Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A $2.6 billion feeling: transportation infrastructure in Metro Vancouver

Earlier this week TransLink held a press conference for the installation of its first faregate on the SkyTrain system. This is part of a $171 million project which will see the installation of faregates at all stations except for Main Street and Metrotown. This project got me thinking about how sometimes government builds projects not based on fact, but because people feel like it's the right thing to do.

The cold hard fact of any transit system is that there will always be cheats, faregates or not. Fare evasion is a calculated cost of business and is cost-effectively managed in Vancouver by random fare checks that keep honest people honest. The installation of faregates is a reaction to reduce the perceived problem of fare evasion. The facts are these: fare evasion costs TransLink $3 - $7 million a year while the cost of faregates will be $9+ million per year. While people may now feel like the issue of fare evasion on the SkyTrain network has been dealt with, at best TransLink will now lose $2 million per year more than before the installation of the faregates.

Another reason touted for the installation of faregates is the perception of reducing crime. Of course if faregates actually had an impact on crime you won’t get stories like “‘Trained’ thieves send subway crime soaring” in New York. Any perception of reduced crime or improved security due to faregates will fade once the SkyTrain system has its first post-faregate crime headline.

I had a conversation with a friend last night about faregates and even after telling him the facts, he thought that faregates just felt right because other major cities have them and so should we. I’m sure this is what most people feel, so we are spending $171 million for a feeling.

Another project that comes to mind that is based on a feeling is the $2.46 billion Port Mann/Highway 1 Project which will see the construction of a 10-lane Port Mann Bridge and the widening of 37km of Highway 1 to:
-Reduce congestion and travel time
-Improve safety and accessibility
-Facilitate reliable transit
-Expand networks for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV)
-Expand network for Cyclists
-Expand network for Pedestrians

The feeling is that if we have congestion, the solution is to build bigger roads. The fact is that the majority of research shows that you can’t build your way out of congestion and that is proven in city after city. If you want to reduce congestion, you have to curb the demand through tolling or road pricing. Road pricing has been shown to work in places like London and Stockholm, but is political impossible to implement in many places. The money collected from the toll would then go to pay for maintaining highways and expanding the transit, cyclist, and pedestrian network giving people transportation choice. The reduction of congestion would also facilitate reliable transit service. The fact is that the only reason that a bigger Port Mann Bridge would be warranted is to expand the HOV network, though the George Massey Tunnel shows that HOV lanes can work even if you don't expand the river crossing.

At the end of the day both the TransLink faregate program and the Province's Port Mann Highway 1 program are being built, projects that are based on a $2.6 billion feeling.

8 comments:

Blair said...

Nathan,

You can't really say that "the majority of research" shows something and then cite a single non-peer reviewed study. Were you to provide a link to a meta-analysis or a series of papers then you might be in the right zone for that statement.

In addition the paper does not address the effect of tolling on the rate of induced traffic.

Most importantly, your discussions fail to address a critical component of the Gateway program which is to ease congestion on the east side of the bridge to facilitate mobility in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford. The absence of alternative east-west corridors in North Surrey, North Langley and Abbotsford means tha Highway 1 is the major means of travelling within and between these communities this does not appear to be addressed in your calculus.

Nathan Pachal said...

Here is another report on congestion. http://www.economics.utoronto.ca/public/workingPapers/tecipa-370.pdf

Blair said...

So we have a second paper (also not peer reviewed) to help build our "majority" only need another 1000+ to get us where we want to be...but seriously, the papers are interesting and the seond paper actually touches on a feature that will help reduce induced traffic tolls (or in this case "congestion pricing".

Tolling gives us the best of both worlds, it serves as a financial disincentive while also providing funds to address other needs. Much like a gas tax it charges consumers based on their usage and thus is the most equitable way of balancing the costs.

Rob said...

Just an FYI Blair, you might want to double-check your facts as both of these articles actually have been published in peer-reviewed journals (both the American Economic Review and the ITE Journal use a peer review process):

Duranton, Gilles, and Matthew A. Turner. 2011. "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities." American Economic Review, 101(6): 2616–52.

Litman, Todd; Colman, Steven B. Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE Journal 71. 4 (Apr 2001): 38-47.

Blair said...

Rob,

Okay, I will make a correction. You have located 2 documents, one in an journal by and for Transportation engineers that has published since 1950. A search of the journal arcive finds 2 (not 200 but 2 articles) using the term "induced travel" and the only other article acutally says the opposite to that which is cited above. Expand the search just to "induced" and the list jumps up to 5 articles. When one says the "majority of research" says something one would suppose that this was the case.

OctaviusIII said...

@Blair,

Well, here's a basic search for a literature review on the subject.

One article you might find of particular interest, as long as you look at the references section, is here (PDF).

Rob said...

@Blair,

If you check out some of the works cited and don't limit yourself to one term, but actually allow for variables in language and terminology, you might find a lot more than by searching for one word in one journal archive that mentioned. I think you missed the point in that I was noting your misuse of the term "peer-review" as relates to the two articles you claimed were not as such.

Blair said...

Octavius,

Might I suggest you limit your search to Google Scholar, perhaps put literature review and induced demand in quotation marks and eliminatee the medical by putting a negative sign to physicians (-physician) you would get a much more effective search.

Rob,

I simply pointed out that the premiere journal in the field has only had 2 articles on the topic in its entire 50+ year run and only one of those articles supports the opinion cited....hardly a majority opinion. As for mis-using "peer-review" only one of the two articles PROVIDED was peer reviewed. Pretty thin gruel I think.