It won’t hurt to study proposal for downtown driving fees
The City Council is looking at a plan to charge motorists fees for downtown driving.
The current public mood concerning the price of gasoline, rail transit, food, utilities and other pocketbook concerns isn't the best atmosphere in which to discuss an idea to charge for driving in downtown Honolulu.
That doesn't mean city officials should reject the proposal outright. As part of realigning traffic movement through the heavily populated and fast-growing regions of Oahu, the practice could have a role in a broad strategy to reduce street congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists and encourage use of mass transit.
There are several issues to consider. The first is the cost of an analysis for a plan, which the city administration estimated preliminarily at $500,000. That seems high. City Councilman Charles Djou, who made the proposal, said that amount would be prohibitive.
However, as the city moves ahead with its rail transit project, officials should be studying supporting transit initiatives necessary for rail to be successful. Just as feeder bus routes, park-and-ride facilities and bicycle accommodations are components of transit plans, so, too, should be other operations that could transform the private car-oriented community to one scaled for the future.
So-called congestion pricing has motorists paying a fee to enter designated zones at certain times in order to cut down traffic. The city of London began congestion pricing five years ago and has met with some success. Other cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle, are weighing the idea.
A plan in New York City almost became reality, but opposition and political timidity in the State Assembly earlier this year shot down a pilot program, costing the city hundreds of millions in federal funds.
Congestion pricing is controversial. Many consider it to be unfair to lower-income residents. Councilman Gary Okino, for example, called it "very regressive," contending that "only rich drivers" would be able to afford to use downtown streets. Another problem is that Honolulu has only TheBus to provide driving alternatives.
Merchants and businesses also could be expected to object since driving fees could affect customer numbers as well as deliveries of goods. Downtown residents would argue their coming and going would be an extra tax burden.
Conflicts would emerge about revenue the fees will generate and possible exemptions for emergency vehicles, transportation for the disabled and elderly, tour buses, cabs and a host of others, including those who drive alternate-fuel vehicles.
Because most government buildings are located downtown, civil service workers and taxpayers who need their services could be obligated to pay fees. In addition, the city-state divide of streets and highways would require cooperation between the two.
Nonetheless, the proposal is worth examination.