Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

Raising performance in highway infrastructure delivery: applying micro econometric analysis to identify best practice

Supervisor: Phill Wheat

Many transportation infrastructures, such as railways and airports, are subject to economic regulation or direct competition. Highway infrastructure managers in Britain, which include the strategic road mangers (Highways Agency and Transport Scotland) and local roads (Local Authorities), have largely not been subject to such direct pressures, with each organisation adopting different procurement practices.

Recently, there has been much interest in trying to establish what is best practice and disseminate this across the sector. With respect to strategic roads, central Government has announced its intension to reform the Highways Agency into a company limited by guarantee, which importantly requires an economic regulator to be established to ensure the company is delivering value for money. With respect to local roads, many local authorities are cooperating with the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) which aims to disseminate best practice across authorities.

The Institute for Transport Studies has been involved in early work on benchmarking the performance of local authorities and has close links with the potential new regulator of the Highways Agency. As such we are in an excellent position to access data on both the strategic and local road network.

A PhD student with a background in economics, econometrics or statistics is sought to develop a research project aimed at analysing this data and helping inform the policy/regulatory debate on this topical issue. Research questions that could be addressed range from empirical regulatory topics to more methodological advancement depending on the student’s interest. For example:

  • What is the evidence that some contracting methods deliver better value for money than others?
  • What is the trade-off between cost and quality of infrastructure maintenance?
  • How can we better develop stochastic frontier econometric models to better capture multiple objectives of agencies?

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