Technology choice critical to transit system’s success
The selection of transit technology is not a City Council decision. Under current procurement practices and the structure of government, this is a function of the executive branch.
The City Council is the legislative and policymaking body of city government. Some argue that transit technology is a policy decision. It is not! The policy decision was the selection of the "fixed guideway" alternative. Choosing the technology to operate on that guideway implements that policy decision.
If implementation were a Council responsibility, then the Council would also select the type of buses that the city purchases, the disinfection technology used at our wastewater treatment plants and the procedures used in the daily operation of our municipal landfill.
But we don't. Rather, the Council has decided, as policy, that we will have a publicly subsidized bus system, a wastewater system to treat the city's sewage and a refuse disposal system that includes a landfill. Details of how these policies are implemented are appropriately the responsibility of the executive branch.
Selecting the right technology for the fixed guideway is critical to its success. Accordingly, the mayor, who normally makes this decision, has agreed to allow a panel of technical experts to determine the technology. The mayor should be commended for giving up his right to decide to ensure that the best technology is selected. This project is too important to risk selecting the wrong technology, and the mayor is committed to seeing that the project gets done right.
It would be unwise and risky to put this decision in the hands of the Council. Council members are not qualified to evaluate transit technologies. None of us has the required technical training or background. If this decision became vested in the City Council, we would become "open game" for technology companies and their well-financed lobbying.
On what basis would we judge the claims made by these companies? How would we evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the different technologies? The Council's decision would be totally political and arbitrary, and the likelihood that the best technology will be selected would be greatly diminished.
Already companies are offering trips to Europe and other parts of the world to help Council members "get to know" their technology. A couple of companies have even come to present their technology to me. After listening to their presentations, I know one thing for sure; each of these companies can make their technology look like the best thing possible.
Competition among the companies hoping to build the largest public works project in Honolulu's history will be fierce. What would these companies be willing to say and do to garner Council members' support for their technology? How would Council members handle such intense lobbying? How would we distinguish between what is accurate information and what is distorted?
I'm terrified at the possibility that Council members could make this decision, and you should be too.
Gary H. Okino represents District 8 (Fort Shafter, Aiea, Pearl City and Waipio Gentry) on the Honolulu City Council.