City officials need to draw up a plan for transit agency
The mayor is seeking to set up a new office to oversee Honolulu's mass transit project.
THE city administration's request for new positions and funding for an additional government agency
further lays out the financial commitment taxpayers will have to make for a mass transit system.
When compared to the more than 8,100 employees already on the city payroll and the $2.3 billion budget Mayor Mufi Hannemann has proposed for the next fiscal year, 35 extra jobs and $4.1 million for a transit office don't seem like much, except when viewed in the long term.
The complexity of developing, then operating a transit system will require the full attention of a transit agency. However, taxpayers need a better idea of what such an organization will look like as the system is designed and constructed, and what its duties and its lines of authority will be when the system is up and running.
The administration says that to obtain federal funds to build the system, the city will have to demonstrate it has the expertise -- in engineering, finance, design, planning and scheduling -- to supervise the project.
Officials have determined that the expertise and staff time aren't available and that hiring in a tight employee market would be difficult. The plan is to contract a consulting company to do the work for the next two to three years until civil service workers are able to take over.
The administration says it doesn't yet know the functions of the new agency but will resolve them over time. Nor is it sure whether the transit system will be managed within City Hall or whether a separate operator will run it, much like Oahu Transit Services manages TheBus.
The mayor has put the project on the fast track in hopes of capturing federal funds as quickly as possible and at times, the urgency seems to leave gaps in an orderly progression.
It is essential that Hannemann, his transit team and the City Council work out at least a blueprint for the new agency and establish a balanced jurisdiction that supports the public's interests. For example, if a private entity runs the transit service, the Council as taxpayer representatives should have a say in operations, such as setting fares, as it does with TheBus.
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