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Saturday, September 25, 2004
[ OUR OPINION ]
With BRT dead, get
The Federal Transit Administration's withholding of $20 million for the BRT's first phase, to which $31 million in city money was appropriated, should not have come as a surprise to Mayor Harris. In a letter to the city, Leslie T. Rogers, the Transit Administration's regional director, pointed out that her staff had given the city "numerous and consistent notice of the consequences" of going forward with the project without federal approval.
The City Council in March approved a resolution urging the Harris administration to halt construction of the BRT until federal approval could be obtained. The mayor ignored the resolution, recklessly deciding not to seek such approval to avoid having to meet federal guidelines. Work is proceeding on the project's Waikiki segment.
Ben Lee, the city's managing director, said the city could circumvent the federal agency by having Senator Inouye provide funding through congressional action. However, Inouye wisely moved to redirect the federal money to bus-related projects and work on the Kapolei interchange.
The BRT's first phase consisted of using electrically propelled buses running during peak hours in exclusive lanes from Iwilei through Waikiki. The entire system, projected to cost $1 billion, was planned to extend from Kapolei to Kakaako and Manoa.
Mayoral candidates Duke Bainum and Mufi Hannemann have said they will halt work on the BRT. Hannemann has criticized Bainum for his early support of the BRT plan as a city councilman in 2001, but Bainum said he did so "because it was the only option available at the time." We supported it in this space for the same reason.
That was then. Last October, Governor Lingle proposed building a $2.6 billion light-rail system and a $200 million elevated highway from Kapolei to Iwilei, where it would hook up with the BRT. She will now have to revise her plan to include, in some form, the Iwilei-Waikiki stretch, which was part of the BRT's first phase.
The information is to include each passenger's name, address and telephone number, flight number, reservation changes, meal preference, method of payment for the ticket and information such as whether a passenger was drunk or belligerent with airline employees. An earlier version would have included data about the passenger's credit, home ownership and car registration, but those were dropped because of privacy complaints.
The new system, called Secure Flight, would require airlines to provide the information to the government, protecting the airlines from privacy lawsuits by passengers. Under the current system, the airlines check their passengers' names against government lists of suspicious people or no-fly lists.
The system came under scrutiny this week when Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer known as Cat Stevens, was allowed to board a United Airlines plane from London destined for Washington, D.C. The plane was ordered to land in Bangor, Me., where Islam was detained.
Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, said United erred in neglecting to act on information provided to the airline about Islam before he got on board. However, an airline spokesman said the government's information did not match that supplied by Islam. Presumably, the new system would prevent that from happening again.
Government officials alleged that Islam had contributed to groups suspected of terrorism. Islam denies knowingly doing so, which brings up another issue about the new system. The government normally is obliged to allow people access to information it has gathered about them, giving an individual an opportunity to correct or amend it.
Secure Flight is exempt from that disclosure requirement. While some of that information could be kept secret for security reasons, people should be able in most instances to challenge the information so it can be corrected and they can travel free of hassle.
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