Transport 21 'exposes the taxpayer to megaproject risk'

Recent ESRI report criticises lack of ‘research, studies, evaluations, or documentations' as well as no cost benefit analysis. By Emma Browne


An evaluation of Transport 21 carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says that the plans cannot be properly evaluated as there is not enough “research, studies, evaluations, or documentations” explaining the basis of the programme. It states that because of this, Transport 21 “exposes the taxpayer to megaproject risk”. The report also finds that the government has concentrated on rail rather than bus investment in the plan, but has no research or analysis to support this investment.

The report, carried out by economist Seán Barrett and entitled ‘Evaluating Transport 21', was published in December 2006.

Transport 21 was launched in November 2005 by Minister for Transport Martin Cullen. Under the €34.4bn plan, the government intends to extend the existing Luas lines, connect the two Luas lines in the city centre, build two Metro lines and upgrade the road, rail and bus networks. The main problem with Transport 21, according to the report, was that no costings were released by the government in relation to the individual projects. When the chosen route for the Metro North to the airport was announced, costings were not included. The programme is to last from 2006-2015.  The ESRI report finds the lack of costings a particular problem as it means that there is no way of fully evaluating the report.

The ESRI report highlights the proposed Metro North line to the airport as a problem area. Seán Barrett says: “the evaluation [of the Metro North commissioned by the government] examined the choice of one of three metro routes... but not the more crucial question of whether there should be an airport/Swords metro at all.”
Seán Barrett said that railway shares of airport traffic in the UK have declined. He also points out that a Dartlink service that was available for a while failed due to a lack of demand. In contrast, the airport bus facility has proved popular and successful.

He says: “No origination and destination or purpose of journey survey has been published of potential airport Metro traffic.” He said that an examination of the possibility of using buses through the port tunnel and in Quality Bus Corridors should be looked at “before any commitments to the airport metro are made”.

The report says that there is a disparity in proposed costs as well: “The disparity between the cost estimated by the chairman of the Rail Procurement Agency at over €6bn and by Professor M Melis of Madrid at €1.2bn requires public analysis.”

It says that the pro-railway emphasis in Transport 21 has not been justified and that rail carries the lowest share of public transport passengers – at 7.6 per cent.
Despite the fact that the bus sector carries 93 per cent of public passengers, “only three bus projects are included in the 31 items.” Trains cost 2.5 times as much to buy as buses.

In relation to the further development of the Luas lines and a new Luas line to Lucan, Seán Barrett says: “No post-project cost benefit analysis of the Luas lines to Tallaght and Sandyford has been published. This is required under Department of Finance guidelines. This is a serious shortcoming given the increase in cost from €290m... to €750m.”

Barrett says that it is important that costings are done as “there is a lack of economics expertise, and engineer dominance is a common feature of three major spending agencies in Transport 21: Iarnród éireann, the Rail Procurement Agency and the National Roads Authority.”