One of my biggest gripes with the decision to hand transport matters in Auckland over to a semi-independent “Council Controlled Organisation” as part of establishing the Super City was whether that agency would end up doing most of its work in secret. At the moment (well, until Monday when the new Council is formally established) there’s quite a bit of information available on what transport stuff the various councils are up to. One of my best resources has been the agenda and minutes of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee, as well as what the Regional Transport Committee got up to over the last couple of years as it stitched together the RLTS. Information from the Transport Committee of Auckland City Council, and other committees from the various other councils often proved fertile ground for gathering information on the latest happenings in Auckland related to transport.
In contrast, ARTA have acted pretty secretly, with the only information they’ve shared being the Monthly Business Reports. While these reports are certainly very interesting, particularly in updating us on patronage statistics, by in large we’ve been left in the dark as to what else ARTA has been up to. For example, how’s progress going on integrated ticketing? Nobody really knows as we haven’t been able to read up on the various reports from ARTA staff to their board that I am sure must have been written over the past year since ARTA signed the contract with Thales to implement that system. How’s progress going on completing the CBD Rail Loop study that was meant to be finished in September? Once again, nobody knows because of ARTA’s secrecy.
So will Auckland Transport turn into a much larger version of the highly secretive ARTA, or will it turn into an open agency much like the transport committees of the various councils that exist at the moment? The final details of the legislation surrounding the establishment of Auckland Transport suggested that because the CCO will be doing so much work that was previously undertaken by Councils, it would need to be more transparent and accountable. But how will this actually translate into reality? Who knows?
In part there is some selfishness behind this concern, in that a lot of my potential blog posts over the next few years will depend on knowing what Auckland Transport is up to – if they make it difficult to find out what decisions are being made and what is happening, then that will make it difficult for me to keep ‘up to date’ with what’s going on. But there’s also a more fundamental reason why they should be open – transport will account for over half of Council’s spending and it’s arguably Auckland’s number one issue. We need to know what Auckland Transport’s up to because we’re trusting them with a huge amount of money and trusting them to help improve Auckland’s biggest problem: its transport situation.
Early signs are not necessarily that promising. Over the past week or so the websites for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have emerged and progressively been updated and populated with information from the old websites of ARTA and the various Councils. As I noted in yesterday’s post about St Lukes, the Council website already has been populated with agenda items for the first meeting of the new Council next week. It’s obvious on the website where further information will go, and now we know what the structure of the Council will be I imagine we will see the establishment of various places where meeting agenda and minutes will be uploaded to.
By contrast, while the Auckland Transport website is fairly comprehensive in what it says about various transport projects happening around Auckland, there seem no obvious place where we will be able to find out what their board is up to and what decisions are being made. Perhaps it might be added over the next few weeks when the Transport CCO board has their first meetings, I certainly hope so.
Ultimately, I think it is critical that Auckland Transport is as open and transparent as possible about what it gets up to. Over half the Council’s spending is likely to be on transport matters. While the Council’s transport committee will certainly play an important role in setting the big picture strategies, goals and plans the Council wants Auckland Transport to implement, many of the important decisions in terms of implementing these strategies will be left to the Board of the CCO. It’s important we know what they’re doing with such a significant amount of public funds. It’s important we know what progress they’re making on implementing the Council’s vision for transport. It’s important we know the reasoning behind decisions they make, so that those decisions can be analysed and critiqued.
It’s extremely important that Auckland Transport does not become a secretive agency. We have a right to know what they’re up to without having to go through the long-winded process of making official requests for information. I look forward to seeing Auckland Transport being an open, transparent and accountable agency.