Hannah Miyamoto, a Honolulu transportation engineer and policy analyst, has started a class action suit against the Honolulu City Council on behalf of city residents like herself that depend on city bus service. In a 40-page complaint filed last week in the Circuit Court for Honolulu, Miyamoto argues that City Council interference with the rapid transit project is illegally discriminating against disadvantaged minorities and the working poor. She seeks a court order forcing the City Council to give up control over the rapid transit project, and directing the City Council to seek federal and private funds to study the future rail and bus projects necessary to put residents in all populated areas of Oahu within about an hour-long ride to downtown Honolulu by transit, including Waianae, Kahuku, Laie, and Waimanalo.
Miyamoto's lawsuit, patterned after a similar case won by Los Angeles bus riders in 1996, was triggered by the City Council's passage of a resolution directing the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to not issue another construction contract until the federal government formally promises to contribute $1.55 billion to the rail project, known as a "Full Funding Grant Agreement" (FFGA). This decision could stop construction at the rail project at Aloha Stadium, even though engineers are now designing the next section to Honolulu international airport and Middle Street transit center in the Kalihi neighborhood. HART expects to award the contract to build this second segment early next year.
Although stopping at Aloha Stadium may seem like a prudent decision, Miyamoto determined from the project's financial plan that such a short line would save bus riders little time, and force the city to run nearly empty trains. Indeed, compared to a line to Middle Street, a rapid transit line ending at Aloha Stadium would attract seven times fewer riders than the longer line. Furthermore, since the Gross Excise Tax (GET) that Honolulu residents and visitors are paying will yield enough money to finish the line to Kalihi without any federal money or long-term borrowing, there is no need to stop construction until the line is built that far. "If the federal money does not arrive on schedule," Miyamoto said, "our 'Plan B' would be to improve the bus service from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center with a stop-gap Bus Rapid Transit line."
Miyamoto contends that the City Council has no right to stop the rapid transit project because it is needed to maintain access to employment and cultural opportunities for communities with many Filipino-Americans and other disadvantaged groups. "This is the first time anyone has asserted the interests of transit passengers in the rapid transit project before a court of law," Miyamoto said. "Although I hope the City Council quickly recognizes the rights of city transit passengers," said Miyamoto, "I am prepared to take this case all the way to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, and it will be the only one of the pending lawsuits over rapid transit that directly addresses why the working people of Honolulu need rail transit."
"Let's not kid ourselves," Miyamoto continued, "There are legalities here." If the City Council does not back down, Miyamoto warned that a much bigger lawsuit would follow involving many lawyers, lasting many years and costing city taxpayers millions of dollars. Moreover, when it is over, she said, the Court will force the City to build the same rail project with or without federal money.