Reading Michael Cameron’s blog this morning I was intrigued to read that New Zealand’s Transport Minister Michael Wood did not provide the cost-benefit data when he announced the new $785m Auckland harbour cycle bridge earlier this month. However it has now been revealed the initial assessment by Waka Kotahi is only 0.4 to 0.6. That meant for every dollar spent on the bridge, there would effectively be a 40 to 60 cent loss. If a project is less than 1.0, the project’s costs outweigh the benefits, and it should not be considered.
You wonder about the rationale for this amount of expenditure when there is an opportunity cost – money that could be spent on the areas that seemed to be constantly deprived of government funds e.g. Health (especially with the vaccine rollout), Education etc.
Evaluation of Cost-Benefit Analysis
It is clearly more efficient for public spending to be subject to rigorous analysis, rather than based on the whims of politicians. However, there are a number of criticisms of CBA when projects are given the green light
1. It is often very costly to undertake, though usually this forms a very small proportion of total project spending.
2. Assessing the monetary value of external costs and benefits is often very difficult. What precisely is the value of the congestion that would be reduced if a new bi-pass were built around a busy town? How much extra tourist revenue will actually be gained from a new airport? How long will the building be used as a venue, as in the case of the Viaduct area in Auckland for the 2020/21 America’s Cup. One solution to this problem is shadow pricing, where analysts attempt to place a value on the costs and benefits of a decision or a project where an actual market price does not exist.
3. Changing circumstances can make initial projections appear grossly inaccurate. The Wembley Stadium project in London went considerably over-budget, and the majority Olympic Games are far more costly than originally estimated. For instance the Montreal Olympics in 1976 was eventually paid off in December 2006. Higher interest and inflation rates, and falling exchange rates can all dramatically affect costs.
4. Actual costs can also rise above planned costs as a result of moral hazard, where project managers go over budget because they expect that those who fund the project will make extra funds available, providing an insurance against their over-spending.
5. Ultimately, decisions to go ahead with projects are only guided by CBA, leaving politicians to make the final decision. Politicians are free, of course, to ignore the results of an appraisal. It looks like they have with the cycle bridge.