HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just two days after Honolulu mayoral candidate Charles Djou proposed building rail at ground level to save money, he tossed out another idea during a forum Thursday: Use buses instead of rail cars on existing elevated guideways.
The suggestion at a gathering in Kapolei had his opponents accusing him of failing to stick to a single position.
During the forum, Djou said, "You can have a bus that runs from Waianae all the way on to the University of Hawaii, not needing to change buses, use the existing guideway, and that gets people from A to B."
He then clarified, "What we're talking about is converting this whole system to a bus rapid transit system so that somebody can take one bus, one bus -- from Waianae all the way on to Kapolei. Then put an on-ramp there in Kapolei and they can go grade separated using the existing guideway. Then on the same bus take it all the way in to the University of Hawaii. That's what we're doing. It's not an ideal solution, but it is something that will get us our transportation solution."
Djou's opponents say floating the bus idea is just another way he's avoiding taking a firm position on Oahu's beleaguered rail project.
Former Mayor Peter Carlisle argues bus rapid transit is not a legitimate alternative to rail and won't address traffic congestion on the west side.
"All you have to do is a take a look at the (rail project's) environmental impact statement. All of this was covered, none of it was successful in terms of convincing people on the federal side or frankly on the local side that it was going to be the right solution," Carlisle said.
"He has a vested interested in making sure rail doesn't work because he's constantly been saying, 'It's lousy. It's lousy.' If suddenly it's working well, that's going to make him look very bad."
Incumbent Kirk Caldwell says with heavy rail, commuters will be able to travel from Kapolei to town in less than an hour.
"We're going to have four-car trains -- that means on average you'll have 560 riders to 800 if they're fully packed. That is 20 city buses pulling in to a station and leaving every five minutes. Well, you can't line up 20 city buses any where on any city in this island that can be synchronized and move in and out that quickly," Caldwell said.
The federal government has given the city $1.55 billion for rail. If the project were converted to an all-bus system, it's unclear what would happen to that funding. Officials with the Federal Transit Administration also haven't decided whether the city can keep that money if rail isn't built all the way to Ala Moana, as it was intended.
"That full-funding grant agreement paid for the maintenance facility out by Pearl Harbor -- the total cost of that project plus operating it is $1.4 billion. It's the largest contract issued," Caldwell said. "If you're going to do the bus on the rail line -- that maintenance facility isn't needed anymore. It's designed for the trains. We're going to be throwing money away -- and if you think the federal government is going to say, 'That's okay. Keep our money.' No, they're going to be demanding it back."
Honolulu rail officials have confirmed the $6.8 billion the city already has is enough to complete rail from where the elevated guideway begins at the Kroc Center in Kapolei to Middle Street with every station being built.
Djou, Caldwell and Carlisle will be facing off in their next debate Tuesday, at a Hawaii News Now-sponsored event. The debate starts at 7 p.m. on KGMB.