Have a read folks – enough to make one cry, and you know what the funny thing is? Auckland is in the exactly same boat!!!
Why is that?
Take a look at each point (started in bold) that Professor Cox has risen. Now apart from a few differences (owing from our legal structure such as pensions and the USA being federal) you could replace Honolulu with the word Auckland. So let’s go through the entire article and try shall we. All references and rights of the original material belong to Professor Cox – I am drawing a comparison here (my points will be inside the  brackets).
Honolulu’s [Auckland’s] Beleaguered Residents
Critically, there is plenty of competition for the scarce dollars that Honolulu [Auckland] residents have to spare. The city’s basic infrastructure is in bad shape.
(Sewer) Water, Water Everywhere: A consent decree signed between local officials and the Environmental Protection Agency requires major upgrades to the sewer system. Sewer overflows are not unusual. Just a few days ago, 51,000 gallon raw sewage spilled into a local stream. The state issued a brown water alert for the entire island of Oahu (which is also the combined city and county of Honolulu), including Waikiki Beach and all other beaches. As of this writing, the brown water advisory has not been cancelled. Just in the last year, the state has reported 17 sewage spills and four brown water alerts. For this to happen in a highly tourist dependent economy is nothing short of astounding. [Think Mission Bay and Takapuna Beach here]
More than Leaky Pipes: The city’s water system is in need of major upgrades. From 2004 to 2009, water main breaks were virtually a daily occurrence. In an effort to solve the problem, the city has raised water rates 60 percent in the last five years and plans another 70 percent increase over the next five years. How much more will be required after that is anyone’s guess. “How are people going to make it? I just don’t know” reacted City council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi. [Well we are not that bad with fresh water – as with storm water that is a different matter entirely]
High Cost of Housing, High Cost of Living: Honolulu [Auckland] residents already endure the most unaffordable housing in the nation, with median house prices 8.7 [6.4] times median household incomes. That is three times Dallas-Fort Worth. Honolulu’s [Auckland’s] overall cost of living is also the highest in the nation, outside six metropolitan areas in the greater New York and San Francisco Bay Areas. Honolulu residents pay $1.41 to buy what $1.00 buys in St. Louis, 1.24 for each $1.00 in Austin and $1.21 for each $1.00 in Phoenix [go to qv.co.nz is to NZ comparable values]
Choices: This is not about easy choices. The sewer remediation, water system maintenance, government employee pension and government employee retiree health care benefits are mandatory. The rail expenditures are not [Rates, Roads, Rubbish and Libraries anyone?]
The Rickety Rail Project
Yet the city of Honolulu [Auckland] would tax its residents even more to pay for a 20 mile [3.4km] rail line [tunnel] to empty farmland well beyond the urban fringe [under the CBD]. This is a project not unlike the early 1900s land speculation schemes of Henry Huntington in Los Angeles and the Sweringens of Shaker Heights (Cleveland). There is, however, one important difference. The Huntington and the Swearingens bet their own money. Honolulu is betting the money of its taxpayers. The city hopes to receive $1.55 billion from the federal government[50% from Central Government in Wellington], with local residents [ratepayers] left to pay a hefty 70  percent of the cost. This $3.575 billion local [$3.6b TOTAL (after the rail fallacy is taken into account)] share would create the highest tax burden for any urban rail line ever built-in the nation, at more than $10,000 per household[$857 for every man, women and child in NEW ZEALAND]. But residents should “thank their lucky stars” if that’s all they have to pay, given the history of cost overruns on such projects around the world. [Manukau Line having cost 1.6x more than budget, over a year late and still 110 metres short to where the station should be]
Stacking the Deck: The Federal Court Challenge: The planning process is being challenged in federal court. The plaintiffs argue that the rail selection process eliminated more cost effective options with biased analysis. This would not be the first time.
Annie Weinstock, Walter Hook, Michael Replogle, and Ramon Cruz of the Institute for Transportation Development and Policy (with a foreword by Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenaur), cited circuitous routing of a busway that biased ridership forecasts in favor of light rail for the suburban Washington Purple Line. Weinstock, Hook, Repogle and Cruz refer to a similar “deck stacking technique” that favored an expensive rail project over a busway in the suburban Washington Dulles corridor. They fault local officials more than federal:
While there is no outright pro-rail bias at the FTA, there is indeed FTA complicity in the rail bias of city and state level mass transit project sponsors. The FTA, when evaluating New Starts and Small Starts project applications, tends to bow to political pressure to favor locally preferred alternatives and ignore certain forms of rail bias by the project sponsors
[Think John Key vs Len Brown on that one]
Pulling the Plug on Rail? Former Governor Ben Cayatano has filed to run against Mayor Carlisle in the August 2012 election. In announcing his entry, Governor Cayatano said “I will pull the plug on rail.” Polls show Mr. Cayetano ahead of both Mayor Carlisle and a third candidate. [Have not seen anyone yet willing to do that and run for mayor – but elections are next year anyway]
Capital Cost Escalation: A state report indicated that construction costs could rise well above forecast. Every penny above the $5.125 billion capital cost will be the responsibility of local taxpayers. Based upon the international experience, this could easily raise the per household cost from $15,000 to $20,000. [Original cost of the CRL, $1.4b, then $2.4b, then $2.8b and my bets are $3.6b after the Rail Fallacy applies and the first sod of soil has not been even turned yet.]
Ridership Optimism Bias: Echoing general concerns raised by Weinstock, Hook, Repogle and Cruz (above), the state report indicated concern over an optimism bias in the ridership projections. For example, the city expects 60 percent of rail riders to use the bus to get to the train. This is four times the rate of the largest new rail system built in the nation (Washington’s Metro). Using the bus to connect to the train makes travel much slower and this factor has often been over-estimated by rail planners. This unrealistic assumption alone could qualify the Honolulu ridership forecast as among the most inaccurate in history. Fewer riders. more money out of residents pockets. [That is an issue and post in its own right – something I would leave Auckland Transport Blog to cover.]
A Billion Here, A Billion There: As if all of this were not enough, a report for the Federal Transit Administration, obtained by the Star Advertiser through a freedom of information request, indicates that the operating costs of the transit system may be understated by as much as $1 billion over the next 20 years. That’s $3,000 per Honolulu household (Note 1). [Remember the Rail Fallacy: always 1.5x the original cost and deadline for a rail project]
Federal [Wellington] Doubts: Federal Transit Administration Regional Administrator Leslie Rogers [Prime Minister John Key] expressed concern about Honolulu’s [Auckland’s] ability to afford the project in a letter to local officials, noting that the funding program is insufficient. Local taxpayers likely will need to pony up more.
Debt Limit Suspended: After having claimed it could afford the rail debt, the city suspended its debt limit — a fact discovered four months after the fact by the Star Advertiser. Usually, breaches of trust like this become evident only much later in the rail construction process. A suspended debt limit means more money out of taxpayer pockets, or worse. Jefferson County, Alabama filed bankruptcy after not being able to afford payments on its sewer debt. [Our debt is forecasted to be at $8.4 BILLION by 2021 with the CRL making upwards of $3.6b of that debt. 25% of your rates people will be paying the $521 MILLION of interest on that $8.4b debt in 2021. Financial illiteracy much here?]
How Would Rail Change Honolulu [Auckland]
With rail, Honolulu [Auckland] there are two [well one as ours is underground] ways that Honolulu will be changed:
No Traffic Relief: Despite being only the 52nd largest metropolitan area in the nation, Honolulu has the second worst traffic congestion in the nation (see figure), according to INRIX, the leading international reporting source. Honolulu and Los Angeles are the only US metropolitan areas ranked in the worst 25 out of 200 in Western Europe and the United States. Even with the rail system, local plans call for traffic congestion to get worse.
[I bet Queen Street will still be choked with cars as ever after the CRL]
Getting the Choices Right
Incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle recently returned from a Potemkin Village tour of Manila, raving about that city’s rail system. Governor Cayateno, whose familiarity with Manila extends well beyond a scripted tour, called Mayor Carlisle’s comparison with Manila “comedic,” noting that most residents cannot afford a car or that Manila has more than 10 times as many people. [Go read the actual article from Professor Cox as you need to see the pictures to understand the point. Basically rail’s reach in Auckland is limited, without feeder systems such as park and rides or feeder buses, our rail system could never achieve the numbers it needs to free up Auckland. Catch is how much are we willing to spend to do so. The idea is not to bankrupt the city on the way out folks…]
The article was an eye opener while making one cry on the way out. Auckland has a chance to NOT go down the Honolulu path but on current paths we ARE!
Auckland Council – think carefully here before you spend our money on potential follies – we are watching – so PLEASE LISTEN!
VOAKL: MY Auckland – MY Money – MY CALL