Does the political and economic context influence the success of a transport project? An analysis of transport public-private partnerships

The construction and provision of infrastructure services such as transport nowadays is often based on a partnership between three main actors: public sector, private sector and multilateral lenders, under a framework of Public–Private Partnerships (PPPs). This type of partnership has been employed in a wide range of projects in the transport sector and in various contexts in developing and developed countries. Given this observation, the objective of this paper is to examine how countries’ economic and political characteristics contribute to the success of PPPs in transport investments. Special focus in the analysis is given to how the perception of corruption and democratic accountability may influence the success of a PPP project in different transport sectors. We examine a database with 856 transport PPP projects using a generalized linear model in the form of a logit model in order to evaluate the transport database covering data from 72 countries, classified in six regions. The study highlights the importance of national experience. Not only does national macroeconomic experience appear to have a relevant role, but so also does its past experience (either positive or negative) of transport PPP projects. An interesting finding from the analysis is the importance of the rest of the world’s perception of a country’s level of corruption and democratic accountability for the final outcome of a PPP project.

Critical issues in the design of contractual relations for transport infrastructure development

The increasing use of Public–Private Partnerships (PPP) arrangements in the provision of transport infrastructure seems to be a trend all over the world with a very particular incidence in Europe. The arguments supporting these public decisions are several and their validity varies with the different realities where these instruments are applied. The paper highlights the critical issues around the design and implementation of PPPs in the transportation sector and makes a brief presentation of the rational behind the structure of papers presented in this special issue.

Future challenges for transport infrastructure pricing in PPP arrangements

In this paper we report the conclusion of a research project dedicated to pricing regimes in public-private partnership contracts for the provision of transport infrastructure (Macário et al., 2009). Several elements have been brought to the bulk of knowledge that supports the design and implementation of public-private partnership in the transport sector. These developments have been achieved in the following domain:

• Understand difficulties of price setting within the PPP environment, given the potential conflict of interest among the different parties engaged, go beyond the discussion of first best versus second-best price setting mechanisms.

• Understand the role of government and regulators in the performance of a PPP.

• Translate the issue of asymmetries of information between parties into a risk taking language.

• Devise alternative contractual designs that will enable competitive price setting.

• Understand that a structural element is missing to conciliate the views of the different stakeholders over a PPP: a bridge between infrastructure costs and charges.

The objective of this paper is to overview the main challenges ahead of transport infrastructure pricing, considering the current and likely future policies as well as the field constraints. Moreover, a proposal is formulated to overcome some of the current pitfalls associated to transport infrastructure pricing.

Questioning the need for full amortization in PPP contracts for transport infrastructure

PPP contracts most often have durations of between 20 and 35 years, but in some cases even longer. The main reason for this is the wish of the Public side to minimize its financial contribution, by including in the contract many years of revenue generation by the project to help cover the investment contribution of the private partner. Implicit however is the need to fully amortize the initial investment, which in many countries is even included in the relevant legislation.

PPP contracts are normally framed around the delivery of a range of services during the lifetime of the contract, those services requiring the initial construction or recovery of an expensive infrastructure. The specification of the financial clauses of the contract requires the estimation of demand for those services over the period of the contract and this is usually taken as the major incidence of uncertainty in the contract. Indeed, experience shows that demand forecasts often fail substantially, in many cases by more than 20%, mostly by excess, as State side project promoters (and the bidding private partners) tend to be excessively optimistic about the development of such demand.

But when we consider the nature of these contracts we should recognize the existence of at least two other very important types of uncertainty: first, the socially desirable scope and specification of the services to be offered as technology and social preferences evolve; and second, the policy guidelines relative to the total quantity and the social distribution of those services, as that quantity may be causing congestion in other parts of the system, or it may become important to (positively or negatively) discriminate some user segments.

In both cases, it is almost impossible to foresee at the time of writing the initial contract if, when and in what direction such types of socially beneficial changes in the provision of the services would intervene, but this rigidness may bear a great loss of social welfare in relation to a more adjustable framework. This criticism affects not only PPPs but all kinds of concession contracts with long duration, so it is not the “partnership” element that must be questioned but rather the duration of the contract.

An alternative way is relatively straightforward: abandon the assumption that these contracts must provide full amortization of the infrastructure, which allows adoption of contracts with a shorter life, and the use of multiple such contracts over the lifecycle of the infrastructure.

The first generation contract would still have to face the full cost of the construction, but the private partner would receive the unamortized part at the end of that contract, to be paid by the State, directly from the public budget if no more private participation is wanted, or indirectly through the acquisition fee for the contract to be paid by the partner to the second life segment. But, crucially, the State recovers the right to re-specify the terms of the service to be provided without the need for any indemnity, and also the uncertainty associated with the evolution of demand in that period will be much smaller, as this will be my then a mature system in operation.

This may seem to increase the transaction costs for the State as more contracts (although of a similar type, especially from the second onwards) may have to be negotiated and signed. But if we take into consideration the difficulties of the frequently needed renegotiations of long duration contracts and the conditions of asymmetry of information in which the State normally finds itself in such cases, we will conclude that, besides avoiding the loss of welfare due to the poor fit of the contract after 20 years or so, this solution after all may also reduce the transaction costs associated with negotiations over the duration of the traditional contracts.