COURTESY ADVANCED PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEMS
A bus fixed guideway system operates in the Eindhoven region of the Netherlands. It uses a magnetic guidance system of small, pellet-sized magnets drilled directly into new or existing roadways.
Guided bus system is serious option for Honolulu
A busway system could be completed sooner and at far less cost than the proposed light rail
Many would have you believe that the City Council's decision last December to move ahead with plans for a fixed guideway system also meant that the accompanying technology would be a variation on rail. In fact, while rail is certainly a choice, we would like to present another option that would satisfy the federal "New Starts" funding requirements as well as the city's mandate for a fixed guideway system. A bus fixed guideway system (BFGS), similar to those operating in Douai, France, and the Eindhoven Region in the Netherlands, might prove an option that is economically and structurally more feasible than light rail for a mass transit system on Oahu.
Instead of sacrificing more of our time in traffic, we need a system that is going to get drivers out of their cars and lure them onto a faster, safer and cheaper alternate mode of transportation. The BFGS uses a computer-guided, wheeled bus, which costs considerably less than light rail and can be constructed in less time than light rail takes to complete.
Here are a few reasons this system makes sense for Honolulu:
» It will take about two years from the time the initial fleet of vehicles is ordered in 2009 until the system arrives. During this period, the infrastructure -- namely 12 miles of guideway, transit stations and the guidance system -- would be completed and ready for operation when the system is delivered. A 24-mile segment could be completed in just four years, by 2013. By comparison, the first 10-mile segment of light-rail system will take about three years, and another seven years for the full 20-mile segment to be completed (2019-20).
» Flexibility is a key advantage to the bus fixed guideway system, which can be installed quickly and efficiently. The system uses GPS for guidance and allows the bus to change routes if necessary. The system has the ability to travel on existing roadways as well as the guideway.
» The system's multi-use track would be traversable by cars, buses and emergency vehicles, unlike that of light rail. The system's elevated fixed guideway provides a route by which emergency vehicles could quickly and easily traverse the urban core, and by which emergency evacuations could take place if necessary. We all remember last year's "Black Tuesday" when traffic on H-1 was stalled for more than 10 hours. Such a crisis could be mitigated by using the guideway as an emergency bypass.
» This system is less expensive to expand to other areas, such as Waianae, or to provide a connecting route to Mililani, or from H-3.
Like it or not, the cosmetic factor associated with our choice of transit technology is significant. The system must appeal to riders. Similar systems in the Netherlands and France are not only streamlined and striking from the outside, but the interiors are appealing, comfortable and space-efficient. Wireless Internet access, audio and visual accents -- news coverage, music, community announcements -- are also possible additions.
Making the associated transit stations accessible and visually appealing will also be critical for the system's success. We should draw upon local talent to make these stations complement their neighborhoods. Design should use new technology and building materials. Well-designed transit stations have the benefit of revitalizing housing and businesses in surrounding areas.
The American Association of Retired People has consistently supported mass transit and associated transit-oriented development because of its benefits to the elderly for safety and financial reasons. Unlike other public transit, the proposed BFGS will have level floors and a wider aisle for easier and safer boarding and debarking. The all-wheel-drive capability of the BFGS allows it to navigate within millimeters of the edge of the boarding station platform, offering people with limited mobility much safer travel.
The economic burden facing any city embarking on a new mass transit system is considerable; however, as a growing city this is a decision we must be committed to and see through to completion. We recognize that unforeseen problems will arise during the coming years which should not be compromised by financial constraints resulting from the price of the fixed guideway system. The BFGS will allow the city to provide an adequate mass transit solution with a lower price tag.
Consider the following: The estimated cost to implement the BFGS along Honolulu's urban corridor could be about $25 million per mile, including rolling stock and infrastructure. A 20-mile system would cost $500 million to $1 billion. This is in comparison to the $3.6 billion estimate for a light-rail system. In addition, the Urban Land Institute (April 2007) recently found that light rail on average was nearly five times the cost of guided bus systems (there are exceptions however, as was the case with L.A.'s orange line).
Choosing technology similar to the BFGS would translate into considerable savings to the city. As a result of these savings, routes to Honolulu International Airport, Waikiki and the University of Hawaii-Manoa could become realities much sooner than with light rail.
Bus fixed guideway technology has developed significantly since the city reviewed it more than a decade ago. Today these systems run on hybrid technology, contributing less pollution, and requiring less energy investment. In the years to come, we can be sure that this technology will only improve, becoming more efficient and sustainable.
Administration officials have dismissed this type of technology out of concerns raised regarding operating and maintenance costs and possible conflicts with Federal Transportation Authority funding criteria. These are critical points to consider. However, it is our understanding, along with several colleagues on the City Council, that this type of technology was not fully examined as a possibility for Honolulu's mass transit system.
The time to discuss the merits of a bus fixed guideway system and other alternatives is now. We believe Oahu deserves a cost-effective, state of the art, safe, transit system that can grow as our population grows. The bus fixed guideway system is an affordable and worthy mass transit option for Honolulu. We encourage everyone to contact Mayor Hannemann and Council members to voice your opinions on this important issue.
Donovan M. Dela Cruz, former chairman of the Honolulu City Council, represents Council District 2 (Mililani Mauka-North Shore-Kaneohe). Ann Kobayashi, a former state senator, represents Council District 5 (Manoa-Makiki-McCully-Moiliili).