Light rail megaprojects cost too much and offer too little


When the transit gravy train comes into town, you’re not on it.

Here in Ottawa, we’re staring at tired resignations with headlines such as ‘City delays western LRT expansion by up to a year’ as the vaunted light rail crashes into yet another bizarre roadblock costly. increase. Sure, it’s a big project. But if subways aren’t new, why haven’t we seen them coming?

“O-Train” has already encountered technical problems such as “wheels that are not perfectly round”, so “the western extension is the most technologically advanced of the $4.6 billion three-way Stage 2 projects.” It can be a sensitive part,” which is particularly irritating. And a car that has been tested on the wrong kind of snow. There is likely to be.

No, wait. We already had all those headaches. And at the risk of adding an obnoxious groan to the list, I’ve always opposed Ottawa’s light rail: nearly 15 years ago, I told then-mayor Larry O’Brien that when I was a boy, I was a cool kid. I wanted a train set like ours, but it was expensive, so I didn’t buy much. (He, unlike former Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman, got the point when I told him a joke about the Soviet invasion of the Sahara.)

That’s right, I’m smart Alec. One of the reasons is that I read books on economics. He was published in 2006, three years after Bent Flyvbjerg, Nils Bruzelius, and Werner Rothengatter’s “Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition” was published. Again, how many councilors from the roof do you think did that? Or do you care?

Light rail has strong ideological momentum. Because Smart Set believes that a “livable” city needs to be crammed with people in skyscrapers, all streets barred from concrete canyons, and residential streets filled to the point of prying people out of cars. is. That we don’t want to live like this doesn’t stop their vision of a grand utopia. But there is another problem.

Megaprojects consistently cost too much and pay too little because “failure” from the user and taxpayer perspective looks so different to the two groups inside. Who’s been punished in all of O-Train’s mishaps? Only citizens.

An economics book may not be your summer fun idea. But like any horror movie, once started, it’s hard to look away as the horrific ending unfolds relentlessly. It boils down to one sentence, considering the impact on everyone over time, and I can sum it up in two words. “Incentives are important.”

A huge amount of public policy has been driven by the belief that the “laws” of economics are like the laws of urban zoning, not like the laws of physics that bite hard when ignored, and that they can be changed or abandoned at will. It is made up of people who deliberately ignore its principles. (I would like to state here that Canadian health care deliberately avoids rewarding those who have satisfied their patients, but patients and practitioners swarm while politicians make noise.) ) But get the incentives wrong and strange debacles and weak excuses run like clockwork.

So if you just want to read the “Megaprojects and Risks” passage: It seems to be taking place in this important and very costly sector of public and private decision-making.” In fact, there are “strong incentives versus weak incentives for It could have taught us that underestimation and overestimation pay off.”

They pay off because these “errors” provide contractors and politicians with exactly the expected benefits. Cash continues to flow to businesses. Because once you start you can’t stop. Also, the penalties clause is intentionally small to make it an acceptable PR cost for doing business. Also, mayors and councilors will be appreciated for their vision once the project is launched. This allows them to be elected or appointed to more prestigious and profitable positions, or to retire with a comfortable pension before their inflated bills are due.

“Megaprojects and Risks” makes some useful suggestions for tackling this problem, including calling for private capital without public guarantees. But until people realize that such a catastrophe was not caused by an accidental and unpredictable accident, such as snow and salt in the Ottawa winter, the solution will not be implemented. So if you think I’m dogmatic out loud, answer this:

Why did I know 20 years ago when all the wise men didn’t know that Ottawa’s light rail would be an expensive and unstoppable nightmare?

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Epoch Times.

John Robson


John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, columnist for the National Post, contributing editor for the Dorchester Review, and executive director of Climate Discussion Nexus. His latest documentary is ‘The Environment: A True Story’.