Value Uplift and Capture

money_bridgeValue capture and uplift associated with infrastructure projects are often discussed but not well understood. This is because the issue sits at the crossroads of competing public and private interests, as well as institutional imperatives of project proponents.

From an economic perspective, it is a method of generating funds from economic rents – unearned private benefits from public investments – to deliver infrastructure projects. In the Australian context it is increasingly heralded as a potential new source of investment funds. However aspects of this approach have been used in both the US and the UK.

While there are over one hundred studies on value uplift around transport modes, impacts of other infrastructure types remain less well understood.

The Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has identified a range of factors assessing land value uplift challenging:

  • separating factors driving uplift to identify the infrastructure impact;
  • sampling errors in the estimation of land prices;
  • determining the catchment for beneficiaries / the project area of influence; and
  • isolating value uplift from network effects.

In essence, value uplift is where value flows from an infrastructure network are capitalised into land values. This is often observed regarding transport networks.

For the reasons outlined above, identifying value uplift is difficult in terms of identifying both who benefits and at what value. It is also why it has not been widely used to fund public infrastructure. However, there are two factors driving consideration of value capture funding:

  • economic rents accrue to landholders benefiting from economic infrastructure – in effect private, unearned returns from public investment in public assets – these are above and beyond use benefits and raises a critical equity issue; and
  • use revenues, particularly from public transport investments, are insufficient to fund infrastructure expenditures and are often complemented with significant subsidies from the public purse – value capture is seen as an alternative to increasing the general level of taxation revenue.

Overseas experience provides some guide to the types of value capture approaches, and each approach has its own pros and cons:

  • tax inventive funding – hypothecated value uplift based on an expected increase in property tax revenue. Commonly, a government issues a bond, effectively guaranteeing a return that matches the expected value uplift increment. The value at risk, however, remains with the government issuer.  This is one of the reasons most government treasuries oppose issuing these bonds – there is no transfer of financial risk associated with the value uplift increment.
  • betterment taxes – land owners thought to be direct beneficiaries of an infrastructure development – but not necessarily users themselves – pay a levy. The levey is typivally on the unimproved capital value of the land. A key challenge with this approach is achieving a correct attribution of the increase in land value from the provision of the infrastructure and related services.
  • transaction taxes – typically levied on property transfers. In this case, some of the property value increase attributed to the provision of publicly funded infrastructure will be collected by these taxes. However, this attribution is again difficult to to assess.
  • joint development – usually where a licence or concession is given to a private agency to develop surrounding land in exchange for delivering economic infrastructure and services. This is a significant model for railway development, and is currently in use for heavy rail in Asian countries.

While a range of estimation problems have been identified above, network architecture remains the most significant factor. Hierarchy, connections and density influence this. While the literature on network architecture largely focuses on transport infrastructure, specifically road and rail assets, further analysis is needed of other linear infrastructure (i.e. water, electricity and gas).

Two broad solutions emerge: either a more to a more general land tax; or further detailed investigation of each specific infrastructure project. The important point is to adopt an approach that minimises market distortions and promotes economic efficiency.

Inland Freight

canola

Recently I have been thinking about inland freight and logistics to see how this affects Australia’s seaports. Volumes may be constrained by production factors – you can only grow what you can grow when the environment allows you to grow it – but where these volumes go can be determined by these inland costs.

Policy can have consequences as NSW’s freight and logistics strategy shows. Improvements in freight handling and inland cargo aggregation can reduce costs. Some of these improvements reduce the cost of multi modal handling, as well as reduce the cost of line haul by mode – whether that is by rail or road.

For an economist like me it is a relative comparison game. Relatively lower costs will shift the movement of commodities from one mode to another, as well as shift the direction of commodities. Subject, of course, to existing commercial agreements.

However this is not the only story. The other story is around the development of vertically and horizontally integrated businesses that develop their own end-to-end freight and logistics systems. This means they are able to profit maximize by using less profitable parts of their networks to feed the more profitable parts. These firms are also taking equity stakes in their clients.

This is different to geographically and modally constrained freight and logistics operators – they have to maximize efficiency of throughput at a single point or along the linear operation of a particular mode. They certainly do not own parts of their client’s operations. Also, singular operations cannot transfer price because the other parts of the network or system are owned by other parties, and often singular operations cannot aggregate the volumes of goods required to develop leverage over prices.

This article also provides a gratuitous opportunity to show some of the canola fields near my home town in the South West Slopes region of NSW. I took this picture last week on a visit there. Primary production remains an important part of the freight task, albeit a volatile one that is hostage to world demand, weather and yields.

How Would We Know?

The absence of a publicly available cost benefit analysis for the proposed Bus and Train (BAT) Tunnel project in Brisbane raises a couple of obvious questions.  The first is the simplest.

The previous Cross River Rail (CRR) proposal was expected to cost around $6.4 billion to construct.  At this stage the BAT Tunnel is expected to cost around $5 billion.  Queenslanders save $1.4 billion right?

Financially they do.  But without a full CBA we cannot know what benefits are being left on the table.  If more than $1.4 billion in benefits under CRR are not realised in the BAT Tunnel we are actually reducing the net economic benefit of getting a decent public transport solution.

How would we know?

Valuing Toowoomba’s Second Range Crossing

What value can we put on the capital cost per vehicle using the $1.6 billion Toowoomba Second Range Crossing?

Let’s assume: in a 25 year appraisal period traffic volumes grow 3.5% p.a.; some 75% of some 23,000 vehicles per day divert to the crossing; and a 4% real discount rate. How does just under $12 a vehicle sound?

Bump traffic growth to 6% p.a., raise diversion to 85% diversion, and trim the discount rate to 3%, and you get just over $6.

Sets a bar, doesn’t it?

This project will only show a net economic benefit if benefits that are eventually identified are multiples of this.