Importing Boston’s Failures to Honolulu
by Randall O'Toole, the Anti-Planner April 23, 2013
One of the intriguing things about rail transit is how much more the CEOs of rail transit agencies get paid than those of bus-only agencies. Yet that high pay comes with a high risk of failure and disgrace, as it is much more difficult to build and run rail lines than to simply manage bus service.
Case in point: Dan Grabauskas, CEO of Honolulu’s “rapid transit authority” and the highest-paid city official in Honolulu. What did Grabauskas do to merit this position?
It turns out that his main qualification is having helped run the Boston rail system into its present deteriorated condition. In 2009, Grabauskas resigned from that position in disgrace. Some claim he was forced out by a Democratic governor for the sin of being appointed by the previous Republican governor, yet there is no doubt that Boston’s rail lines were in terrible shape, with frequent delays, at least two recent crashes (including one blamed on rusty signal wires that killed a train operator), and miserable customer service.
When Grabauskas was in his previous job of Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, he adopted a “fix-it-first policy towards the state’s highways. The Antiplanner thinks such policies are often a guise for a “we don’t want to build more roads because we think roads are sinful” policy.
But it is too bad he didn’t apply the same policy to transit when he took over the Boston’s T system. Instead, while the rest of the rails rusted away, he proudly completed a new Greenbush commuter-rail line that managed to attract only half of its predicted ridership.
Grabauskas was so enthusiastic about transit in Boston that exhorted auto drivers to “dump the pump” and ride the train or bus. But trains weren’t good enough for him, as he drove to work in a government-owned SUV.
Now he is in Honolulu promising to bring some of the glory of Boston’s rail system to Hawaii. According to the National Transit Database, Boston’s entire transit system–including buses, trains, and ferries–carried 94 trips per capita in 2011. Meanwhile, Honolulu’s bus system carried 96 trips per capita. Maybe he should go back to Massachusetts and teach Bostonians the value of bus transit.