The Mythology of Benefits Case Analyses

Among my many “things to do” on this site is an evisceration of the concept of the “Benefits Case Analysis” as practised by Metrolinx.  These analyses purport to judge the value of project options by reducing many aspects of the process to a monetary value.

This scheme is born of an era when nobody cared about the soft, social benefits and costs of doing or not doing something, when “businesslike” behaviour was the goal for all right-minded public enterprise.  Sadly, we never had a discussion about what “businesslike” actually means.  Recent private sector examples appear to involve raiding not only your own cookie jar, but getting the government (ie: you and me and our descendents beyond count) to keep refilling that cookie jar to save the starving plutocrats.  I will generously assume that this is not the sort of behaviour Metrolinx has in mind.

[The above paragraph is for the benefit of readers who decry my left-leaning stance on many issues.  Now and then I have to throw them a bone, a quote they can use to prove their point.]

In a future post, I plan to review one or two of the Metrolinx BCAs.  Their most glaring failure lies in the scope of the analysis.  The Big Move is a network, but each BCA considers only an individual component of that network, not its role in the overall picture.  Moreover, construction spending is actually treated as a benefit because of the employment and other economic effects it would generate.  This completely misses the larger picture of public sector spending (might a hospital be more valuable than a new transit line), not to mention the future implications of the public debt (however it might be hidden in public or private sector accounts) for the viability of transit systems and governments.

Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog has an interesting article on the evolution of Benefit Case Analysis and the flawed philosophy underpinning the methodology.