Honolulu Is Where the HART Is

Rapid transit is coming to Hawaii! Construction has begun on an elevated Honolulu rapid transit system, operated by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit. Residents and tourists alike will be able to traverse a 20-mile route in just 42 minutes.

I was fortunate enough to spend the holidays with my parents on the island of Oahu. One afternoon, I visited Waikiki Brewing Company and met Pomai, the man behind the popular Honolulu food blog, The Tasty Island. I was vaguely familiar with the HART project, but Pomai gave me a local tip on how to learn more. He spoke of an informational exhibit and diorama at Satellite City Hall in the Ala Moana Center, a popular Honolulu mall.

I eagerly took his suggestion! The next few photos show a model of the West Loch Station, which is near the western terminus of the route.

A few things stood out to me:

  • The trains will be the first driverless rail cars in the United States. Compared to rail cars with drivers, these are expected to provide increased safety and reliability, along with lower cost of operation. (For a much more in-depth discussion on HART’s planned automation, check out this fantastic CityLab article on the topic.) I personally think the automation is a great step for transit in America! It gives a new and long overdue realm for technology to impact positively, and will hopefully cause other cities to consider the same plan (if they can avoid labor union disputes). The main downside to automated trains I can see is the absence of the charming and alarmingly ineffective “conductor speak”. Who knows? Maybe Hawaii’s humidity will wreck havoc on the speakers and even Microsoft Sam will end up sounding like a muffled conductor in Queens.
  • The last photo above shows the platform safety gates which will be installed at each station. I have seen these in several European cities, but I’m not aware of another example in the United States. (Let me know if I’m incorrect!) I assume they will be a bit taller than barely reaching the shoulders of the pictured man in the fedora, but we’ll see.
  • A single pass will be accepted on both rail and buses. Besides making a collector’s item for transit ticket junkies, this which will ease the hassle of making a transfer. Single farecards excite me because multimodal passes turn a collection of transit services into a veritable “transit system”. Any services that can be bundled onto a single card tend to lower my encounters with what I call “The Exact Fare Problem”: why figure out how to take a bus when it isn’t obvious AND you don’t have dollar bills and/or quarters?
  • The route does not reach into Waikiki, meaning droves of tourists will have to take bus connections from the Ala Moana Center, the eastern terminus. I assume this is due to the lack of space for a guideway through this dense neighborhood, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some of Waikiki’s high-end hotels are playing the NIMBY card. I’m sure the city of Honolulu knows how important the tourists that fill their rooms are to the local economy. While the Waikiki resorts are at most 20 minutes by bus from Ala Moana, it’s frustrating when a transit project doesn’t go all in.
  • There will be a policy for passengers traveling with surfboards. My only response to that is: #hawaii.

Pomai mentioned his main frustration was that the project will be steel-wheel-on-steel-rail instead of maglev. My initial reaction was that an urban rail would not benefit from the increased speeds offered by maglev trains (due to the short distances between stops), but I reasoned that maglav would likely offer greater reliability. Fewer moving parts => fewer maintenance issues! Upon reading more, it sounds like this decision was made when applying for the federal Full Funding Grant Agreement, rather than being a recent budget cut. You can read about this and a few other myths on the official HART Mythbusters page. This decision didn’t bother me as I’d never even considered using maglev technology on an intra-city system. Let me know if there are any examples out there!

The following photos are some of the infographics that were on display.

I’m excited to ride HART during a future trip to Honolulu! It will complement the existing bus system, TheBus. I spent a not-insignificant part of the week on the 2, 19, and 42 bus routes. The service got me to where I needed to go (and I enjoyed it…), but trips to Aloha Stadium and Pearl Harbor, in particular, will GREATLY benefit from the rail connection. For example, Pearl Harbor to the Ala Moana Center took me 52 minutes on the 42 bus, but will take just 19 minutes via HART. As Honolulu is ranked as the 3rd worst city in the United States for traffic congestion, heavy rail can’t come soon enough!

Until next time, ride on!

This bus was NOT IN SERVICE, but will always be IN MY HEART.

Written on January 4, 2016