seeking information: performance-based investment policies

That headline may sound like a perfect storm of vague and bloodless words, but its meaning is actually pretty forceful. 

I'm looking for examples of policies, often at the level of planning authorities spanning an urban region, that state expected performance outcomes for major investments.  These policies frame the big infrastructure decisions as investments, which implies some risk but also some sense of expected level of return.  The return doesn't have to be to the transit agency's budget, though it certainly can be.  It could also be a return to the tax base or development goals of the city served. 

The purpose of such policies is to push back against purely political impulses in prioritization, including all the many aspects of parochialism that are inseparable from representative democracy.  The policy is polite, but behind the politeness it basically says:  We can't focus on how worthy or victimized or generous your suburb or community or electoral district is, nor do we care what our grandparents promised to your grandparents.  We as a regional infrastructure agency care about outcomes for our region, and we will not make investments that look unlikely to deliver those outcomes.

In my case, I'm interested in major transport infrastructure investments, both highway and transit.

These policies are in early stages of being invented in most of the agencies I'm familiar with, but I want to make sure I'm not missing any inspirational leadership in this area.  Anyone with knowledge of such policies in any urban area, please inform me of them, either in comments or with the email button under my photo. —>

6 Responses to seeking information: performance-based investment policies

  1. Michael D. Setty May 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Well, good luck with this, Jarrett! In the U.S. you’ll be looking are and wide.
    There may be examples in Great Britain you could cite, since projects there have to meet cost/benefit tests imposed by the British government. There might also be examples in Europe, but I don’t speak French or German, so I don’t no where to find them. Anything Swiss, too, would probably be helpful.

  2. The Overhead Wire May 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    The MTC TOD policy is a good one. There needs to be a certain amount of density at the stations to get a certain type of transit.

  3. Danny May 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    I have been trying to seek out government run performance based investment programs for well over a year now…you are going to have a tough time. The very best suggestion I could give you is to speak with Janette Sadik-Khan. In terms of infrastructure investment leadership, she is the only one with a consistently stated emphasis on investing for real-world results rather than political wins.

  4. Alon Levy May 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    JSK… that would be the person whose first priority for BRT was a bus corridor whose ridership doesn’t make the top 20, right?

  5. Danny May 27, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    I didn’t say she was perfect. She just happens to be way better than anyone else in the nation right now with respect to investing for performance.
    Regardless, I don’t really accept the premise of your statement. There are many performance-based reasons to invest in a corridor that have nothing to do with current ridership.
    This is just one of many comparable examples, but in my line of work, a poorly planned product launch can cripple a business, either with technical problems or with unpredictability of supply or demand or both. Because everything is new, there are simply too many variables that can affect demand and supply. The proven way to launch a product is to do pre-launches. You launch it with small segments of customers, which gives you data to better predict demand and needed supply, while giving you time to work out technical details.
    Other scenarios might call for investing in areas that have the most room for improvement. If a bus corridor has low ridership, that could mean that it isn’t a good corridor for investment, or it could mean that it is underutilized. There are ways to find out which is which, but casual statistical models rarely are able to distinguish between the two.
    I honestly can’t say whether JSK is doing exactly this or if this is just a case of a political entity succumbing to political pressure. All I can say is that she is far better than anyone else I know in the NA public transportation sphere in terms of investing for cost/benefit performance.

  6. Rob May 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    The idea that it’s hard to find major infrastructure decisions that have been based on projected outcomes rather than political factors is damning. It makes one question the value of planning at all. But it’s not that planning and engineering analysis is no longer applied! There continues to be a robust literature on best practices for planning analyses, and people who continue to crank out ever-improved data.
    What’s concerning is (1) that elected officials pay less and less attention to analysis and data, and (2) that planners and engineers skew the data they produce to support the expected preferences of electeds. Where I live, if you attend so-called technical advisory committees these days you find they are populated not by technicians any more, but by political handlers — because there is nothing more rewarded in government than channeling and anticipating the political wind of the hour.
    We have very few decision-making processes that are driven by data and algorithms. Instead we rightly agree that data should inform decisions by people, who make informed decisions weighing both the data and the values they feel they share with constituents. When there’s a good balance and dialogue between technical and policy, decisions are made well. I think that’s the right way to make public decisions. But it seems we are not anywhere near that balance today.