Transit gurus have a week to choose gear
A panel of experts must review data on different technologies without discussing it
A group of experts picking the technology for the city's $3.8 billion fixed-guideway system will likely have a decision by Friday, though some panel members are concerned about the short amount of time and the lack of discussion allowed.
The five-member panel of transit experts met for the first time yesterday at Mission Memorial Auditorium, where the city's consultants outlined the requirements for the technology selection.
The panel will be deciding among four technologies -- steel wheel on steel rail, monorail, magnetic levitation and rubber-tire vehicle -- for the 20-mile route from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.
Each panelist was given a binder containing information from 10 companies and has until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to submit a report justifying his decision. The panel will meet again at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the mayor's conference room in Honolulu Hale to make a final selection.
"It's a little early for me to comment specifically on one technology versus the other," said Ron Tober, the panel's chairman and the former general manager of several rail operating systems. "What I know and have seen, all of the technologies proposed have the potential. The question is what the best one is for Honolulu."
Some panelists said the companies submitted thorough information on their technologies; however, they did not provide sufficient cost estimates, which were expected and are a critical component in decision making.
"The real money is in the operation of this system in the long run," Tober said, adding that the panelists will need to use their experience to create a cost analysis. After inflation and interests, the city estimates the project to cost closer to $5 billion.
Until Friday, panel members are not allowed to have any communication with each other, in accordance with the state Sunshine Law. The city administration decided last week that the panel would abide by the state's open-meeting laws because of concerns among state and city lawmakers that the decision would be made behind closed doors.
"That's the unfortunate part of the process," Tober said. "What we lose a little bit in this situation is being able to interact and debate some things."
"The whole idea was that the experts were complementary," added Panos Prevedouros, a panel member and a University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor. "Each one of us knows different things, so it was important for us to talk about things so we can put the puzzle together."
Only about 10 people commented on the project yesterday, unlike other meetings in front of the City Council that drew dozens of passionate speakers.
A few told the panel they would like steel rail, and others said a rubber-tire bus would work best for Honolulu.
The city is paying each panelist $175 an hour -- budgeting about $20,000 per member. Tober will receive $30,000 to return again to present the panel's report to the City Council.