Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

How could they get it so wrong?

with 4 comments

There’s a very entertaining piece on the Port Mann Bridge by Neil Salmond on Strong Towns. It is all about what people do when faced with a choice between a fast, tolled route and a slower, untolled route. Or rather, what they say they will do. Apparently in Ohio drivers said they would drive out of their way to avoid a toll. Which, of course, is exactly what they are doing here: driving over the Patullo instead of the Port Mann. Even though the extra cost in gas alone is often going to be about the same as the toll, as demonstrated by a neat little gizmo put together by Todd Littman and the Sun. There’s also the fact that traffic forecasts in general seem to have made a fundamental error by simply extrapolating from the past. Just like steering a ship by staring at the wake, this method has some fairly obvious shortcomings. When circumstances change, so should expectations.

This blog has often berated transportation models – and modellers – for the shortcomings of the standard models. This particular issue is one that is often key to making decisions about choices for the future. How do you assess the willingness of people to choose a new route or mode which is currently not available?  Two methods are in use: Revealed Preference (RP) and Stated Preference (SP).

The first one, RP, makes some generalizations about trip behaviour as a combination of time and money known as “generalized cost”. Data is collected about trip making and this is examined in terms of the trips made and the way they get distributed between routes and modes. This gets quite sophisticated as we know that travel time is not valued by users the same way in different modes. People prefer to be moving rather than waiting, and prefer to be seated and  in vehicles under most sets of circumstances. So the values ascribed to time are different: people who are stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus are conscious of wasting time. People riding comfortably as passengers on public transport can use that time to do other things – read, use their cell phones and so on.  With enough data about trip making on different routes and modes, it is possible to extrapolate what the new route/mode will be worth to its users in terms of time savings or greater comfort and convenience. It’s not hard, for instance, to compare High Speed Trains to airlines for city pairs and come up with a general rule that shows the threshold at which one will be preferred over the other. RP is only reliable for as long as the values assigned to the parameters do not change between the time the data was collected and the new project opens.

SP uses consumer surveys to get people to consider alternatives and tell the surveyor which one they prefer. It is widely used for all kinds of decision making – the appeal of new products and services, or even political preferences. And again it can get quite sophisticated in getting people to make comparisons and choices which are largely conjectures based on synthetic alternatives. And has a varied track record in accuracy of forecasting what choices get made in the real situations.  In a region where there were no road tolls, it is quite surprising to me that the reported response to tolls for a bridge in Ohio were so negative. When people who used the free Albion Ferry were asked if they would be willing to pay a toll for a bridge, they said yes. And given the multiple sailing waits experienced at peak periods, the value they put on their time could also be measured in terms of the length of the trips they would otherwise have to make – crossing the old, congested Port Mann or the much more remote Mission Bridge. In any SP survey, people want to impress the surveyor with their rationality and decision making ability. In good ones, this well known issue is taken into account.

The traffic forecasts for the new Golden Ears Bridge were wildly optimistic. Traffic has so far failed to meet the expectations of the bridge builder/operator. A similar mistake was made with the Port Mann. And this being BC where we design P3 projects to shift money from the pockets of the public to private sector companies, we now pay through taxes for these errors. The bridge builder/operator faces no revenue risk.

In the case of the Port Mann there was already a good reason to doubt the traffic forecast. There was no bus service over the old bridge. It would have been easy to provide one, that would avoid the congestion of the bridge approaches by using bus lanes on the shoulders of the freeway. The 555 could have been running years ago – but that was avoided as it would have reduced the perceived “need” for freeway widening. And actually much potential new transit traffic could also have been won by running a direct bus between Surrey and Coquitlam instead of relying on an inconvenient, out of the way combination of existing SkyTrain and bus routes.

There has been a secular change in perceptions of the value of time and willingness to pay tolls that has not been taken into account by the forecasters. And that is that real personal incomes have been stagnant or declining for a long period of time. Moreover, the expectation that things will get better in the future – which seemed common for most of the post war period – has evaporated. Tax cuts have benefitted the wealthy disproportionately, since they have been replaced by all sorts of fees and charges which are levelled instead: they are applied with little or no consideration of ability to pay. The toll across the Port Mann Bridge is the same for the office cleaner and the CEO.

The other thing that has to be noted is the reliability of the data that is being collected. I have observed many times how this region collects far less travel data in terms of sample size than other cities: and this is orders of magnitude difference. But some of the most reliable data on trip making came from the census – at least for the journey to work mode choice over a very long time scale.

And then there is this

“The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty, and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition known in Russian as tufta. It means falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power.”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/05/neoliberalism-mental-health-rich-poverty-economy

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2014 at 9:39 am

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. …and here we go again with a 10-lane Massey tunnel replacement…

    Sean Nelson

    August 8, 2014 at 10:34 am

  2. Many are starting to respond to the idea that Skytrain & Towers are taking us in the wrong direction. I explain in the link below how this is the latest phase of suburbanism, including (in more or less chronological order): sprawl, freeways, regional malls, skytrain and towers:

    http://wp.me/p1yj4U-m0

    I will be driving Vancouver-Mission for most of this year on a near weekly basis and it has already given me a startling view of the Fraser Valley north bank. The first realization that the old suburban paradigm of build lanes then sell land is still very much in place. Hello? Widening the Lougheed to six lanes from the Mary Hill Bypass almost all the way to Mission was a shocker. Then there is the third iteration of the Pitt River bridge built over the last 20 years. The fly-over the railway yards in Port Coquitlam. The Golden Ears replacement of the Albion Ferry with the worst town planning I’ve ever seen on the Maple Ridge side; and almost as bad a treatment on the Langley side (It’s like these folks could not build a bridge to make things better. They could just build a bridge and screw everything up on both side). Then, there is the approach on Lougheed to the Haney ByPass that necks down to two lanes (to save buying frontage from private property, obviously) at exactly the point you’d think there should be lots of room—the choke point of the approaching downtown plus access to the West Coast Express station on the river front. From there it is all a head scratcher. The views of the river are magnificent. When the Lougheed turns into its 1930s vintage two-lane road one worries about safety for winter night drivers, but relishes the chance to pop down the top and enjoy the changing road shape and the river scenery.

    From a transportation point of view there are two non-starters. Service from Vancouver to Mission is almost non-existent (two bus companies, four buses and three or four hours). On Sunday nights one can ride the transcontinental for $40.

    But worse still is the lack of attention at creating a loop from YVR to Abbotsford YXX; from Abbotsford to Mission; and from Mission to Vancouver (running in both directions of course).

    To show my stripes as usual, the next step would to use all the “dots” in the loop to implement human-scale TOD town planning.

    lewis n. villegas

    August 19, 2014 at 10:50 pm

  3. There has been a secular change in perceptions of the value of time and willingness to pay tolls that has not been taken into account by the forecasters. And that is that real personal incomes have been stagnant or declining for a long period of time. Moreover, the expectation that things will get better in the future – which seemed common for most of the post war period – has evaporated. Tax cuts have benefitted the wealthy disproportionately, since they have been replaced by all sorts of fees and charges which are levelled instead: they are applied with little or no consideration of ability to pay. The toll across the Port Mann Bridge is the same for the office cleaner and the CEO.

    Amen to that. Except that perhaps the greatest concentration of CEOs lives closer to English Bay than Surrey Centre and thus do not pay bridge tolls. In fact, a healthy percentage may even take West Vancouver’s blue buses to take advantage of the bus lanes either side of the Lions gate Bridge and avoid the congestion hassles.

    I have had several heated arguments with a co-worker who, until recently, lived over 30 km from work and who on occasion would take the new Port Mann. He was completely against the tolls because people “can’t afford them.” This was from a then single guy who at one time owned three vehicles, and today still owns two despite having moved to one of the largest SkyTrain-oriented town centres. I argued that two-zone transit users pay a higher toll than bridge users, and that many also own cars and pay property taxes. His response was, “It’s not the same.”

    Since when is one mode of transportation not transportation? Why should the one with far greater efficiency be tolled higher than the other? When will it become public knowledge that working transit users subsidize car drivers, and not just the other way around?

    We live in a funny world.

    MB

    September 15, 2014 at 1:51 pm

  4. Lewis, you have a tendency to purposely convolute language. Towers are towers. Sprawl is sprawl. Your conflation of these separate and opposing spatial constructs says more about your efforts to force logic into your personal socio-political mold than about anything else. It doesn’t work because it’s doublespeak.

    There are definable roles for the multitude layers of density, but as the effects of climate change and fossil fuel dependency become more apparent as we roll through the next couple of decades, it is increasingly apparent that higher densities supported by transit are so absolutely necessary.

    I note that the urbanism you were so appalled at in Maple Ridge is nowhere near a SkyTrain line or even a decent bus service – with the exception of the West Coast Express. So that by definition makes it mostly automobile-sprawl. If the moderate densities and architecture of Maple Ridge so offend you, then my best advice is to stay away from the peripheral subdivisions of far more disastrous cities like Calgary and Denver.

    We all could use more human scale and better architecture in our cities, but the challenge of that is to change the development industry, politics, regulatory and economics that currently support it. Your strategy is to verbally tear things down, not to try for a consensus to build with the instruments, rules and players already before us.

    Good luck with that.

    MB

    September 15, 2014 at 2:21 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: