What is the difference in these two scenarios:

Scenario 1

There is signficant congestion on the main highway in the region.  Thousands of drivers have to spend a frustrating amount of time stuck in traffic.  And the cost is considerable.

Take the number of cars delayed in a day, multiply by the length of the delay and then further multiply by the value of the drivers’ time, and you come up with the cost of congestion. 

For instance, 50,000 drivers delayed by 10 minutes x $15 an hour = $125,000.  In a year of 260 workdays, that’s $32.5 million.  And that number (which is conservative) is used to justifty the capital costs of widening the highway to reduce the congestion.

Scenario 2

The transportation agency in the region is short of resources needed to expand the transit system.  But its political masters are loathe to increase taxes.  And so they demand an audit, determined to address the assumed inefficiencies in the agency before entertaining anything that could be characterized as a tax.

An independent audit is commissioned, and the report confirms that, indeed, there are ways to improve the efficiency of the system.  One way: increase the amount of time between trains on the rapid-transit line.  Another: reduce the frequency of or eliminate low-volume bus routes. 

It works out that 50,000 passengers would be waiting a total of 10 minutes a day – the same as for drivers.  But there is no estimate of the time value – because that value is assumed to be zero.  Actually less than zero.  In this case, delay = efficiency.  The more delay induced, the more savings to the agency, and the less need to raise revenues or build additional capacity.

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In these two scenarios, time is treated completely differently.  In one, delay is a cost; in the other, delay is a saving.

Why is this?