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In HS2 Ltd’s view, the majority of HS2 travel would be for leisure and other purposes, but most benefits would accrue to business users, through shorter journeys:

[‘Valuing the Benefits of HS2 (London – West Midlands)’, HS2 Ltd, 2011]

[section 3.5] For business travellers reduced journey times offer a number of benefits such as being able to spend more of the working day in the office, attend more business meetings or make a wider range of journeys in a single day. The value we place on these time savings is dependent on how much the time spent travelling costs the employer, i.e., the individual’s gross wage plus other costs such as National Insurance, pensions and overheads. As this is based on the cost to the employer rather than what an individual would be prepared to pay, working time values are significantly higher than non‐working values. The recommended national average value of working time for rail passengers is £48.64 an hour (in 2009 prices and value of time). There are some uncertainties and challenges around working values of time. The values of both non‐working time and working time are assumed to increase over time in real terms as people get richer.

The non-business values of time (2009 prices) used by the Department for Transport are £6.52 an hour (commuters) and for £5.77 (‘others’, such as leisure passengers), so there isn’t much in the way of nuance or intelligence in the model. The figures are supposedly related to willingness to pay, in that someone in the ‘business’ category is deemed to be willing to pay £48.64 to save an hour of travel, and someone in the ‘leisure’ category is deemed to be willing to pay £5.77 per hour (the ‘someone’ may not be the person doing the travelling). In the model, these deemed valuations are effectively nationalised, and amalgamated to give the time benefit to society.

Whether a tobacco company executive’s travel worth is six times as much to society as a cleaner’s commute to their hospital workplace, is open to question. But even in the terms of the framework used by HS2 Ltd, there is no evidence that its project is optimal, because the comparisons were never done. HS2 Ltd was set up solely to develop and provide evidence for high speed rail, and the cursory evaluation of Atkins’ contrived alternatives was done separately by ****** (clue: begins with ‘A’).

High speed rail lobbyists Greengauge 21 have emphasised the importance of headline travel time savings, but opponents such as the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) have claimed that rail travel time isn’t necessarily wasted, and that businesspeople can be ‘productive’ during the journey. On 29 September 2011, the Daily Mail reported Oxera’s evidence (submitted by the DfT) to the parliamentary high speed rail inquiry, which found that only around 10 per cent of business time on-train was spent “productively”. The story also mentioned a University of the West of England report, in which it was claimed that half of business passengers did spend some time working, but more than one in ten “admitted they were either bored or managed to fit in a quick nap”.

So by building HS2, senior executives can quickly get back to ‘productive’ work at the office. Except that, even for places supposedly within its catchment, HS2 does not speed up journeys, business or otherwise, and there’s been no attempt to capture these disbenefits in the HS2 Ltd analysis. As for ‘getting away from the office’, that may be the underlying reason for the journey being undertaken in the first place, as “Matt Munro, Bristol, UK” commented:

90% of the journeys acheive nothing that coundn’t be acheived by phone/email. Managers like travelling because it gets them out of the office and makes them look important, the travel industry does well out of it, the government does well out of the taxes and companies don’t care because the client always pays. (sic)

Birmingham city council no longer pay road workers to play cards, British Leyland lineworkers no longer snooze the shift away on camp beds, but some executives still go by first class rail to junkets. I’m sure that it is possible for people to ‘work’ on trains, but it depends on the nature of the work, the suitability of the train environment to function as a ‘workstation’, and the intent of the traveller.

If travel time were the dominant factor in face-to-face meetings, the ‘big three’ political party conferences would be held in London every year (in 2011 the locations are Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester), and no-one would ever travel from Manchester to central London by air. But travel preferences are multi-dimensional, and non-time factors such as convenience, status, and the experiential aspect, are important to business people, politicians, and other portions of the travel market.

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Written by beleben

October 2, 2011 at 7:57 pm

One Response

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  1. My ‘non business’ travel has substantial disbenefit costs which for the past 2 trips has cost me a £9.70 supplement to get me back to my bed approximately 10 hours faster than the journey I can make by rail in the circumstances, and approximately 13 hours faster than the normal rail journey when no engineering work is taking place. That £9.70 effectively saves me the £30-£40 cost of a hotel* and provides the ability to be at work the next day. * or a cold and rough night on a station.

    The ‘normal journey’ takes me 6.5 hours for the equivalent of a 350 mile road journey and a walk-up fare costs £114.60 vice around £120-£140 in fuel plus £60 in car costs. Note here that walk-up fare rail travel costs around 54 % of the cost of driving – and if I factor in taxis/buses to bridge the failure of rail to deliver the door to door product it still is substantially less than the cost of driving.

    Note that this is a 6.5 hour journey, extended to 9 hours if I pay an additional £9.70 or 19.5 hours if I didn’t have the intelligence that escapes the train operators, of knowing that (after hanging around for over an hour in Edinburgh) I can catch an express coach service to complete my journey.

    As yet though I have not found the urge to pay over £120 more to catch the morning train that gets me to London for just after 09.00, preferring instead to make a slower journey overnight and arriving before 07.00 or catch the cheaper. later, service to arrive just after 10.00. Speed is totally irrelevant here – the more expensive train takes almost an hour longer than the cheaper one, so clearly the premium price is not created by speed, more the convenience of arrival time, and that has far closer links to a network which integrates with the existing system.

    Dave H

    October 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm


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