The rail transit system continues to be a colossal issue in our community in many ways. I’m not here to speculate how many automobiles the proposed transit system will take off the roads. However, one thing everyone can count on is that while it’s being constructed, traffic is surely going to be tied up more than ever on Oahu—at least until 2018, when the rail project is scheduled for completion.
In the meantime, businesses and government should do whatever it takes to ease the commute. That could mean everything including creating ride-sharing programs, flexible work hours for state and city employees, and a serious effort to encourage telework as a viable option. Private industry and small business can lead the way, but to make it really work, Hawaii has to engage the 70,000 or so state and county workers who make a significant impact on our commuting patterns. If government and private employers allowed people to work at home, even for a few hours in the morning, it would reduce traffic on H-1 drastically. Think about how commuter traffic is such a breeze in Honolulu on Furlough Fridays or when UH is out for summer.
Can this happen in Hawaii?
Hawaii can change, and we can look to the mainland as an inspiration for a new model that integrates telecommuting, flexible hours and other innovations. One example, "results-only work environment," or ROWE (gorowe.com), offers a solution that offers everyone in a company the freedom to do their job when and where they want, as long as the work gets done.
According to a recent National Public Radio story, the state of Minnesota signed a contract for this program last year as part of a campaign to reduce rush-hour traffic in Minneapolis. Nationwide, 3 percent of businesses now say they have a ROWE.
How to get that train rolling here?
If executives from some of the larger Hawaii companies adopt ROWE, it will cause ripples across the state. I’m convinced that if the larger private employers get on board, the state and county would follow. In this time of extreme budget cutting and furloughs, ROWE seems like a natural.
It wouldn’t take more than a 5 percent drop in traffic during the prime commuting hours to make a significant difference our daily commutes. (It can be done. A telework program has been established in Arizona where 16 percent of state workers, about 3,400, telecommute.)
Telework and new management techniques like ROWE are not a panacea, but they do represent genuine alternatives to get more drivers off the road. Maybe it’s time that Hawaii leaders look to successful programs like these.