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A short post noting that Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, has recently increased the value that it places on human life to $12.5M NZD ($7.8M USD), a significant increase from the $4.9M used previously.

This is a reasonable news article summarising the change and noting the potential impacts, along with the following interesting graph:

The change is incorporated within an update to their Monetised benefits and costs manual, and is based on an independently delivered research report.

The researchers carried out face-to-face interviews with 7,817 people around New Zealand and asked 'choice experiment' 'stated preference' type questions. In the testing phase these were initially based around the respondent choosing a preferred route from two options. Each option varied in attributes such as travel time, traffic congestion, cost, and number of fatalities or injuries per year. They subsequently changed to questions about overall investment decisions for the community, rather than personal route choice, as they found difficulties in interpretation such as people discounting the risk to them because of their own driving behaviour or vehicle. (relevant EA related discussion on this here)

The analysis looks at the value of travel time and reliability for both public and private transport, and is able to put dollar values on changes to them. It also makes an estimate of the Value of Statistical Life from the results that ends up in a similar ballpark to previous studies internationally. Estimates are made based on an average 'willingness to pay' (per event) of $4.3 per respondent, multiplied either by the number of New Zealand households to give a 'minimum' figure of $8.1M, or by the national adult population to give a 'maximum' figure of $16.9M. Based on these numbers Waka Kotahi has pitched their official value of $12.5M somewhere in the middle. 

EA relevance

Whilst not directly altruism motivated, I think the new Value of Life numbers are very relevant to intervention prioritisation, especially when compared to similar numbers gathered from surveys in the developing world (for example the GiveWell commissioned IDinsight survey). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the numbers discussed here are a couple of orders of magnitude higher than those found in Ghana and Kenya.

The travel time numbers in the study are also interesting, particularly in how they relate to New Zealanders valuing leisure time. Public transport commuting time seems to be valued at $8.16 (NZD) per hour (or $11.88 if standing), and private transport commuting at $30.90 per hour (in free-flowing traffic). For non-commuting trips these go down to $6.61 for public transport and up to $31.97 for private (private transport congestion also significantly increases these numbers). Potentially these could be useful proxies for assessing wellbeing related interventions in New Zealand or similar countries.




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