Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No proper systems thinking in transport

This story 'Bristol rail link could be scrapped in favour of bendy buses' (Post, 13 Jan) and the ensuing online debate shows that we dont yet seem capable of building a properly integrated transport system which makes the best use of the most appropriate technologies. Rational assessment of transport needs? Comparing and contrasting rail vs bendy-bus [and other]technologies? I think not. Some faceless person, somewhere decided long ago to favour bendy buses in Bristol and the surrounding areas and proper assessment has gone out of the window.

There is fair bit of argy bargy (though not in the same sense as in a rugby union match!) between cycling and rail enthusiasts on the Post's website. There has also been argy bargy between the various councils in the West of England who have not been able to work together effectively to develop a proper integrated transport system run by an area transport authority as a proper public service. Where is the cooperation and joined up thinking ie systems thinking?? Where is the full and proper technology assessment?

I'm not a big fan of bendy buses/bus rapid transit (BRT) and its a shame that for the moment its the only game in town with serious money available. For me it is of very limited ambition. The sums involved are too small. The coordination is rubbish - and as for genuinely participative planning using social, economic and environmental information made available in a early, timely and effective way just forget it!!

I've been to many public meetings about BRT, especially about proposals in/near Knowle. I've put questions about the cost-benefit analysis they say they go through: what techniques are used for assessing non-market costs and benefits eg health, social changes? Why/how is a money value assigned? Is the net present value of each course/option assessed? What discount rate is used - and if the discount rate is fairly high does this mean a low value is assigned to the longer term? Does the 'currency' used in cost-benefit have to be money eg why not energy?? Often I'm fobbed off or only get a partial answer and I'm always given the impression that there are very large scale accuracy [more like inaccuracy!] issues which mean that you can choose to get the outcome politically chosen as opposed to objectively decided.