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RAIL PROVIDES EQUAL ACCESS TO SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

 - Opinion Editorial by Howard Garval / Mario Ramil / Rev. Bob Nakata & Sotero Jucutan published in the Honolulu Advertiser )

 

Howard Garval (President & CEO, Child and Family Service) Sotero Jucutan (President, Oahu Association of Filipino Catholic Clubs) Rev. Bob Nakata (Executive Committee Member, Oahu Chapter of Faith Action for Community Equity) Mario R. Ramil (Associate Justice, Hawaii Supreme Court, Ret.)

In the ongoing debate over rail, there has been a lot of discussion about the cost of rail but very little discussion about how rail provides equal access to social and economic opportunity to everyone regardless of age, race, economic status or disability.

If we define equity as the “fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits,” then an inequity exists for those who live in West Oahu.

Residents of Leeward Oahu have endured more than their share on the scale of social justice:

  • They bear the burden of several facilities that benefit the entire island but are unwanted in other communities, including the controversial landfill.
  • They have only one access route in and out of West Oahu while paying, through taxes, for multiple routes enjoyed by residents of the North Shore, Windward Oahu and East Oahu.
  • Some may only find affordable housing options in West Oahu since housing elsewhere is often beyond what they can afford.

When you consider that transportation is the second largest expense, after housing, for households in the U.S., the burden is even greater for the many lower income and minority workers who live in West Oahu and commute to work in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki.  They have among the longest travel distances and their commute is made even longer by severe traffic congestion (now the worst in the nation).  They are faced with the following realities:

  • The cost of owning a car in Hawaii is among the highest in the nation at more than $11,000 per year.  Since this includes the cost of gas, the cost is likely even higher for West Oahu residents.
  • Median daily parking rates in downtown Honolulu are also among the highest in the nation.

Those who can’t afford to drive—or are too young, too old or physically unable to drive—depend on public transit.  They have only one option and must suffer delays and uncertain schedules because of those delays.  They spend two to three hours – sometimes more — just going to and from work, school or medical appointments on any given day.  Can we say that these groups of people have equal access to all places?  No.  They have been locked out of opportunity.

For minorities and moderate- to low-income families, rail will bring fairness in the areas of mobility and accessibility.  Rail means greater access to jobs, schools, social services and medical care.  Consider that:

  • Approximately 70 percent of the island’s population lives along the rail route.
  • 83 percent of Oahu’s jobs are located along the rail route.
  • The rail route will connect three University of Hawaii system campuses.
  • Rail will be faster and more predictable than buses and provides a more efficient and enjoyable transportation experience.
  • Rail transit is a meaningful transportation alternative that saves both time and money.
  • Higher density housing around transit stations may also open up lower cost housing options for families.

Rail provides choice and opens up opportunity, especially for those who cannot afford to own or drive a car.  In the end, rail transit will be good for all of us by making sure that everyone is treated equally and fairly regardless of geographic, economic or social status.