Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Highway Expert Offers Another Anti-Rail Critique

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t always be sure people are experts on a topic just because they write about it. Today’s commentary in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin by Dr. Panos D. Prevedouros is one such example, but there are others, as we’ll soon discuss.

Dr. Prevedouros is the University of Hawaii highway transportation expert, a conclusion to be drawn by reading his UH bio, which he presumably wrote and which doesn’t contain the words “transit” or “rail” or any evidence that he comes at the transit issue from anything other than a pro-highway perspective.

Although Dr. Prevedouros routinely writes unflattering assessments of the Honolulu rail transit project, there’s nothing in his bio to suggest he’s been involved with transit over the years except as a highway-preferring critic. We made the same point nearly two years ago.

In today’s piece, Dr. Prevedouros mentions the research of several university-based professors who also appear to have no particular transit expertise. Professor Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University is said by Wikipedia to have “written extensively about megaprojects, power and rationality in decision making, and philosophy of social science.” He has produced numerous publications and working papers, most written from a planning perspective.

One publication appears to be the source cited by Dr. Prevedouros: “Delusion and Deception in Large Infrastructure Projects; Two Models for Explaining and Preventing Executive Disaster.” Professor Flyvbjerg writes extensively about the relationship between truth and lying from a European perspective, but his list of transit-related articles seems to be less than a handful.

A co-author of that article was Massimo Garbuio, a “lecturer” at the University of Sydney, who also is mentioned by Dr. Prevedouros and who also seems to be an expert on decision making – but not transit, based on the publications he cites on his university webpage. The sole “conference paper” listed at that site is titled: “'A beliefs-preferences-attributions model of strategic decision making, Strategic Management Society SMS 29th Annual International Conference, Washington D.C., United States, 14th October 2009”

Dr. Prevedouros misspells the name of another co-author – Professor Dan Lovallo, not Lorvallo, also of the University of Sydney. Professor Lovallo is equally at home with decision making and less so apparently with transit systems. His website page says his research “is concerned with psychological aspects of strategic decisions…,” but there’s no mention of transit or rail on his bio page.

Consider the Source

Our point is this: You can find a hundred experts in management and decision making who’ve written papers critical of this or that project, but until you truly understand those projects and have heard from others familiar with them, drawing conclusions from those papers about a specific project like Honolulu rail is pointless.

Contrary to Dr. Prevedouros’s conclusions about the Honolulu project, there is no reason to believe the City has misrepresented future passenger acceptance or costs. Transit experts for decades have said Honolulu is the ideal candidate for a “transit spine” through its corridor – a long and compact urban area squeezed between mountains and the sea.

As for alleged low-balling the cost of Honolulu rail, the project has approximately 30 percent of its budget targeted for contingencies that haven’t even been identified yet – a level federal officials say may be unprecedented.

Dr. Prevedouros is a rock-ribbed rail opponent. It's therefore reasonable to view his commentary with the same degree of skepticism that he directs at the subject of his piece – the recent pro-rail commentary by a member of the American Council of Engineering Companies.


Kimo Hana said...

Wow, Doug. You did a great job of avoiding the message and did your best to kill the messenger.

It would be really great for you to actually respond to the points that Panos made.

But the fact that you're a professional PR guy and the fact that you skipped his points means one and only one thing.

He's right, and you can't refute it.

Thank you, Doug.

Doug Carlson said...

That's pretty funny, Kimo. Just about everything we've written here in the past 21 months amounts to a collective refutation of the professor's pro-highway platform.

But I appreciate the "professional" mention.