 jobs. These estimates are flat out wrong if people believe that these are Hawaii-based jobs. Here is why: Material costs are not jobs and most materials like steel, concrete and glass will be imported, thus those jobs are not local. Finance charges are not jobs. Equipment and outside purchases are not jobs in Hawaii. These will be a huge portion from trains, escalators and elevators to ticket machines, tickets, bolts and nails. Also many large and “linear” infrastructure projects like the rail are of a “copy-paste” nature, that is, the people who build the first mile will also build the second mile, etc. There are no 10 groups of workers building 10 separate miles. In sum, a very large portion of the $5.3 Billion pie is not labor related. The part that is labor is not very large for Hawaii because (1) a portion of the labor is outside Hawaii or imported expertise, and (2) Linear infrastructure does not need a large number of workers. Therefore UHERO’s estimate that the maximum likely number of jobs is around 2,000 is the best answer. This makes Rail smaller in terms of jobs than Hilton Hawaiian Village. Of course the Village is...

Honolulu Rail: Designed to Fail

by Panos Prevedouros Randal O’Toole, economist and author of several books on transportation and urban planning was in Honolulu last week where he spoke on two distinguished panels in Kapolei and in Honolulu. He summarized his opinion about Honolulu’s rail in this eye-opening Designed to Fail article. A few highlights: Honolulu rail … will have the high costs of heavy rail and the capacity limits of light rail. Honolulu rail … has too few seats so bus riders question whether people will be willing to stand for 20-minute trips. Honolulu rail … was planned to go to Kapolei, which has about 35,000 people, but the city decided it didn’t have enough money to go that far. Between East Kapolei and Honolulu the rail line will pass through Waipahu (33,000 people), Pearl City (48,000 people), and by Pearl Harbor Naval Base (its 20,000 people work right on the base). The rest of the rail line goes through light industrial and commercial areas. So the rail line will serve, at most, about 15% of the residents of Oahu and probably no more than 20% of the jobs. That means no more than about 3% of workers will both live and work on the rail line. Honolulu rail … ridership projections are questionable and average at 110 passengers on board the two-car trains at any given time. US light-rail cars carry an average of 24 people, and the most crowded in San Diego carry just 37 people, 110 is highly optimistic. Honolulu rail … proponents argue that the project will relieve congestion, but even the final environmental impact statement says that, at...