While urban projects meant to increase convenience is often exciting and rewarding, the planning process can also be stressful and conflict-ridden. Issues such as budgeting, risk assessment, time constraints, infrastructure needs, and final decision disagreements can arise, impacting progress and slowing down decision making. The following will address the planning issue of a proposed bullet train and explore the factors affecting it. Final decision developments are addressed in order to indicate how disagreements and conflicts are managed. While urban planning can be rewarding, it is necessary to implement effective forecasting techniques in order to address the factors of budget, cost overrun, risk assessment, time constraints, and infrastructure conflicts. Managing conflicts with a stakeholder vote is efficient in resolving disagreements in order to move forward.
As with any project, funding and budget constraints incorporate parameters that cause some aspects to be scaled down or cut. Even before a team attempts to operate within a budget, funding has to be approved to even begin the process. In 2009, Congress allocated $8 billion dollars to budget for intercity rail projects under the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (U.S. Congress 5). As urban planning typically involves taxpayer money, these types of projects experience both support and opposition from citizens. Proponents argue that bullet trains will reduce significant traffic, decrease carbon emissions by decreasing the number of vehicles on the road, and create jobs. In addition, by making travel easier and cheaper, there is a possibility that the ability to travel longer distances for work would decrease the unemployment rate. When faced with a proposal for a project budgeted for billions of dollars, these taxpayers find that the total benefit will outweigh the total budgetary costs.
In contrast, opponents advise that the high-speed rail program is a poor use of this significant budget. They argue that few people will utilize the bullet trains and will prefer to maintain the autonomy of personal vehicles. In addition, detractors feel that the cost of the ticket will be too expensive for individuals to use it regularly, decreasing any proposed benefits. These concerns are supported by statistics that show that actual traffic is about 40 percent lower than forecasted traffic for bullet train and rail projects (Flyvbjerg 18). They believe the bullet train will make poor use of the budget, suggesting that the government use the money to improve the current transportation infrastructure instead.
As exemplified by the polar opinions related to the bullet train, allocating a budget for a project can be a daunting and laborious task. It opens lawmakers up to scrutiny and attacks and can lead to community strife because of disagreements about how the budget will be spent. It must also be noted that it is very common for urban planning projects to experience cost overrun, resulting in additional and unexpected costs exceeding the budgeted amount. Statistics show 75 percent of all rail projects have cost escalations of at least 24 percent while 25 percent of projects have cost escalations of at least 60 percent (Flyvbjerg 17). This shows that while it is difficult to justify the proposed budget, it is even more difficult to stick to it. It also suggests that the processes in place to develop and identify budget components are grossly ineffective. As a result of the disagreements over budget, rampant cost overrun, and an ineffective budget forecasting process, the budget is a significant factor affecting the bullet train initiative.
In any project, risk assessment is necessary to identify and evaluate risks as well as develop safeguards for them. A 2007 study by Transportation planning and technology journal that specifically related to urban rail planning, risk assessment was non-existent (Flyvbjerg 16). It asserts that empirically grounded and valid risk assessment is necessary to analyze data effectively in order to make better decisions. The author also proposes institutional checks and balances that would enforce transparency and accountability in order to decrease risk. In addition, the text asserts that the major issue impacting the risk factor is not a lack of methods, but misapplication. Most risk assessments are based on subjective, hypothetical data due to a lack of empirical knowledge about the subject. This data lacks the relevancy to be incorporated into decision making and does not contribute to the progression of risk assessment as a result. This affects budget, policy, and infrastructure components, making risk assessment an essential part of the planning process. As forecasting risk affects several components of the planning and proposal process, planners must acknowledge this factor and work toward collecting valid data in order to make bullet trains more risk-averse.
Part of the reason bullet train projects experience cost overrun is that the time for completion is incorrectly forecasted. This results in more days to pay workers and more last-minute issues. This is an important factor in proposing a bullet train project because it must take infrastructure challenges into consideration and impacts cost forecasting. At times, issues arise that result in setbacks or the need for time extensions, yet other times it can be avoided with proper planning. Time of completion parameters can be better predicted by being realistic with every stage of the process and allocating a percentage of buffer time for each phase. Variables that are out of planning control include weather, employee absenteeism, and space congestion (Ahuja & Nandakumar 327). However using computer models to simulate the occurrence of these uncertain variables can significantly support more accurate forecasting. By simulating a real project environment, this can be used to combine known factors and uncertainty variables in order to more accurately predict the time necessary to complete each progress period. This can be effectively used to estimate the total of the duration distribution for the project, resulting in more accurate completion time and more accurate costing forecasts. As a result of its ability to affect the budget and impact cost overrun, time forecasting is an essential factor in the bullet train project proposal.
Disagreements about where a bullet train should be built, where its route should be and how to go about building it are all significant parts of the proposal process. This factor is important because cost and time forecasts cannot be completed until this is addressed. Politics is an important factor in urban planning proposals. Regarding the bullet train, President Obama and other democrats support its progress, while Republicans oppose it. In fact, they intend to eliminate the program because they feel it is too costly and is need of reform (AP 2). Political disagreement is an important factor to acknowledge when discussing factors impacting bullet train proposals because it can result in projects being halted or delayed. If republicans successfully eliminate the program, billions of dollars will be lost and half-completed routes will be left without the ability to generate income from passengers.
When final decisions need to be made in the midst of a disagreement, it is typical for stakeholders to come together to discuss the pros and cons, and typically vote on measures to take. Stakeholders such as auditors, planners, citizens, and lawmakers provide input on the impact of each decision allowing other members to consider things they had not thought of and express their opinions (Weikel 1). It is fair that final decisions are made by way of a vote, in order to maintain accountability and transparency.
Except for the element of politics, the factors addressed all have one underlying concept, which is forecasting. Forecasting for the budget, for time, and for infrastructure requirements is all contingent on being able to adequately analyze relevant data to produce a risk assessment and forecasting plan. When proposing a bullet train, all of these factors are integrated, affecting one another and impacting the outcome of the project. Risk assessment and forecasting is best managed by implementing forecasting technology in order to increase accuracy and decrease time and cost overrun. While stakeholders will often disagree, final decision developments are best addressed with a vote, providing a fair way to come to a unanimous conclusion. While everyone will still not agree, stakeholders understand the importance and implications of a fair vote, as it establishes a reasonable standard for addressing conflict.
Bullet trains have many pros and cons; however, the outcomes are directly impacted by forecasting and proposal planning efforts. When these factors are proposed with accurate data, voters and stakeholders will have a better idea of how a bullet train will impact their community. However, when these factors are addressed using poor risk assessment, forecasting and analysis, stakeholders miss out on the ability to consider the proposal fairly. Despite these elements being improved, politics will always be an element of uncertainty for urban planning projects, including bullet train proposals.
Ahuja, H. and Nandakumar, V.”Simulation Model to Forecast Project Completion Time.” J. Constr. Eng. Manage.1985. 111(4), 325–342.
Associated Press, AP. Congress About to Kill High-Speed Train Program. Fox News. 2011. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/11/17/congress-about-to-kill-high-speed-train-program/
Flyvbjerg, Bent. "Cost Overruns and Demand Shortfalls in Urban Rail and OtherInfrastructure," Transportation Planning and Technology, vol. 30, no. 1,February 2007,pp. 9-30.DOI: 10.1080/03081060701207938. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1303/1303.7402.pdf
U.S. Congress American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 2009. Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr1enr/pdf/BILLS-111hr1enr.pdf
Weikel, Dan. State auditor issues financial warning on California bullet train. Los Angeles Times. 2012. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/25/local/la-me-bullet-train-20120125