Transit panel selection was case study in manipulation
As the only local member of the city's transit technology expert panel, I would like to share a summary of how the panel was conducted and how it worked.
After the panel was appointed, the three mainland panelists and I were given a list of names to select the panel chairman. When I first tried to offer other names, they were rejected because only names from the "approved list" could be selected. To my knowledge, this list was not approved by the City Council or anyone else but the city and its transit project consultant.
Upon my insistence, I was allowed to introduce a couple of candidates. I suggested Martin Wachs, a leading national expert, who chaired the Mayor's Transit Conference in Honolulu in 2007. Incredibly, the other panelists claimed they had never heard of him. This is indicative of their myopic focus on designing, building or funding transit systems, nearly 100 percent of which had been steel-on-steel systems.
Instead, in the next 15 minutes of the teleconference call, Simon Zweighaft of InfraConsult, a small outfit consisting mostly of ex-Parsons Brinkerhoff employees, which currently operates as an arm of the city, read the "approved list." Although the panel members were located hundreds of miles apart during the teleconference, within minutes all three picked Ron Tober. We did not have to short-list names and then make a final selection. From a list of about two dozen pre-qualified transit experts, all three picked Tober magically.
I have been in many search committees. Never did one conclude its selection in under 20 minutes, and rarely did all members pick the same candidate in the first round.
Once panelists arrived in Honolulu, we were told not to confer with one another. However, all four mainland panelists stayed at the same hotel and worked out of the InfraConsult office. We were asked to wade through piles of information in an absurdly tight window of four days. A panel is supposed to discuss and deliberate. This panel operated without meetings or deliberations. One week after the panel's inaugural meeting, it was announced at a public meeting that all, except me, voted for a steel-on-steel system. The only discussion that took place occurred after the vote was announced.
After the panel issued its report, I was invited to speak to groups and neighborhood boards. Parsons Brinkerhoff employees followed me handing out fliers, attacking my views or "offering the truth," as they view it.
Toru Hamayasu, who identified himself as project manager for the city's transit project, contacted the dean of the University of Hawaii College of Engineering in an attempt to muzzle my opinions and suggested that the dean isolate me from the rest of the school.
Is this the way transit should be selected? Do we operate in 2008 or in a dark past year?
Panos D. Prevedouros is professor of transportation engineering at the University