Wednesday, January 14, 1998

Car insurance changes aren't such a great deal

THE hype about dramatic cuts in auto insurance premiums isn't borne out by the facts. Insurance company officials warned after the Legislature passed so-called reforms last spring that many motorists wouldn't save much because the big advertised cuts - 20 to 35 percent - applied mainly to basic coverage, which isn't adequate for a lot of people.

Generally the savings are being realized at the expense of coverage. You pay less because you get less. Much of the rest of the savings is the result of reductions in rates that the insurance companies announced before the new law was enacted, because of high profits in recent years, and were not the result of the changes in the law.

As the Star-Bulletin's Rob Perez reported, many of the tens of thousands of policyholders have more than the state-mandated minimum coverage. For these people, the decreases generally will be smaller and some will even see their bills go up.

One company, Finance Insurance, was so concerned that the recent publicity was giving people false expectations of savings that it warned in a letter to its customers that their rates might go up. Others who seek the savings in the basic coverage may find too late that they haven't bought enough protection if they are involved in an accident.

Another flaw in the law is that it relies on motorists' health insurance for part of the coverage for personal injuries. This is in effect an additional tax on business, because employers are required to shoulder the major part of the cost of employee health benefits. Hawaii's private sector didn't need another financial burden when many companies are struggling to stay afloat, but the politicians showed again how little regard they have for business's legitimate concerns.

The Legislature has fiddled with the auto insurance law with results that are mixed at best. A better approach would have been to strengthen the no-fault provisions to reduce litigation costs and avoid trying to pass off health costs on employers. But the Cayetano administration wants to abolish no-fault, and it hasn't given up yet.

Heavy usage of H-3

A standard argument against construction of the H-3 freeway was that it wouldn't be used, at least not enough to justify building it. Critics called it a road "from nowhere to nowhere."

So what has happened since the H-3 opened? State transportation officials say that during the first month drivers used the new route to Windward Oahu at more than twice the expected rate. Kazu Hayashida, the state transportation director, said the department was projecting H-3 use at about 10 percent of all trans-Koolau traffic but found it was 21 percent during the morning commuting hours, 5 to 9 a.m.

Traffic counts taken by the state Jan. 4-10 showed 30 percent of all trans-Koolau trips were made on H-3, 28 percent on Likelike Highway and 42 percent on the Pali Highway. Since H-3 opened, Pali Highway has carried about 47,000 vehicles a day and Likelike Highway 33,000. Before H-3, each highway carried about 53,000 vehicles.

It's not difficult to explain the unexpectedly heavy usage. In the more than three decades since H-3 was initiated, population and traffic on Oahu have grown greatly, particularly on the leeward side of the island. There are more cars on the roads, and more reasons for Windward residents to drive to the airport, Pearl Harbor and points beyond in Leeward Oahu.

H-3 permits them to do it without first driving to Honolulu on the Pali or Likelike highways. It also takes some of the burden off the other trans-Koolau highways, thereby making life more pleasant for the motorists who continue to use them.

With such high usage, the decision to build H-3 looks better every day. Evidently a lot of people want to go "from nowhere to nowhere."

Zoo admission fees

THERE is a possibility that the city may be forced to stop charging admission fees to the Honolulu Zoo. The Kapiolani Park Preservation Society, which is dedicated to enforcing the terms of the trust governing the park, contends that the fees violate the trust. The society president, Alan Voronaeff, said the trust permits admission fees for special events but not for continuing commercial activity. The society has also prodded the city to enforce a court order banning sales of art along the "zoo fence," where paintings and other art works have been displayed for decades.

Whether the society will succeed in banning zoo admission fees is uncertain at this point. Title to the trust is held by the state, which allows the city to manage the park lands. Voronaeff said the society gave the city a cease-and-desist order on the zoo fees and is scheduled to discuss the issue with Attorney General Margery Bronster.

The problem has revived the question of moving the zoo. City Parks Chairwoman Rene Mansho says the City Council has asked the administration to study the feasibility of a move. But it would be impossible to find a new site that would compare with Kapiolani Park in accessibility to both tourists and residents, and the cost of a move would be prohibitive. The city has spent millions of dollars in recent years to upgrade the current facility, all of which would be lost if the zoo is moved.

The city might be able to justify admission fees on the ground that the revenues are used to cover operating costs. If that fails, it should still be possible to request donations. That probably wouldn't produce as much revenue, but it could still be significant. And it would be preferable to moving the zoo out of Waikiki, which would probably result in a steep drop in attendance.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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