Djou makes sense on rail

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou took a break from the federal issues that have been his major focus of late and wrote a thoughtful piece in Hawaii Reporter on one of his pet local issues — Oahu rail transit.

Djou notes that the community is as divided as ever on the $1.3 billion project and argues it didn’t have to be that way if the Hannemann and Carlisle administrations had made any effort to build community consensus after the 2008 voter referendum that narrowly approved steel-on-steel rail.

In the months following the ’08 vote, the city squandered any goodwill resulting from the vote. Rather than reach out to proponents and opponents alike, the Hannemann administration, the majority on the City Council and the rail transit division charted a divisive path relying on the narrow mandate from the public to do as it pleased without regard to the nearly 50 percent of residents who opposed rail.

Since the 2008 election, the city has not adequately followed up with any broad outreach to the community in seeking consensus on rail. Instead of pausing to reflect and explain the costs of rail to the public, the current city administration and Council have brushed aside legitimate concerns by rail opponents.

Today, rail is embroiled in litigation and it appears the courts may ultimately dictate how rail gets done.

Djou, a former councilman, speaks with some credibility on the matter. He was the council’s leading rail opponent for years, believing the city couldn’t afford the expensive heavy-rail design being pursued.

But he respected the decision voters made in 2008 in favor of rail and shifted his focus from trying to kill the project to trying to improve it; he brokered the well-received deal to reroute the train past the airport instead of through Salt Lake.

Djou makes some good suggestions going forward.

As long as the city relies on a razor-thin majority favoring rail, it will subject success of the project to the whim of just 2 percent of the electorate changing its mind.

The city should alter its approach and start by making a stronger effort to include those who oppose rail in the decision-making process. …

The City Council should insist on transparent financial plans that clearly explain to the public what will happen to the project, and the city’s ability to finance the project if tenuous federal funding fails to materialize.

Decision-making should include all residents and not be limited to just the strongest rail supporters. …

If we want to move beyond constant squabbles, we need more consensus-building by city officials on this project. They need to understand that reasonable people can disagree.

Mayor Peter Carlisle blew a chance to improve public confidence when instead of bringing in some new faces with a more conciliatory tone, he kept on Hannemann’s top transit people who had lost their credibility with much of public and council because of their dismissive attacks on anybody who dared voice a contrary view.

The new transit authority that will soon be taking the reins has another chance to put a more open and accessible face on the project by bringing in some new players capable of involving a broader spectrum of the community in the planning.

They’ll only get one chance to make a good first impression.

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24 Comments on “Djou makes sense on rail”

  1. zzzzzing Says:

    I agree with Djou on this, but wonder if his voice of reason will be heard above the din of all the union bosses, politicians & land grubbers who are clamoring for the big bucks this project is being fed?

  2. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    I understand your position on this issue BUT….there is no rewind button in life and we have to move forward with the project because we cannot afford to do otherwise.

    The HART Commission will be the most important influence on what happens next. If you have access to CIVIL BEAT, take a few minutes to read the report on yesterday’s initial meeting.

    Do I like the design? Not particularly, but given that the only viable alternative is to continue using fossil-fuel-driven vehicles – whether private cars or lumbering buses – while dumping the concept of creating walkable/bikeable urban core communities replete with affordable workforce housing and, at the same time, saving prime ag land so that we can feed ourselves with our own-grown products, I support the lesser “evil.”

    Even if we put aside the greenhouse gas emissions issues impacting climate change, we still have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels both for power and for transportation – if for no other reasons than to keep pumping obscene amounts of money into foreign wars and to protect the ecosystems where oil might be found. We have to increase our housing stock. We have in grow and expand our economy using 21st century technology. All of these are directly connected to a mass transit sytem.

    Keeping us tied to internal combustion engines for the next 30 years with little in the way of affordable housing stock being developed in the urban core and maintaining our dependency on tourism is the outcome of killing efficient mass transit.

    Probably most of the people who post on this blog will be dead or living under a bridge by 2030. Too bad that youth and young adults – ages 12 to 30 – aren’t being heard.

  3. MynahBlog Says:

    I don’t buy it. What is being presented as an honest request to make the rail process “all inclusive” and incorporate the old opponents is shibai. The rail opponents want rail DEAD, not improved. Do you seriously think that Councilman Tom Berg’s recommendation that Panos Prevedouros to be a member of HART had any other purpose than sabotage? Just look at his performance on the committee that was convened to examine the technology options…he was the lone vote for something other than rail…he ignored the real assignment, and the actual technologies being evaluated. He took his $10,000 fee and tried to subvert the project. That’s the kind of “reconcilliation” you’d get by including them in any further decision making.

    We’ve had 35 years of debates, anybody who suggests that we need more opinions is just trying to stall the project.

  4. Manoa Kahuna Says:

    “There is no rewind button in life.” Some critics of our transit system act as if there is an alternative. The geography of Oahu make that impossible.

    The voters have spoken. Most of the opposition is funded by competing transportation interests, fueled by angry codgers and articulated by political has-beens. Get over it and get with it.

  5. kalaheo Says:

    Manoa Kahuna Says: “Most of the opposition is funded by competing transportation interests, fueled by angry codgers and articulated by political has-beens. Get over it and get with it.”

    This is exactly what Charles Djou and David Shapiro are trying to get across to you guys.

    Honolulu rail passed by thinnest of margins after a taxpayer funded media blitz. A lot of people don’t want rail, and a lot of people who DO want rail want one that that Honolulu can afford and that serves Ewa. Rail has been stolen by developers and construction interests. Beleaguered west side commuters have been long forgotten.

    Dismissing those dissenting voices (myself included) as competing transportation interests, fueled by angry codgers and political has-beens is divisive and ultimately self defeating.

    There is no “competing transportation interest.” None.

    Big oil sure doesn’t oppose it; they’ll be sending more oil to Oahu than ever before. No one takes a taxicab to work from Ewa everyday, and no tourist is going to not rent a car and no local is going to not by a car because their daily bus commute now has a train component interrupting it.

    As long as you choose to call names to people who disagree with you, and claim that “the voters have spoken,” you will have trouble winning your case – unless you have QMark push polling the questions for you.

    The vote that voters narrowly approved a $3.2 billion train that goes through Salt Lake was immediately changed to a $5.5 billion dollar train that DIDN’T go through Salt Lake.

    You guys need to stop being so dismissive of criticisms of this current rail fiasco. I realize Mayor Carlisle is the worse offender and you guys are just following his example, but it is a very poor strategy.

  6. zzzzzz Says:

    We have a microcosm of the problem right here.

    IMO, there are obvious hardline Mufi-ites, and there are the Slater-ite opponents, who dominate the discussion. But I think they’re a minority, and there are a lot of folks who aren’t so sold one way or another. E.g., there are a lot of folks to support rail in general, but do not support Mufi’s version of rail for a variety of reasons, especially the cost, the route, the stops, and the choice of technology. Addressing those concerns could easily build the support for rail well over the low 50% range. These are the guys Djou was trying to reach.

    I also suspect a lot of rail supporters are really supporters of a large public works project that will create construction jobs. Their allegiance to could easily be shifted to some other large public works project that had broader community support.

  7. Doug Carlson Says:

    Mr. Djou’s piece focused on a “razor-thin majority” of supporters over opponents and therefore was relegated to the history bin by QMark’s poll showing a 57-40 split in support. And if you question those results because the poll was commissioned by PB Americas, take it up with QMark, a professional organization. My take on it:

  8. zzzzzz Says:

    Another way of looking at the C&C survey is that 30% (with a 3.27 percentage point margin of error) strongly support, 25% strongly oppose, and 45% don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other.

    If I’m reading this correctly, there’s a greater than 5% probability that there are more strong opponents than strong supporters.

  9. kalaheo Says:

    Doug Carlson Says: “And if you question those results because the poll was commissioned by PB Americas, take it up with QMark, a professional organization.”

    Mr Carlson,
    If you look at the methodology of QMarks most recent poll, you will find a poll designed to ensure a positive response. The Civil Beat has the actual script for the poll and major sections are preceeded by “framing statements” designed to inject bias into the poll.

    The last poll QMark performed for the rail interests, support for the project went up over 5% just by taking the poll. What does that tell you about bias and methodology?

    As for “taking it up with QMark” they are in the business of providing their customers like PB Americas with what they want. I’d say they did that.

  10. Doug Carlson Says:

    To zzzzzz: Could be you’re right. Could also be that the split is 33.27 for and 21.73 against. I’ll stick with 30-25. Re those solidly opposed, they’re likely the rock-ribbed never-back-down anti-government spending, anti- rail transit, pro-POV segment. Not surprising they make up a quarter of the responses.

  11. Guido Sarducci Says:

    Hey is that THE Doug Carlson–PAID RAIL CONSULTANT? And look! He’s pro-rail. Amazing! He even thinks Q-Mark is a credible pollster. This shows that our tax dollars are not being wasted when we buy Mr Carlson’s services to propagandize us!

  12. Kolea Says:

    I am one of those whi is neither a “Mufi-ite” nor a “Slater-ite.” I would not call myself a diehard opponent of “rail,” though I think the current proposal does not stand up to close scrutiny. It is way overbuilt, will carry a very few commuters for the cost and will be very expensive to maintain.

    I think both the Mufi camp and the Slater/Slom camp needlessly polarized the discussion early on. They kinda deserve each other. But the rest of us don’t deserve to be saddled with this project.

    Djou’s position is within the range of “reasonable,” though I am not as ready as he is to say there is a “public mandate” for the Rail project.

    Poring through the QMark report, I see the overwhelming argument in support of building the rail is the frustration people are feeling about traffic congestion, particularly from the Westside, so they say “Something has to be done!” An understandable sentiment. But the next step is to look closely to try to determine whether this “something” is likely to resolve that traffic congestion which gave rise to that frustration. And I am not convinced. I also believe it is EXTREMELY cost IN-effective as a solution to either the challenge of mass transit or reducing the negative environmental impact of reliance on the auto-mobile.

    So while I respect the frustration of the respondents which led most of them to surrender to the Rail project, I respectfully disagree that the “City Fathers” (and Big Bankers) have offered them a useful solution.

    So Djou’s position is not satisfying to me as POLICY, though I can understand his needs are at least partly political. What position can someone running for Congress take on the Rail position and optimize their chance of being elected? I think Djou’s current position is about the best he can do to satisfy his current political needs. He is unlikely to face a credible candidate who is more “anti-rail” than he is, so anti-rail voters will undoubtedly support him in the next election. Yet is does not alienate the slight majority of voters who have resigned themselves to supporting the rail project.

    So his position is politically astute. Even if the Train will undoubtedly turn out to be an over-priced boondoggle.

  13. zzzzzing Says:

    Yes, that’s him alright. Hey Doug, Re those solidly for, they’re likely the rock-ribbed, take-what-you-can, pro-union, political payback, ‘ainokea as long as I got mine’ segment. Not surprising they make up less than a third of the responses.

  14. Kolea Says:


    QMark IS a “credible pollster.” If you are unhappy with the poll’s results, they have made available for your inspection–and criticism– their questions and methodology.

    I suggest you have an opportunity to read through their report and then come back with evidence to support your attack on their credibility.

    Or you can just take a cheap shot and not expect to have to back up your smear on their professionalism.

  15. Doug Carlson Says:

    Guido and zzzzzz: Quick — untie the knot in your shorts before you injure yourselves. Here’s the quote at the top of my blog, each day and every day:”If you’re put off that I’m a paid communications consultant on the project and started this blog specifically to advance it, you probably don’t want to read any further.” So don’t read it.

    Whats so hollow about your comments is that you avoid the issues in favor of attacking the messengers. The issue here is whether the poll is credible. You ignore the issue to holler “He’s paid! He’s paid!” Big whoop. Like Kolea says, QMark IS credible. What do you think they do — participate in bogus polls and in so doing forever blast their credibility and business plan? Think it through, why don’t you?

  16. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Nothing gets everybody’s juices running like a rail story!

    To me it’s an issue of priorities and building a system that doesn’t go where it should, won’t materially reduce traffic congestion and costs $5.5 billion or maybe way more,just doesn’t ring my priority bell. In fact,it sounds pretty stupid when there are more pressing needs for that ever harder to extract tax dollar.

    Personally I doubt this puppy will ever get done and that’s OK for me. Even though I bemoan wasting the uku dollars already sunk in this, that is still better then tossing billions more down the rat hole. Already there is the stink of inside baseball and maybe worse surrounding this boondoggle.

    YMMV,of course.

  17. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    All of you who object to the rail project do not address the issues that I raise – reducing our dependency on foreign oil while creating housing options and fantastic employment opportunities in walkable/bikeable communities long after the construction is completed.

    BTW – we will be using renewable energy to power up our light bulbs and computers – and the train system – long before most of us will be plugging in our cars into a socket. Vehicle manufacturers will build fossil-fuel-efficient products in far greater numbers than electric cars because they are cheaper and easier to manufacture.

    In addition to the fuel source that powers the car, remember that – on average – about 65% of every vehicle is made out of oil-based plastic and is shipped across the Pacific Ocean to Hawai`i on a fossil-fuel-driven barge.

    The key to our long-term survival is to think beyond our immediate needs & desires and care about the quality of life others will have 50 years from now based upon decisions we make today.

    That’s why I am willing to pay my share for a mass transit system that should have been built two decades ago.

  18. Robert Says:

    People need to realize there is a good chance this is all going back to square one if the litigation is successful. At that point hopefully there can be more consensus building on what will actually work in our city. I think people like mr Carlson don’t appreciate the real awful taste left I’m peoples mouths because they weren’t the subject of team mufi’s my way or the highway er railway tactics. They treated peoples with real concerns like pissants. No aloha.

  19. kalaheo Says:

    Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says: “All of you who object to the rail project do not address the issues that I raise – reducing our dependency on foreign oil while creating housing options and fantastic employment opportunities in walkable/bikeable communities long after the construction is completed.”

    I’d be happy to take a stab at that. I can’t take too long though because dinner is almost ready.

    When the rail is in operation, we will burn more oil on Oahu than ever before and will be more dependent on variations of the price of foreign oil. In order to get people out of their cars and on to this train, you will need to offer them an improvement over their car.

    A standing room only cattle car that slides 45 minutes between Kapeolei and the mall and accelates and brakes through 20 stops basically turn it into world’s longest airport-style tram. This is much more similar to the Dalla-Fortworth airport tram – not to bad for an airport to get from gate A to gate C, but agonizing for a twice a day commute in the middle of two bus rides.

    This is the most expensive per mile train project that I am aware of. There is no way to make it affordable for our island. You have two choices. Either charge people what it cost to ride, and watch them buy Priuses and Volts instead OR heavily subsidize with more and heavier taxes on both the riders and non-riders alike.

    As for promoting bike and pedestrian communities, why not do that NOW. We have bike and pedestrian “plans” but our elected officials, and sadly, people like *you* think we should focus on building a horrendously expensive train to a housing development to the mall instead. When it comes time for us to FINALLY focus on making our island bike and walk safe, we won’t have any money left, because we spent (and are spending it) on train!

    Finally, what are these “fantastic employment opportunities” we will have because of a train? More janitors? Chewing gum scrapers? Transit police? Ticket agents? A guy to order the parts from Italy? What?

    I don’t think you guys really care about decreasing our dependence on oil and making Oahu safer for bikers and walkers. If you did, you’d be pushing for spending on a bike and walker safe island and not a stupid train designed to promote urban sprawl onto ag land.

  20. el guapo Says:

    I oppose the rail costs and outlined an alternative 3 weeks ago, one that costs much less and gives a lot more flexibility for changes if needed. It could even send more buses past the bridge that CWD says she will be living under in a few years and be affordable enough for both her and Kolea to afford.

    I don’t care about fantastic employment opportunities or housing, I care about keeping costs down, saving energy, and getting cars off of the road. It is obviously not a perfect plan, but neither is the rail.

  21. hsi Says:

    aloha – excellent sharing of mana`o and many viewpoints! who was dat one guy – Frank Fasi… he tried to propose rail back in da day? Perhaps rail is NOT the best “mainland” answer for an “island” pilikia? And do you really trust some of these crooks/union thugs/politicians? They forged “uncle barry” (soetoro/obama – whateva his name is) – they forged dat birf certificate – they scammed Kapi`olani (and Kapi`olani doesn’t even CLAIM to be the birthplace where da liar in the white house)… those same crooks goin’ scam, deceive, lie and boondogle the people of Hawai`i – just so they can stay in power and steal Mo` money 4 their own special interests… auwe – worse than 1893!!

  22. zzzzzz Says:

    Cap- IMO, there are a lot of folks who share your concern, but oppose Mufi’s vision of rail. A poorly designed rail system that doesn’t address real transportation needs and is economically unsustainable will only exacerbate the problems to which you refer.

    Here are a couple suggestions for reducing our foreign oil dependence:

    -Increase the barrel tax on imported oil (and use the revenue to offset an elimination of the GET on food and medical services). Simple, and will make a difference much sooner than the train.

    -Increase the online offerings of the UH system. It’s pretty well established that traffic levels drop significantly when UH is not in session. E.g., I can see some of the big lecture hall classes being broadcast so students in those classes only need to go on campus to take exams.

  23. zzzzzz Says:

    Doug, are you confusing me with zzzzzzing?

  24. Kolea Says:


    I agree UH adds a lot of traffic. But I am not a big fan of thinking we can replace classroom learning with distance learning. I am not saying nothing can be learned online. But a significant part of the university experience is lost if people take classes online and do not engage in face-to-face activities.

    On another thread, I was talking about the importance of a strong university as the most significant factor in stimulating a healthy “high tech” sector. Attempts to strip down the university experience to its barebones is not that different from the “teach to the test” mistake which is being forced on lower education, first under No Child Left Behind and now, under Race to the Top.

    West Oahu College and the community college system were supposed to help students live closer to their campus. Just as the development of Kapolei was SUPPOSED to create a Second City, where people worked and lived, reducing traffic. Instead, they live out there and still commute into the city, resulting in snarled traffic. To be “solved” by the construction of a massive heavy rail system.

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