Does uncertainty make cost-benefit analyses pointless?

Publisher's full text
Jonas Eliasson

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is widely used in public decision making on infrastructure investments. However, the demand forecasts, cost estimates, benefit valuations and effect assessments that are conducted as part of CBAs are all subject to various degrees of uncertainty. The question is to what extent CBAs, given such uncertainties, are still useful as a way to prioritize between infrastructure investments, or put differently, how robust the policy conclusions of CBA are with respect to uncertainties. Using simulations based on real data on national infrastructure plans in Sweden and Norway, we study how investment selection and total realized benefits change when decisions are based on CBA assessments subject to several different types of uncertainty.

Our results indicate that realized benefits and investment selection are surprisingly insensitive to all studied types of uncertainty, even for high levels of uncertainty. The two types of uncertainty that affect results the most are uncertainties about investment cost and transport demand. Provided that decisions are based on CBA outcomes, reducing uncertainty is still worthwhile, however, because of the huge sums at stake. Even moderate reductions of uncertainties about unit values, investment costs, future demand and project effects may increase the realized benefits infrastructure investment plans by tens or hundreds of million euros. We conclude that, despite the many types of uncertainties, CBA is able to fairly consistently separate the wheat from the chaff and hence contribute to substantially improved infrastructure decisions.

LATEST NEWS


2018-06-13

International Conference on Electric Road Systems starts today

Electric Road Systems (ERS) is a relatively new concept with many initiatives on the way. To learn from each other and stimulate new collaborations the Swedish Research and Innovation Platform for Electric Roads arranged the first international conference...


2018-05-18

Same survey of road users’ attitudes in 50 countries

At the Road Safety on Five Continents Conference, RS5C, one entire session presented a large survey of road users' attitudes in 38 countries. Results show large differences between countries in many areas, both regarding behavior and attitudes. A new survey...


2018-05-17

Good results with alcohol interlock program according to Swedish study

An alcohol interlock program makes it possible for drink driving offenders to continue their everyday lives. In a Swedish study most of the participants were satisfied with the program and experienced improved health. They also reported drinking alcohol more...


2018-05-16

Traffic safety in the spotlight

Today the Conference Road Safety on Five Continents (RS5C) opened in Jeju Island, South Korea. More than 220 participators have come from all over the world to present findings and learn about traffic safety. Dr. Young Tae Kim, Secretary-General of the...


2018-04-17

VTI will develop simulators for ambulance staff

VTI has initiated a pilot study for paramedics with the Centre for Teaching & Research in Disaster Medicine and Traumatology and Linköping University. The aim is to give ambulance staff the opportunity to practice critical medical tasks in a moving vehicle in...


2018-04-12

Unique electrified road opens in Sweden

The world’s first electrified road recharging the batteries of cars and trucks while driving opened in Sweden. The Swedish Minister for Infrastructure, Tomas Eneroth, was at the formal inauguration of the electrified road on April 11, 2018. VTI is one of 22...