HART rolled out its Shop & Dine on the Line program this week in response to intense frustration and fear on the part of many business owners who have lost revenue and customers due to rail construction. The problem appears simple on the surface – once the rail is built, customers will come back and all will be well. I contend this is very short term thinking. While I don’t disagree that short term support can be helpful, these businesses owners and HART itself need to start thinking now about what happens after the rail is built.
Business owners, is your business going to be able to attract customers who have the option of easily going down to the next stop or two to find something they prefer? What if the station where they board the train has a more robust and vital retail area than your stop even if you are closer to where they live? What if some forward-thinking property owner re-develops their property adding in shops, restaurants and services customers want and you are playing catch up in three to five years?
Another hard question: is your business struggling only because of rail construction or are your goods, food or services not attracting new customers because of changing preferences from consumers?
Now is the time to start having these conversations and asking these questions whether you are a stand-alone business, part of a larger development or a consumer who wants quality food, goods and services available now and in the future.
Lurking behind all of this is the larger issue of HART’s role in TOD. Technically one of HART’s mandates is to facilitate TOD but their focus remains fixed on actually getting the rail built. I understand that but there must be a balance and it is spelled out in the Vision Statement from HART’s 2016 Business Plan: “Land Use: Supporting the City’s land development policy by providing access to an area targeted for development of a new urban center and helping create transit-oriented development along the rail line.“ [Emphasis added]
And, HART’s TOD responsibility is not just part of an obligatory “vision statement”, it is mandated through the Revised Charter of Honolulu (Charter or RCH) “to promote, create and assist transit oriented development projects near fixed guideway system stations that promote transit ridership, and are consistent with the adopted community plans and zoning.” RCH 17-103.2(n).
I have listened to HART board members go back and forth with HART about TOD and the one thing that stands out is an unwillingness on the part of HART to fully engage on TOD. One gets the sense that HART just wants the TOD arm of the Department of Permitting and Planning (DPP-TOD) to deal with it when the reality is everyone needs to work together.
The old cliche “The future is now” has never been more apropos. Now is the time for HART to fully engage on TOD or we run the risk of having stations where there is nothing appealing or attractive to riders. The worst case scenario is having stations where passengers are picked up and dropped off in what are essentially urban ghettos. Ridership will suffer, anticipated increases in tax revenues will not be realized and the much-desired Live, Work, Play, Eat and Shop lifestyle simply won’t exist.