Russel Norman

Transit – deceit, incompetence or something else?

by Russel Norman

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.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Russel Norman on Sat, March 24th, 2007   

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