I heard the front page story from yesterday’s Press second-hand from some guys in the tea room. I’m paraphrasing, but it went along the lines of “bloody hell. You hear about this cycle way crap? They could take all the money their going to spend on the cycle ways and buy everyone a car instead”.

I thought that sounded like an idiotic, Chinese Whispers version of the story. But alas, it isn’t:

University of Canterbury finance professor Glenn Boyle and PhD student James Hill have analysed the Christchurch City Council’s business case for the major cycleways programme and say it is “excessively optimistic”.

Boyle said the 18,000 increase in cycling trips expected as a result of the new cycleway network roughly translated into an additional 9000 people cycling. For $156m, the council could buy all those people brand new Suzuki Altos.

This is what happens when finance professors – cost of everything, value of nothing – sit down to try and analyse social projects. It’s a waste of money! It doesn’t add up! The council is wasting your money!

You could spend $156 million buying 9,000 people who might cycle a car. Did you consider what the impact of 9,000 more cars on our already congested roads might be? Did you consider that people who cycle and don’t own a car, like me, don’t necessarily want to own a car? I like getting around on a bike, I pay rates, and I shouldn’t be treated as though I’m just a wannabe car owner, biking around because I’m cheap. I’m not. I’ve made a conscious decision to ride a bike around, and shouldn’t be penalised for that because a wonk economist can’t see the financial utility in someone with different ideals and values to himself.

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