HART Proposals to be Discussed Friday

On Friday afternoon the Honolulu Charter Commission will meet to discuss a dozen proposals related to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART). Let’s take a closer look.

Merging Rail, Bus and HandiVan

The following proposals would put the three modes of transportation under one agency:

  • #10 would terminate HART and put rail construction back under the mayor and city council;
  • #14 would create a single transit agency for bus, rail and HandiVan;
  • #47 would also create a single entity for transportation operations and maintenance with a transportation board that includes at least three members who have expertise in transportation operations and/or public finance;
  • #76 would remove operations and maintenance from HART and the Department of Transportation Services and create new public transit entity; and
  • #92 is a HART proposal and would create one agency for operations and maintenance.

Putting rail, bus and HandiVan under one agency makes sense, but we’ve seen that doesn’t work well under the mayor. Our current set up with HART also does not work. The Commission is sure to spend a lot of time discussing these options, but it seems the best solution is something in the middle, e.g., operations and maintenance under the mayor with some kind of board making key recommendations and the council making policy decisions and funding approvals.

Other HART-Initiated proposals

  • #93 would establish a transition committee that would make recommendations such as the best structure for a unified transit authority, how the charter should be amended to reflect mayor/council approval over the transit authority’s budgets, set qualifications and approve actual amendments for 2016;
  • #94 would allow HART to use other funds the Council may authorize for funding rail and would remove the operating budget from the Charter (and therefore the approval requirement by the Council); and
  • #95 would allow HART to issue any kind of bonds.

Based on what I’ve seen at HART and Council meetings, it would not be a good idea to remove the operating budget from the Charter nor allow HART to issue any kind of bonds without approval from the Council. Proposal 93 would potentially give too much control to a new transit authority.

Remaining proposals for Friday include:

  • #13 would require HART members to have certain experience and knowledge and ride rail once per week on average;
  • #45 would set a due date of not less than 120 days prior to the end of fiscal year for the mayor to turn the budgets in to the Council: and
  • #140 would create an independent review board to look at 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-year financial projections, especially considering obligations created by the rail project.

Proposal 140 certainly has a lot of merit and could potentially be done via ordinance.

Lastly, let’s take a moment to remember the proposals that the Commission “deferred” back in December.

Three proposals, 71, 139 and 146, would either eliminate HART (and rail) or shorten the rail project. One commissioner stated that the Commission shouldn’t be a “cheap route for referendum” on rail. Another commissioner stated that if voters did support one of the proposals, the city would be in breach of the contract with the Federal Transit Administration.

First of all, it appears very likely we will be in breach of the Full Funding Grant Agreement anyway, because the rail is not coming in on time. Second, voters approved steel-wheel-on-steel rail by a slim margin and allowed the creation of HART, because it was seen as a way to “take politics out” of it. I believe we should have the opportunity to vote on rail again, especially given the misinformation and lack of transparency we have experienced.

The Commission’s meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the Honolulu Hale committee room on the second floor. They will also hold their budget meeting at 3:30 p.m. Agendas and proposals are available at http://www.honoluluchartercommission.org/, and testimony and comments may be submitted to cclcharter@honolulu.gov. Make sure your voice is heard.

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