Researchers from various European research institutes successfully launched the European Network for Transport Appraisal Research at Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) Leeds. Beginning 2014 the idea emerged starting a network to intensify the cooperation between Delft University of Technology, KTH Stockholm, ITS Leeds and DTU Denmark with respect to Transport Appraisal Research. It was established that for decades each practice developed their own guidelines without paying much attention to developments in other countries. The goal of the researchers was to rectify this inefficiency. Besides researchers from Denmark, the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands also researchers from Germany and Norway were invited for the first meeting of the network at ITS Leeds which took place September 9th.
During this first one day meeting participants provided their colleagues with an introduction of their practice and discussed the key developments and challenges with respect to transport appraisal in their practice. An interesting conclusion was that the lion’s share of challenges in the practices lie at the interface of the Cost-Benefit analysis (CBA) and the decision-making process. On the one hand this was a surprising conclusion, since the literature predominantly focuses on ‘technical CBA challenges’ such as estimating project’s welfare effects in a slightly better way. On the other hand this was not surprising at all, since the value attached to CBA increased over the last decade in several European countries which created an incentive for stakeholders to influence the results of a CBA study. Subsequent to making this common diagnosis the participants aspired to answer the question: “which incentives should be built in the planning and decision-making process to ensure the impartiality of CBAs”. Several incentives were discussed:
- CBA studies should be coordinated by institutes which do not have a direct interest in the results and not by institutes who have a strong interest in the results (such as the Ministry of Transport);
- Second opinions should be carried out by institutes which do not have a direct interest in the results and not by institutes who have a strong interest in the results (such as the Ministry of Transport);
- Besides the CBA report also the calculations in Excel should be made publically available;
- CBA studies should be made publically available a month before a project is debated in Parliament and not three days before a debate;
A second topic which was intensively discussed during the first meeting of the European Network for Transport Appraisal Research was handling unquantified effects in a Cost-Benefit Analysis (such as effects on landscape, biodiversity, non-residential noise, cultural heritage and recreation). Participants disagreed whether we should allocate research efforts to quantifying and monetizing these effects or focus more on the design of other metrics to give these effects a proper position in project appraisals.
At the end of the first meeting the participants agreed to plan a second meeting for which also researchers of Switzerland and France will be invited. Another ambition is to write several papers focusing at the key challenges in Transport Appraisal and lines of solution to tackle these challenges. According to the participants such useful papers are missing in the literature. In the existing literature one finds a wide array of contributions focusing at improving the estimation and valuation of travel time savings and wider economic benefits, amongst other things. However, contributions in which experts in the field discuss the key challenges they see, the topic on which they agree and disagree and the desirable solutions they envision are currently missing.
Finally, I recommend other researchers to cooperate in lean and mean networks with academics from other countries. In particular when your research topic is applied in practice. After a full day of discussion you definitely gain knowledge in the way the instrument or policy you are scrutinizing ‘works’ in practice.