Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gauging the socio-economic impacts of future urban transport initiatives

As we set out on the first of the city programs organized in this pioneering Equity/Transport series, the Helsinki project that gets underway on 1 March, it  is useful to bear in mind that to fully understand the concept of equity as a major driver of policy in the sector requires that we move well beyond the more traditional techniques of investment and impact analysis such as cost-benefit analysis. The authors take direct aim at this issue when they state: "The classical cost-benefit analysis, then, needs to be replaced by a socio-economic impact assessment methodology (SEIA) to get a measure of expected benefits and costs to different groups."  So without further ado let's turn to see what the authors have to share with us on this important topic.

Handbook for Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) of Future Urban Transport Projects

- By Anvita Arora and Geetam Tiwari
Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Program (TRIPP)
Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi

Report contents

  1. Introduction

  2. UNIT 1 : SEIA - Current Practices

  3. UNIT 2 : Key Concepts, Definitions and Indicators

  4. UNIT 3 : The SEIA Method

  5. Conclusions

  6. Common Problems and Errors in SEIA Studies

  7. Annexure : Questionnaires

  8. Bibliography


Transport plays a critical role in social and economic development. The need to understand and to accommodate the interests, perceptions and needs of target populations and other key stakeholders is paramount in the design of projects and programs aimed at social and economic development.

The involvement of local stakeholders (user groups, transport service providers, academia, government, private sector groups, NGOs) in the fact-finding and decision-making processes has been central to improving the responsiveness of transport planning to a broad set of users, as well as making the best use of limited public resources. These interests range from such traditional concerns as mobility and congestion to a wide range of non-traditional concerns such as social equity, economic development and competitiveness, institutional effects, and environmental costs.

In spite of these advances in transport and development, there remains a critical need for new assessment and evaluation regimes that better articulate the effects of transport investments and their alternatives, and better plan for the goals of social equity and inclusion. Theoretical analyses that link transport influences to social and economic change require more complex models that go beyond the general and aggregate levels of data collection.

Thus far, few studies of transport have addressed the consequences of social change or derived predictive models to deal with this set of issues. Moreover, there has not been sufficient examination of transport's impact on social issues within a qualitative framework.

For example, in many instances only economic criteria are applied to the analysis of “improved accessibility.” It is important to also consider the flow of social capital in the form of information, news, or job opportunities facilitated through transport networks. The role of transport in facilitating or limiting social capital expands economic criteria models when measuring the impact of transport projects. (Social capital is the set of norms, networks, and organizations through which people gain access to power and resources, and through which decision-making and policy formulation occurs (Grootaert C., 1998.))

The benefits of improving transport infrastructure have traditionally been measured by performance criteria, like improved connectivity, travel time, speeds and fuel savings. The costs of improvements in transport infrastructure are classically defined as construction cost, ongoing operations and maintenance cost. These criteria form the basis of the cost-benefit analyses, which judge the feasibility of these projects.

According to the ASCE (1999) definition, the Benefit to Cost (B/C) Ratio is calculated as present value of project benefit divided by the present value of project cost. While in theory, any project with a B/C ratio exceeding 1 is worthwhile, most agencies have recognized that there is some uncertainty associated with both the benefit and the cost estimates. Accordingly, it is not uncommon for agencies to desire a threshold of B/C exceeding 1.5 for large new projects, and 1.3 for incremental projects (in which uncertainty is less.)

However, transport is a derived demand, i.e. transport is used only when the need to move exists, and the need to move is dictated by socio-economic requirements of the users. This implies that the necessity for movement, hence the use of transport infrastructure, is need/goal based; i.e. people do not move for the sake of moving, they move to get to work, education, recreation, health etc which will finally enable them to improve their social and economic well being. At the same time, the “users” are a heterogeneous mix of people of different socio-economic classes, with different needs and desires and differing needs of movement. These differential concerns make the task of assessing the feasibility of a project more complex - some users may benefit, some may not, and some may not be affected at all.

Also, there may be a category of non-users of the project - people who are not the target group or the stakeholders - who may experience an indirect impact of the project. This indirect impact is an externality of the project which is not included in the standard cost benefit analysis. The externality can be negative or positive depending on the nature of indirect impact. In both cases this externality needs to be understood for the transport projects. If the externality is positive then the project can build in methods to capitalize on that eternality. If the externality is negative then mitigation and compensation measures too need to be built in the project. The classical cost-benefit analysis, then, needs to be replaced by a socio-economic impact assessment methodology (SEIA) to get a measure of expected benefits and costs to different groups.

International funding agencies like the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Department for International Development (DFID), U.K., advocate inclusion of social assessment in transportation projects and prioritize poverty alleviation as an objective. The projects funded by them have also focused on mobility and access needs of the poor. The policy documents of these agencies bring out the following areas where work needs to be carried out:

The understanding of a community as a disaggregated mass (differentiated by income, occupation, gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) specifically in the Indian context.

The gap between access availability (transport infrastructure) and mobility issues (ability of different groups to utilize the infrastructure) and their correlation with poverty (especially with respect to livelihood opportunities).
A methodological framework or model for ensuring the inclusion of socio-economic issues of transport planning in policies and projects in India.

Hence the evaluation of transport projects from the perspective of social development goals becomes important, especially for large projects where the impacts are spatially and temporally extensive. With differential social impacts over a different user groups, it becomes important to not only understand how the users benefit from new transport projects but if the community benefits, especially its vulnerable sections the urban poor.

A word of background on the report

This handbook is based on the PhD dissertation work of Anvita Arora, titled “Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) Methodology for Urban Transport Projects: Case Study Delhi Metro”, carried out under the supervision of Dr. Geetam Tiwari, both being the co-authors of this handbook.

The objective of handbook is to assess the impact of large transport projects on the urban poor and to propose a socio-economic impact assessment methodology (SEIA) which can be integrated in the impact assessment studies of such projects. The handbook presents a methodology to understand the impact of accessibility and mobility on socio-economic well-being (SEWB) of the urban poor. It uses household survey based primary data to derive indicators of accessibility, mobility and SEWB. The indicators are then aggregated into indices of accessibility, mobility and SEWB. The change in indicators and indices in the before and after project scenarios is used to assess the significance of the impact of the project on the urban poor.

The handbook is divided into 3 units:
UNIT 1: SEIA - current practices
UNIT 2: Key Concepts, Definitions and Indicators
UNIT 3: The SEIA Method

The handbook wraps up with a concluding note and a listing of common problems and errors.

* This extract now moves to the final chapter of the report.
To access the full text click here .


The case study used in this handbook to exemplify the SEIA method has illustrated the impact of a large transport project like the Delhi metro on the urban poor, who are not expected beneficiaries of the project. The impact on the urban poor is studied for two settlements of low-income households residing within the vicinity of the metro line and for a resettlement colony where approximately one-third of the households, evicted due to the construction of the metro, have been relocated.

The impact of the metro project on the poor households has been analyzed in the Unit 3 of this handbook in three steps VI, VII and VIII.

Step VI estimates the values of the indicators and studies the change in the identified indicators of accessibility, mobility and socio-economic well being (SEWB) to illustrate the impact. The results of the step show that for the poor households in the vicinity of the metro line there is no significant impact on the indicators of SEWB and mobility while for those relocated due to the metro there has been a significant negative impact on the SEWB of the poor households.

Step VII combines the indicators of accessibility, mobility and SEWB respectively into indices and studies the impact of the new project by assessing the change in the value of the indicators. The results of this step show that for the households living in the vicinity of the project, there has been a significant change in accessibility but no change in mobility and SEWB of the household, while for the relocated household, there has been a significant change in all three indices.

The step VIII illustrates how the change in accessibility and mobility has changed the SEWB by modeling the correlation of SEWB to accessibility and mobility. The results indicate that SEWB is affected by indicators of both accessibility and mobility. SEWB is negatively correlated to the spatial distance to education health and other urban services. The model indicates that SEWB is positively correlated to PCTR for work, education and other purposes and it is negatively correlated to travel distance, time and cost. The significance of indicators changes with change in situation like introduction of the new metro line and relocation due to it.

The study shows that the PCTR for work is positively correlated with SEWB and has the highest coefficient in all datasets, indicating the mobility for work is important in ensuring their SEWB, whatever is their situation. Also, the cost of travel has no significance in explaining SEWB of the urban poor but it becomes significant when they are relocated and now have to pay heavily for the travel.

The results of the different steps in this method may differ with different data-sets with differences in projects and different target groups. However, this method can be used to study impact of transport projects on the urban poor regardless of the changed input of data. The handbook has modeled how SEWB is affected by accessibility and mobility and, in doing so, has formulated a generic methodology of SEIA which is applicable in understanding the impact of large urban transport projects like expressways, flyovers etc on the urban poor.

This model can be used by urban transport practioners to generate scenarios to assess how the proposed interventions in the urban transport system will impact the urban poor. Different intervention scenarios can be compared for their impacts and mitigation measures planned accordingly. This would lead to internalizing the external cost of the impact of transport projects on the urban poor.

Generically, the case-study illustrates that though the urban poor are not expected users of the metro, their accessibility and mobility and hence their socio-economic well-being is affected by its introduction in the urban transport system as an unaccounted for externality. While they may not be expected beneficiaries of the project, the dis-benefits accrued to them due to the project need to be assessed. The project then needs to be optimized over a larger target group. The impact on SEWB of the urban poor measured by this method can be integrated either by being internalized by the project by building in compensation measures or optimized by building in mitigation measures Hence, it is important to conduct SEIA studies for a new project over disaggregated groups, specifically including impacts on the most vulnerable group - the urban poor.

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About the authors:

Anvita Arora did her M. Plan from SPA, Delhi and PhD from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi. She is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Innovative Transport Solutions (iTrans) Pvt. Ltd. She is an urban transport planner and has been working on the social dimensions of urban transport for over 10 years, specifically on poverty and gender issues. She works to incorporate the needs of marginal road users like the pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaw pullers, hawkers and the disabled in the mainstream of urban transport design and is a certified trainer on non-motorized transport.

Geetam Tiwari hold the MoUD Chair and is Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering/Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Program (TRIPP) of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD). She has extensive research experience in dealing with transportation issues of special relevance to low income countries. These include development of bus systems and road designs that would make transportation efficient and safer. She has been working in the area of traffic and transport planning focusing on pedestrians, bicycles and bus based public transport systems. Some of her projects include Development of a Bicycle Masterplan for Delhi, analysis of traffic on Indian Highways, crash analysis on rural and urban roads, public transport planning.

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