Council expands transit options
The use of buses on dedicated lanes rejoins the discussion in a debate over possible routes
Bus Rapid Transit -- the use of buses on dedicated lanes that former Mayor Jeremy Harris unsuccessfully tried to implement -- is in the running again for Honolulu's mass transit system.
After a meeting that lasted nearly 15 hours, the City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee voted 5-0 just before midnight last night against specifying "rail" as its mass transit choice and instead left the door open for bus or rail technology to be considered to carry passengers atop an elevated "fixed guideway" structure.
After a meeting that began at 9 a.m. yesterday morning, the committee also recommended a route that starts from the west end of Kapolei at Kapolei Parkway and Kalaeloa Boulevard and end at the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a spur to Waikiki.
The bill approved by the committee also said that the city would only build the portions of the route that it could afford.
The bill would also reserve the right for the council to decide whether to choose bus or rail technology for the fixed guideway system.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who opposed Harris' BRT plans, said she likes using buses in this scenario because they would run on truly dedicated lanes out of traffic.
"It would be the same as the rail -- elevated, dedicated -- however, instead of rail it would be bus," she said, adding that the city could use the same station locations that are being proposed for the rail system.
The plan by Harris included both a regional BRT line that proposed separate lanes along state freeways and an in-town BRT line from Iwilei to Waikiki.
"The problem with BRT before was that they didn't have dedicated lanes -- they removed lanes from Dillingham Boulevard," Kobayashi said.
But the current proposal would have buses with their own dedicated structure. "It has its own lanes. It's not having the bus in the same lanes with the cars," she said.
Harris' regional BRT plan ran into a road block when the state opposed allowing the city to use the state's highways. And the in-town BRT plan not only had Council opposition but problems receiving federal funding to finish the job.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann has opposed BRT in the past and has lobbied for rail transit.
Kobayashi said that using buses would give the city the flexibility to use the elevated structure for other vehicles in times of emergency.
Kobayashi said similar dedicated busways are being used in Europe, Australia and Korea with technology that uses magnets to guide buses along the pathways.
Like rail, the fixed guideway for buses would also qualify for federal transit funding, she said.
Opponents of rail were also supportive of the bus idea.
"We support a fixed guideway for buses and Handi-Vans," said Dale Evans, president of Charley's Taxi.
"It's clear that the busways have the capacity to move very large numbers of people," said Cliff Slater, who opposes rail and was against Harris' BRT plans. "The capacity is there but the devil is in the details."
Toru Hamayasu, the city's chief transportation planner, said the bus fixed guideway would cost more to construct because bigger stations would have to be built and drivers would have to man the buses, whereas rail cars could be automated.
The decision by the committee did not settle the debate over whether the route should pass through Salt Lake or Honolulu Airport, and will leave that decision up to the administration.
Hamayasu said the airport route has about 9,000 more riders than the route along Salt Lake Boulevard. The Council will take a final vote a week from today.