Russel Norman
Transit – deceit, incompetence or something else?

During the long drawn out battle to build the Bypass through some really nice parts of Wellington, Transit gave sworn evidence to the Environment Court that the Bypass would save seven to nine minutes for travellers at peak time. This claim was vital both to their case in the Environment Court and their benefit to cost analysis to justify spending tens of millions of our money on the Bypass.

Now both Transit and the Transport Minister, Annette King, refused to stand by those claims when they were questioned about it last week.

11. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Is she confident that Transit New Zealand’s projected 7 to 9-minute peak-hour time savings will be delivered to motorists when the Wellington inner-city bypass opens this weekend; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport): Transit New Zealand has advised me that while the second phase of the inner-city bypass will be open this Sunday, there is ancillary work to be done to complete the project and ensure delivery of its full benefits.

Was that a “yes” or a “no”? It certainly wasn’t a “yes”, but it wasn’t exactly a “no”, it was a fudge. And when Haydon Dewes from the Dompost asked Transit about it he got the same:

Asked specifically whether it stood by its original figures, Transit later told The Dominion Post that it was “not appropriate” to comment on an issue that the minister had already answered

That is, “the Minister has fudged it and we’re happy to leave it there”. So Transit is not willing to stand by their original estimate, but nor are they willing to deny their original estimate.

So if Transit gave the wrong estimate of time-saving to justify the project, was this because they set out to deceive, or because they got it wrong, or is there some other reason? Surely, either Transit massaged the figures so they could justify building their beloved Bypass, or they are genuinely incapable of estimating the time savings of their projects. Is there another explanation?

This is no trivial matter. The spending of literally billions of our dollars relies on Transit’s ability to give truthful and accurate estimates of time-savings and hence benefit to cost analyses (putting aside the outrageous biases against public transport in these analyses). Under Labour’s new transport funding scheme Transit gets to decide what to build and Land Transport NZ are expected to rubberstamp it. So there is even less monitoring of Transit than before.

Unless there is an alternative explanation for what Transit have done, that is, an alternative to deception or incompetence, then this is a serious matter and Transit should be investigated.

25 thoughts on “Transit – deceit, incompetence or something else?

  1. The cost benefit analysis of Transit projects should be extremely closely scrutinised.

    There are currently only a handful of engineering consultancies that are capable of managing and reviewing the economics of Transit’s motorway projects.

    These consultants cannot independently review cost benefit analysis of a motorway project as they are also major customers of Transit and they know that if they give a certain project a hard time then they are less likely to be awarded other work.

    There is an incentive to sweep modelling inadequacies under the carpet because it may disrupt the lucrative gravy train that keeps the engineering consultancies going.

    Transit is boss and it gets what it wants.

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  2. Aside from the lack of independence mentioned above, the economic analysis of transport projects is seriously flawed (as mentioned in other posts).

    In addition to these deficiencies, there is little effort by either Transit or LTNZ to review the accuracy of modelled benefits.

    The Greens should OIA the documents associated with the transport models and economic analysis for every major Transit project in the last few years, particularly the extensions at Grafton Gully and SH20.

    The modelled traffic volumes should then be compared to actual, which I’m guessing are way below predicted.

    >s

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  3. OIA??? is new to me —- (something) information act? Open? or is this something else entirely

    respectfully
    BJ

    (from the US where it would be FoIA or FIA , O=of )

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  4. That said, I would be loathe to hold evaluate an estimate before the work is completed. This issue is vexed due to the half done nature of the project and it is quite impossible to hazard any guess as to what the final result becomes once the work is complete and the lights are calibrated for the completed circulation.

    At this point everyone is worried, and yet this may be perfectly normal. Inbound is still stopping Willis North. Should’ve had some underpass – overpass arrangement but this will have to wait until an earthquake loosens the dirt and generates some urban-renewal projects.

    The consultant-contract issue looks nasty on the face of it, and I don’t doubt that the numbers can be jiggled to get whatever answer LTNZ wishes… and that LTNZ has ways of informing the consultants what it wishes. I’d like to say that engineers wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t.

    It would seem that the Greens need their own consulting engineering branch office just to vet the analysis on offer.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  5. BJ

    OIA=Official Information Act, or Operator Information Area (my money’s on the former).

    Transit=Regulatory Capture…

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  6. OK so an audit by an overseas outfit would be indicated here…
    Fat chance.

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  7. Last week I was in Wellington for the day, I had no idea that there even was a new bypass.

    From my experience I can assure readers that the new bypass does indeed take a considerable time off the cross town journey, IMHO Transit are to be congratulated for their work.

    Now if we could just get them started on Transmission Gully.

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  8. Big Bruv

    You may have a point — it’s possible that the locals and taxi drivers and Automobile Association could be completely mistaken about the increased congestion so far, and your subjective one-off untimed assessment could be bang on.

    Personally I’ll reserve judgement on its effectiveness for a while after the opening of the southbound section. I’ve been wrong about such matters before: in a previous century I was a vocal supporter of the Newbury Bypass, with its promises of reduced congestion and road deaths. Oops.

    If any of my ex-colleagues in Newbury are reading this: I was wrong. I’m very, very sorry.

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  9. Baz

    I do have a point!, unlike most I have experienced first hand how long it used to take to get from the airport to the northern motorway, that journey is now considerably shorter.

    Given that so many here have told outright lies about Green issues I am not sure I will trust any information provided until i can verify the source.

    One more thing, what is the point in the Greens continuing to protest about this by pass?, do they want Transit to close the road and rebuild the derelict houses that used to occupy the land the by pass is now on?

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  10. “One more thing, what is the point in the Greens continuing to protest about this by pass?, do they want Transit to close the road and rebuild the derelict houses that used to occupy the land the by pass is now on?”

    I can only soeak for myself, but there are very good reasons to continue voicing concern, and protest the systematic problems that lead to the bypass.

    Firstly, and I would have thought obviously, to make sure that this doesnt happen again! We can expect that the same flawed logic, faulty frameworks, and perhaps corrupt motivations that resulted in the bypass will probably manifest themselves in future roading disasters. We need to learn, and make sure that others learn from the mistakes of the bypass. The more loudly we lambast their failure here, the better armed we will be going into the next fight.

    Secondly, it’s a matter of responsibility. I think that people should take responsibility for their mistakes, and if they dont, and when they try to weasel out of responbility as they do, it’s our job to hold them to account. When the public, the citizens of Wellington in this case, have been failed by it’s leadership and various officials, I believe it’s important to hold them to account. A little bit of blame can be a good thing if it motivates people to avoid similar mistakes in future. Those who planned this bypass and promised us benefits that havnt been delivered deserve to be criticised, and with $40 million down the gurgler, they deserve to be criticised harshly.

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  11. Indeed. Ideological considerations aside, if the bypass doesn’t do what it says on the (expensive) tin we need to know: in that respect it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Greens, Act, or anyone else shining the spotlight on something that the government and Transit are trying to sweep under the rug.

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  12. Big Bruv. You don’t have a point. AA and the Taxi Federation, who I suspect know a lot more about it than you, and are hardly Deep Greens, disagree with you.

    40 million to, perhaps luckily, get you to the northern burbs a little quicker, seems a steep price. And, of course, the road was sold to the people who live here, not just to people travelling from the airport to Jville. If it’s a little quicker for you every few months, but 10-15 minutes slower for inhabitants of Brooklyn every day, then it’s money badly spent. Sorry.

    Now the new section may alleviate these real issues. But if the Minister and Transit refuse to now support their earlier estimates, I’d rather put my money into your company than on time savings if 7-9 minutes at peak time.

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  13. As one who lives right next to the bypass route, and on a bad day has to traverse it several times, I can categoracially state that it does not improve traffic management for the local inhabitants!

    Bypass my arse!

    If at all possible, I walk or cycle to get to where I’m going. One of my college-age children found that the bus he was supposed to catch did not get across town in time to get him to school (..the bus recommended by the school, which used to get through fine last year.) He has resigned himself to catching an earlier bus, aimed at working folk, not the “school” bus. Many teens from other schools are also finding this out!

    Most Wellingtonians are not travelling to the airport every day.
    Most of us in the inner suburbs are just trying to get a few blocks away from our homes, to work, school or Uni. This bypass has been a huge waste of time and money, has disadvantaged the whole Te Aro cbd area, and for what? Someone who will no doubt retire soon, having had his name immortalised as the civil servant who got the job through to completion.
    Meanwhile, the traffic snarls up from7am to 9am, in an area which was previously uncongested by comparison with present traffic flows.

    Peak hour traffic flow improvement? Yeah, right!

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  14. hahahahahaha, you expect this government to answer a question? Hell, where have you all been the last nine years? They will say anything and everything to stay in power.

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  15. As a green blog, I wouldnt talk about deception, when your own MPs are trying to do exactly the same thing with the Section 59 bill. Hypocrite.

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  16. So let’s audit the net benefits of Britomart then, how about the massage of figures to justify trolley buses, how about how sustainable it is to fund high frequency bus services in Hamilton that average a carload of people. If you want to look at cost/benefit analysis very little public transport stacks up, and even massaging the value of time wont shift a BCR of 0.7 to much above 1 (thats the Manukau branchline).

    In fact there are post construction audits of BCRs of major road projects as a matter of course by Land Transport NZ – on average in most cases the BCR is underestimated. However the Greens OPPOSED the use of benefit/cost analysis and economic efficiency as criteria for land transport funding – go figure.

    Bj – The Greens opposed the cut and cover tunnel bypass proposed in the early 1990s as well – though that would’ve been an excellent solution and saved all of Te Aro from a lot of traffic. About a third of traffic that enters Wellington needs to bypass it – it wont ever be attracted onto better public transport because public transport cannot compete for suburb-suburb traffic for those with cars (i.e. most people).

    The bypass was actually funded under transitional provisions of the Land Transport Management Act and subject to an independent review along with other major projects before it went to the Land Transport NZ board. This is possibly the most reviewed road project in recent history. Let the damned thing work for a while before you pass judgment on it – but dont complain that it’s an inadequate bypass, given the Greens opposed that too!

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  17. Hi everyone,

    I’m a bit cynical about what an audit would achieve. Scott makes the point that cost/benefit analysis is fundamentally flawed and often suggests that obviously good ideas don’t stack up when you try and evaluate them in pure dollar terms.

    The Greens, good little capitalists that they are, apparently believe that if you can accurately put a dollar figure on everything, you can then work out a logical result. There’s a word for people who try and examine the world in this way. Actually its three words – completely bloody barmy.

    For example, how much is it worth to me that while the time it takes me to get to work hasn’t changed much since the bypass was built, its actually a more pleasant experience? This is because the increase in traffic congestion means that whizzing past lots of stationary cars on my bike gives me a feeling of smug satisfaction. Did Transit take that into account when they set out the benefits of the ‘bypass’ and if so, how many dollars did they judge it to be worth?

    However, I do think the professionalism of those who recommended the current project be built needs to be examined. I suspect many people were captured by a desire to build something regardless of its actual benefits. If it can be shown that there claims were deliberately misleading or merely wishful thinking, or that they failed to give an honest technical appraisal without being influenced by persoanl preferances, then some people shouldn’t be trusted with engineering projects in the future.

    One thing that has stuck with me from the days when I studied civil engineering was a rave from a lecturer about engineering being the last honest profession – you don’t tell people what they want to know, the customer isn’t always right and if you consider that something isn’t going to work you say so. In writing. If the engineers on this project did question it, and Transit ignored them that’s fair enough. If not then their competence has to be called into question.

    By the way, BB, the reason we should continue to protest this was because we were sold a lemon, and haven’t been offered our money back. Basic consumer rights.

    By the way your comment about the site being occupied by derelict houses is rubbish – they were perfectly good houses before Transit evicted the tenants and refused to maintain them, then used their own inaction to justify their destruction.

    How would you feel if a government agency booted you out of your house, then asked what you were complaining about since you no longer lived there?

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  18. Hi Scott, thanks for your comment:

    “Bj – The Greens opposed the cut and cover tunnel bypass proposed in the early 1990s as well – though that would’ve been an excellent solution and saved all of Te Aro from a lot of traffic”.

    Does anyone here know if and why that was opposed?

    Would a “cut and cover” bypass be more effective than the current bypass?

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  19. There was a fundamental problem with the “cut and cover” – Te Aro flat was originally a swamp, raised and drained by the 1855 earthquake, but basically not the sort of ground that is good for burying tunnels in.
    Geologically unsound proposal, not carried forward.

    Whatever solution, without changing the Mt Vic tunnel and the Terrace tunnel, any solution will only move the congestion points as they approach these two bottle necks. Exactly what we see now. Every day.

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  20. Katie

    As I understand it there was a second tunnel dug with Mt Vic but not finished… and there is already a bus tunnel. The problems at the Terrace have much to do with the drain at the end, where it empties into the city proper with lights and traffic immediately halting traffic and metering it into the general flow.

    The entire point to a bypass is to keep traffic not destined for the city from having to run into and through the city traffic. Mt Vic flows would improve if it didn’t have to encounter lights as it runs into the basin reserve either but that is the nature of entering a city.

    If traffic not destined to the city proper is actually bypassing it in the sense of not HAVING to enter the city flow, then the functional effect is to vastly improve the efficiency of flow overall. That’s the theory, and it applies to the tunnels as well. Only traffic destined for the city should have to slow and merge. Could force city traffic off onto the Terrace and work on the Terrace entry flow into the City perhaps… not even have exits between the Terrace and Mt Vic. which would make it a true bypass.

    Not possible with the current design.

    What I keep seeing in NZ in terms of transit both between major cities and within them, are really odd design decisions. “Design by committee” hits me between the eyes and then “indecision” whacks me up the side of the head. Fortunately if you hit me in the head you’re playing to my strength :-)

    If you design a transit corridor (like a bypass or a tunnel) and you don’t put the tramway in at the same time the sub-optimal results aren’t really much of a mystery.

    Wellington suffers from it, Auckland suffers from it. Transmission Gully should have an electric busway or tram line alongside it…

    +++++

    Cut-and-cover geologically unsound? Something smells a bit fishy here, as the nature of cut-and-cover is that it doesn’t rely a lot on the stability of the soil to create its “tunnel”. Heckfire, some places they just bridge it over with buildings. Cart the dirt away for fill. Probably good dirt too, if it used to be swamp.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  21. As a mere South Islander, I read this discussion with a couple of things on my mind.

    The first: As a geology student (many years ago!), I was impressed by the photographs of various fault lines in Aotearoa/NZ and the fate of civil engineering works in their vicinity. Our lecturer commented that when Civil Engineers took on the Planet, the Planet invariably won.

    Tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Transmission Gully right there where the two bits of the North Island are gradually sliding past each other in opposite directions … ?

    http://www.techmedia.co.nz/t2k/TGREAL.html

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  22. I think the main argument against the trenched version was the cost. Likewise the original plans for a second terrace tunnel were dropped as the benefits were vastly outweighed by the expense.

    Given Wellington is a relatively small city with very difficult topography a motorway system is never going to be very efficent. Putting the airport on the other side of the city from its customers, hemmed in by water on three sides, wasn’t too bright either.

    The easiest solution is for those who insist on travelling by car to live somewhere else.

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  23. Is the Te Aro bypass used by Very Important Politicians to get from the Beehive to the airport? If the answer is yes then you know where the number fudging occurred and why there will not be an enquiry.

    It is easy to work out the travel time savings for rural highway improvements because there is generally only one main road involved. There are so many complex interactions happenning on urban transport networks that I don’t think it is possible to calculate the network-wide impacts of such a short motorway extension. If Transit had to eliminate grade separation of all the cross-roads to stay within the available funds then they would have lost the only real advantage that the original proposal had over the status quo.

    This sort of project for projects sake is more what one would expect from a politician looking for a monumental legacy than from engineers who have a list as long as your arm of serious roading problems that could have done with this money such as extending the median barrier on the Centennial Highway or grade separating some of the dangerous intersections on the Hutt road.

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