Importing Boston’s Failures to Honolulu

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.

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9 thoughts on “Importing Boston’s Failures to Honolulu

  1. LazyReader

    I always assumed the Governor was the highest paid office in the state. Politicians get union political support by granting government workers generous pensions and health benefits. After those politicians leave office, taxpayers [some not even born yet] are liable for trillions in unfunded promises. Public sector unions are parasites that will bankrupt America. Where are we going to get these trillions of dollars? When they’re (government workers) allowed to retire at 58 and the rest of us are retiring at 60 and 67 and by the way we’re living to 80. The public sector is the version of the European welfare state which, by the way, in Europe, they’re actually rolling back. Many private workers understand that, and that’s why only 8 percent of private-sector workers still belong to unions. In the private sector, wage and pension demands are tempered by competition. If one company pays too much, a competitor takes his business.

    When the housing bubble burst, home prices dropped considerably in most of America, but not in Washington. Our capital feeds off federal spending, and politicians simply will not allow that bubble to burst. 10 of the 15 wealthiest counties in America orbit Washington. Tourists visit Washington and admire the beautiful buildings. All that marble once made me feel appeased but now I’m pissed. Unions claim workers are “under”-paid. But today’s union headquarters resemble palaces. The biggest teachers union, the National Education Association, built a $100 million Washington headquarters that it calls “an environmental oasis.” The AFL-CIO’s beautiful lobby features a giant mosaic made of marble, glass and gold. These people preach to the common man, but the common man isn’t even allowed in to view it. Government buildings are grand, too, even new ones like the Reagan office building. It’s very much like Versailles before the French Revolution, says historian John Steele Gordon. Washingtonians have become like the French nobility, who spent pretty much their entire lives in the palace at Versailles and didn’t know much about what went on outside that world with the common folk, until they were beheaded. We could improve America’s future just by recognizing what so-called “public choice” economists started to realize around the time of World War II: that government isn’t just a “public servant.” It’s not a demon, either. But government and its employees are selfish, like anyone else. That explains most of their behavior better than occasional shifts to the political left or right. We all tend to overspend or act lazy when we can get away with it. But in the private sector though, do it long enough, eventually it gets you fired or realize you’re depleting your bank account. In Washington, the government just prints more money.

  2. LazyReader

    I also write on Streetsblog, it’s sort of the Antiplanner’s antithesis. Occasionally I write similar arguments in the Yahoo! news articles and Inhabitat.

  3. Matt Young

    Unemployed Valley residents hoping to land a job on the California high-speed rail project can get special training thanks to a $1.5 million grant given to the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board.

    The training grant from the state Employment Development Department was awarded jointly to the Fresno WIB, the Kern/Inyo/Mono Counties Workforce Investment Board and the Stanislaus County Alliance Worknet to train eligible workers in those counties.

    Fresno WIB executive director Blake Konczal said the grant will enable the agency to train at least 325 people in construction and related trades needed for the high-speed rail project.

    “This grant is just the beginning of a series of funding sources to start developing our work force to prepare for high-speed rail jobs,” Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea said. “It’s the beginning of the icing on the cake. It’s nice to see the fruits of our labor paying off now.”

    Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/04/17/3262017/15-million-grant-to-fund-job-training.html#storylink=cpy
    ———————-

    The HSR will hire about 1,000 to build and likely employ about that many to run. However, with that in mind, HSR has had three seminars on affirmative action, two or three grants for education and about 1,000 people are already employed to manage set asides, patronage, DC lobbying, and local government bribes.

    Let me ask, what education does the public in central valley need regarding rail systems? I mean, this is stuff we were able to do in 1820, and it didn’t take half the rail budget to explain the facts: People get in the rail car and the little engine pulls the thing along tracks. Are we that stupid in California? It is not much different than buses, so we can just go to the Greyhound terminal and watch things for an hour.

    The fundamental point about HSR as far as I can tell is that it has one mission. Teach people how to prevent minority whites from getting good jobs. But no one, white, brown or purple expects more than 500 jobs locally from HSR. Everything about the project seems horribly misplaced.

  4. Sandy Teal

    The highest paid state employee of most states, by a huge margin, is usually the state university football coach. Followed by the state university basketball coach. It is all about priorities.

  5. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    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.

    Instead of the compensation being tied to the number of daily weekday person trips served by their system.

    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.

    When has the CEO of a transit authority ever been fired for rail transit cost overruns? Ever?

  6. C. P. Zilliacus

    Sandy Teal wrote:

    The highest paid state employee of most states, by a huge margin, is usually the state university football coach. Followed by the state university basketball coach. It is all about priorities.

    A good reason to get rid of the minor leagues enjoyed by the NFL and the NBA, respectively.

  7. C. P. Zilliacus

    LazyReader wrote:

    When the housing bubble burst, home prices dropped considerably in most of America, but not in Washington.

    They crashed (and in some cases, crashed hard) in large areas of Montgomery County and Prince George’s County (Maryland suburbs of D.C.), and in Prince William County, Virginia.

    Our capital feeds off federal spending, and politicians simply will not allow that bubble to burst. 10 of the 15 wealthiest counties in America orbit Washington.

    I agree with you. And I have lived nearly all my life near the District of Columbia. It bothers me.

    Tourists visit Washington and admire the beautiful buildings. All that marble once made me feel appeased but now I’m pissed.

    It is a legitimate problem.

    Unions claim workers are “under”-paid. But today’s union headquarters resemble palaces. The biggest teachers union, the National Education Association, built a $100 million Washington headquarters that it calls “an environmental oasis.” The AFL-CIO’s beautiful lobby features a giant mosaic made of marble, glass and gold. These people preach to the common man, but the common man isn’t even allowed in to view it.

    The union buildings in D.C. are disturbingly elaborate.

    Government buildings are grand, too, even new ones like the Reagan office building. It’s very much like Versailles before the French Revolution, says historian John Steele Gordon. Washingtonians have become like the French nobility, who spent pretty much their entire lives in the palace at Versailles and didn’t know much about what went on outside that world with the common folk, until they were beheaded.

    Above and beyond the unions, what really makes the Washington area rich are some of these:

    (1) Lobbyists;
    (2) Trade associations;
    (3) Think tanks (and I am aware that Randal works for one of them);
    (4) The so-called “intelligence community” (such as CIA, NRO, DIA, NSA, NGA and parts of DHS), and especially the contractors (in other words, the “cleared professionals – TS/SCI with polygraph,” as we hear in radio ads on WTOP) working for firms with contracts with these agencies is where much of the really big money for the McMansions in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties comes from); and
    (5) Retired military officers that work for assorted Pentagon contractors, pulling in a generous government pension and big money from those firms.

    Note that I did not mention federal workers, a lot of whom have been priced-out of many neighborhoods that were once dominated by parts of the federal workforce.

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