Written by Chris Standen for the Sydney Morning Herald.
"The approach used in Australia for assessing the "economic benefits" of urban transport projects was devised by highway agencies in the 1960s to justify the massive cost of urban motorways. This has given us the urban sprawl, car-dependence and high transport costs with which we are encumbered today.
"The main failure of this approach is that it places significant value on hypothetical travel time savings. In NSW, it is normally assumed travellers would value saving one hour of travel time at $15 to $48. For WestConnex, the estimate has been inflated to $21 to $70. This results in a total travel time saving benefit valued at $13 billion, allowing the government to claim a positive benefit-cost ratio. However, in the case of personal travel, this is purely a social benefit that will not help the national economy. Rather, economists argue it will increase gross national happiness by giving some of us more leisure time.
"Or will it? The average daily travel time in Sydney has been stable at about 80 minutes a person for decades, while the average trip distance has increased substantially. In this time, billions have been spent on tollways. We're spending more than ever on tolls, yet have not gained one minute of leisure time. The higher speed of tollways has simply encouraged us to move further from work, drive more, and make longer trips than before, for example, visiting shopping malls instead of local shops. It has also encouraged freight to shift from rail to urban roads.