City braces for complaints over lack of key amenities, like bathrooms, at Honolulu rail stations

The city is preparing for complaints that rail stations are lacking key amenities.
Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 4:56 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 27, 2023 at 5:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - While excitement seems to be growing for the official opening of the first half of the Honolulu rail system, the city is preparing for complaints that rail stations are lacking key amenities.

Dogged with financial pressure from the beginning, rail officials made tweaks and trims over the years to reduce the costs without discouraging ridership.

Jon Nouchi, deputy city transportation services director, said they are aware riders will have concerns.

“So, while we’ve made every, every effort to anticipate our passengers’ needs, there are going to be things that we don’t see or that we’re blind to or that come up as we operate,” Nouchi said.

Construction strategy and decisions were made by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation — not directly by city officials.

To address costs, HART ditched some big parking lots, cut the line shorter and sought savings in station amenities.

That’s apparent in the conservative placement of escalators, which are expensive and costly to maintain. Most stations have just one escalator serving each of the two platforms, which means most riders will navigate fairly steep stairways.

Rachel Wagenman was along for the ride Tuesday as city employees, family and friends were invited to try the system, going from the Halawa to East Kapolei stations and back. She noticed the lack of escalators, and was concerned about what will happen when stations are serving hurried commuters.

“You’re probably rushing down the stairs,” Wagenman said. “There’s probably going to be a lot of people. Sounds like that can cause an accident and be inconvenient.”

The escalators are reversible by station operators, depending on whether crowds are coming or going. And there is an elevator at each platform. At the University of Hawaii West Oahu station, the single elevator is the only alternative to stairs, because there is no escalator to either platform.

Riders also need to know that, like many big transit systems these days, bathrooms are only available by request. Wagenman knew that before she came.

“The restroom was probably my biggest fear, even just coming to like test it,” she said. “I didn’t drink a lot of water on purpose before I came.”

City officials say want to hear from the public to make changes if needed.

“And to the extent that we can we want to pivot and be able to respond in a meaningful way,” Nouchi said.

Beverly Wong, 88, said she got along well despite needing a cane to navigate the station.

The ride was a thrill for her and family members because she worked for Mayor Frank Fasi when he first proposed rail over 40 years ago.

“I thought it would never happen,” Wong said. “And when it again started, I thought I’d never be alive to ride it.”

Also raving were some future commuters, Tabitha and Payton Kelekolio and Duke Kanoa.

Tabitha said what she like most was the view.

“I saw Burger King and Subway and McDonalds,” she said.

While the reviews form the test riders so far have been pretty positive, the real test will come this weekend when rail stations are swamped with people who have never ridden on a transit system.