Editorial: Congestion fee worth studying
In recent years, a study that compares states based on the cost of vehicle ownership along with traffic and infrastructure issues, has ranked Hawaii as the worst state in the nation for driving.
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In recent years, a study that compares states based on the cost of vehicle ownership along with traffic and infrastructure issues, has ranked Hawaii as the worst state in the nation for driving. Given Honolulu’s clogged-commutes and uneven road conditions statewide, the lamentable showing is not a bolt from the blue.
Hawaii motorists have long contended with driving-related headaches. Back in November 2008, with frustration over congested roads apparently outweighing public works cost concerns, Oahu voters signaled support for the city to build an elevated commuter rail line.
Also in 2008, after seeing the concept of “congestion pricing” — charging motorists a fee for driving on key roads during peak traffic hours — catch on in London, then-City Councilman Charles Djou introduced a resolution urging former Mayor Mufi Hannemann to look into the traffic-management strategy.
Hannemann’s administration rejected the idea, arguing that Oahu motorists did not have enough options for people to travel in and out of the city. Rightly picking up the matter again is Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Last week, on the 2020 Legislature’s opening day, Caldwell proposed that lawmakers adopt a resolution asking Hawaii’s counties to come up with a report that would size up how congestion pricing might work here. For the sake of easing roadway woes, Honolulu, at least, should study the pros and cons of congestion pricing.
After long delays and cost-overruns, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation officials maintain that — barring unforeseen setbacks — the first stretch of the rail line, from Kapolei to Aloha Stadium, will be ready for passengers in October; and its full 20 miles will be finished by the city’s December 2025 target date.
The city is piecing together supporting transportation options that aim to make access to rail stations fairly easy. Still, motorist routines — for some, a complicated series of regular dropoffs and pickups at schools, workplaces and elsewhere — could be difficult to part with in favor of becoming a regular rail rider.
When up and running, the rail line will operate up to 20 electric trains that can carry up to 800 passengers, or the equivalent of 20 local buses, moving from Kapolei to the Ala Moana terminus in roughly 40 minutes, with stops along the way. Still, a looming question is whether train cars will be filled with passengers.
In an effort to get more cars off roadways and increase mass transit ridership, more than a dozen cities around the world have either implemented or are considering forms of congestion pricing.
Supporters say congestion pricing can ease traffic, speed up travel times, reduce pollution and provide funds for public transport and infrastructure investments.
However, the details matter, starting with equity issues, which must be addressed when setting prices, timing of charges and the roadway areas that they cover.
In London, through congestion pricing introduced in 2003, motorists entering central city area between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, were charged the equivalent of about $7 per day. In its first decade, the pricing reportedly generated about $3.6 billion, with nearly half going to in public transportation and infrastructure improvements.
Addressing the state House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees, Caldwell said congestion pricing fees would effectively prod commuters to rethink how they travel and, hopefully get them out of their personal vehicles.
Asserting that an eventual upshot would be less city spending on road improvements and other infrastructure, he said, “It saves taxpayers’ dollars in the long run.”
That’s debatable, no doubt. But it’s a debate worth having, given that rail ridership is likely no longer years down the road.