Who bears the cost .. who gains the benefit

What are your thoughts on the five transport schemes under consultation in the local area? One of our purposes in setting up the Marchmont Voice blog was to provide a forum for local people to share views, as well as news. If you’d like to share your thoughts, let us know – e-mail gmaeermarchmont@gmail.com.

This first is from economist and local resident Paul Cockle, who is also a partner in the Crescent Hotel on Cartwright Gardens. Paul calls for some fuller cost-benefit thinking and, in particular, compensation for the costs imposed on local residents by these schemes…..


“There is an analytical and presentational bias in many Central London road and traffic schemes since they focus on road users, often at the expense of residents.  My concern is that in Central London policies to restrict the tidal flows of traffic, often of transients, impose the costs of restriction upon residents.

We, in Central London, are resigned to either having no car or paying for a parking permit to prevent transients parking in Central London on a scale that could not be accommodated.  As a consequence residents (including local businesses) pay more for unavoidable road based trips – principally passed on in delivery and home service charges.


We now all use the internet to secure deals and these entail deliveries. An ageing population may well grow to be dependent upon them. The Deliverers shoulder the direct costs of parking and loading and unloading restrictions. They may park illegally, attracting fines, or circle to find a parking close to a delivery point, incidentally adding to the noxious fumes inhaled by residents. The Deliverers generally have further to walk to discharge their loads. They might even feel obliged to employ a co-driver to fend off traffic wardens. It all takes more time, and time is money.


Besides deliveries we periodically need Home Services (plumbers, builders, electricians, white goods engineers, meals on wheels, community nursing visits, community bus services for the elderly and disabled).  Most of the these “white van” services accept 3-4 fines a week as part of their normal business costs, and Councils are not going to complain about the extra revenue. White van man may be derided in policy circles but in reality Central London residents depend upon them as much, if not more, than do the transients travelling through our area when they get home. They just experience fewer restrictions and fewer costs. You may well ask are these costs not considered when a new traffic scheme is proposed?


Theoretically cost-benefit analysis performed by the Department of Transport and delegated bodies attempts to capture the benefits (usually the value of travel time saving, but also fuel saving, improved safety and “external costs” such as emission savings) and the costs (original investment in the traffic scheme, costs of longer trips for diverted road users, external costs such as increased emissions due to longer diversions).  Commonly travel time savings/increases, normally only a few minutes per individual trip, dominate the analysis. Increased travel times on delivers and home service providers would thus be captured. So should residents feel all is considered? Well, no.


All cost-benefit analysis starts with a careful identification of the costs and benefits likely to arise from the scheme, followed by their valuation where possible. The more sophisticated analysis also identifies the distribution of these costs and benefits before coming to the net position. This identifies who are the winners and losers of a proposal. It should be noted that none of the current clutch of cycle inspired road schemes in Camden have been subject to any cost-benefit analysis, as a consequence the consultation documents neither fully identify nor evaluate all costs and benefits, let alone who bears them. Delivery and Home Service businesses naturally pass on traffic restriction costs to local resident and business customers.


If the outcome of this analysis reveals benefits to outweigh costs then the transport scheme is justified on economic efficiency terms – socially valued benefits outweigh the social cost. What is resource efficient is not always socially equitable, and equity needs to be weighed too.  The distribution analysis would reveal who ultimately receives the benefits or pays the costs. Is it, therefore, fair that residents who are not generating the bulk of the trips bear the costs?  Political intervention is needed to redistribute the net economic gains of a scheme enjoyed by the transients to offset the costs unfairly imposed on residents.  It requires a reimbursement mechanism (e.g. permanent council tax rebates) and an estimate of the incremental cost likely to be passed on to residents (straightforward outcome of the CBA).  Both are absent for the current clutch of Camden schemes.

Some of these residents’ costs could be avoided by a more thoughtful approach to road space sharing.  For example, I do not understand why the Tavistock-Torrington cycle scheme could not permit loading and unloading outside of peak hours – cyclists using this section of road between 10:00 and 16:00 run the risk of an agoraphobia attack. The concrete traffic separator could be replaced by the studs currently used in the alleged “experiment” to allow loading and unloading in the near vacant cycle lanes. The issue of cyclist safety almost disappears to zero in off-peak periods (no cyclists) and in peak periods, any demonstrable increase in risk needs to be weighed against the increased costs imposed on residents. There will be those who argue that a single life saved is worth any amount of money. While we all like to feel good about our values, those who argue this extreme case need to reflect on the last time they went on holiday, to a restaurant or even the pub. They could have devoted that money to Wateraid and saved 10s of lives. They and we do not place an infinite value on life when it comes to our money, even if our largesse knows no bounds when we think we are spending somebody else’s on saving lives. So let’s ditch the hypocrisy that saving life at any cost and come to a judicious decision on sensible risk management. Let’s see local officials fully outline in consultation documents the issues that would at least be identified in a cost-benefit exercise. Let’s have local councillors argue the residents’ case for equity. Let’s explore mechanisms for compensating residents for the costs imposed upon them for the benefit of others”


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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s