David Warburton is the CEO of the Auckland Transport Council-Controlled Organisation (CCO). I sent off a few questions to him and a number of other senior staff at Auckland Transport on issues that I think might be of interest to the public. Here’s his response, and other responses will come through as future blog posts in the next few days:

While it’s still fairly early days in the establishment of Auckland Transport, what have you seen or heard to be some of the big advantages of having an integrated transport organisation, compared to how things ‘used to be’?

The big advantage is in that one word: “integrated”. We can now look at the region and its transport needs as a whole with a single focus, rather than as independent towns or cities. Aucklanders don’t recognise city boundaries when they travel and we need to provide solutions that show that seamless transition across the Region. The consolidation of all transport functions also allows a more efficient interface with NZTA who is the major funder of our transport activities.

What are some specific goals that you have for Auckland Transport? What would you like to have as your particular imprint on the organisation over the next year or two in particular?

Internally our priority is to develop a unified organisation with a culture that’s focused on customer service, delivering results and provides a secure and dynamic working environment for professionals with a desire to progress their careers in transport.

Externally we will work with the Mayor and Council on their overall vision for Auckland (the Auckland Plan), and how transport fits into that. In this area we are guided by those responsible for setting the long term objectives. As this strategic work progresses we have a significant programme of capital work to complete that has been signalled in the various LTCCP’s that have been consolidated into the Auckland Transport work plan and budgets. Finally we have the business-as-usual- operational aspects of Auckland Transport as well; for example we have approximately 8000km of roads, 850 bridges, wharves, bus-stops, rail stations and associated assets, about $11.5 billion in total, that we must manage and maintain every day. To maintain this and deliver an efficient public transport network is a routine and essential part of the business.

There was a lot of discussion in the media when the third super city bill, the one that established Auckland Transport, was going through parliament about a lack of transparency and accountability that the organisation might have. What do you see as particular ways in which Auckland Transport can gain the confidence of the public as an accountable and transparent organisation?

With respect to transparency, the first decision the Auckland Transport Board made was to agree to having its monthly meetings open to the public. There will be occasions when items will be discussed confidentially (for reasons of commercial sensitivity and so on)- but the clear direction of the board is to be as open and accessible to the public as possible. In addition we will be reporting regularly, through open committee meetings, to the Auckland Council’s Transport Committee and to all the Local Boards. Those are very transparent processes.

With respect to confidence, the public will gain this as Auckland transport deliver results on the range of transport issues faced by the region.

One of the concerns that I had about the establishment of Auckland Transport as a separate organisation to Auckland Council was how we would ensure good integration between transport decisions and land-use planning decisions. It seems fairly clear to me that poor integration between these matters over the course of Auckland’s history has led to a large number of problems that are now requiring very costly solutions (ie. Waterview Connection, AMETI, rail to the airport etc.) How will land-use and transport matters be integrated in this new system to ensure we don’t continue to make poor decisions? Won’t this be harder now that transport is structurally separate from the council?

The Auckland Council is responsible for delivering a spatial plan (essentially a regional land use plan and at times referred to as the Auckland Plan), for the region. Auckland Transport has the subject matter knowledge and expertise to input into and advise on that plan. Auckland Council staff have agreed that the development of the plan is a partnership with Auckland Transport (and others) and we are actively involved in its development. It is a collaborative and inclusive process, as it should be and once this is agreed the problems you refer to will be minimised.

I have heard that you catch the train between Britomart and Henderson each day to get to work, how’s that going? Do you find the Western Line frustratingly slow?

I catch the train regularly but not 100% of the time. Rather than frustrating I find rail an excellent service. The staff are helpful, the environment conducive to getting some work done (iPads have arrived at the right time), and the frequency of service convenient. The proposed electrification will assist in reducing the time as would the proposed CBD loop. However it is a matter of using the time effectively which one can do on the train.

Certainly a lot of emphasis is being placed on this Spatial Plan – which I have discussed a number of times previously. I certainly hope that the spatial plan can be an excellent document linking together planning and transport. I just hope we don’t stuff it up, because if it’s really as influential as continues to be promoted, we’re going to be in a real mess if we don’t get it right.

Mr Warburton also raises the excellent point that when you’re on the train you can be productive – particularly with new technologies like the iPad. Quite interesting responses all round actually, and excellent to see Auckland Transport being up front and open about answering questions like these.

What might be some interesting further questions, or follow-up questions, that people have for Auckland Transport’s CEO? I might try to put together a further list for him at some point in the future.

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  1. I’m glad to hear he catches the train out to Henderson frequently and I really like his comment about being able to be productive on the train, it is one of the benefits I hope AT push as a way to improve patronage, free wifi would really help with that as well.

    It will be interesting to see the rest of the Q&A’s, one thing I would like to know if they plan to publicly release patronage data monthly like ARTA used to do and if so how will they do that.

  2. Patronage data is in the business report, which was in the open agenda of the December board meeting. While AT have added other board papers online lately they haven’t uploaded the business report. Which is odd.

  3. Yeah, I would like to see monthly patronage data too. Also curious as to whether they’re planning to switch to a system that doesn’t penalize you financially for transfers when they introduce integrated ticketing? Although I think the answer is no right?

  4. With the right equipment – a tablet or ultraportable laptop and a mobile internet connection, it’s easy to be productive on the train when travelling off-peak or counter-peak, as I used to do so often.

    Peak is another matter – too crowded to break out the laptop!

    1. Tablet PCs would be OK for that. Although you’d have to have good balance if you are standing. I personally have an Amazon Kindle that I read on the bus while standing and it is much better than a book as it only requires one hand to change pages.

      1. On several occasions I’ve felt nauseous after using my laptop on the bus. Just the thought of reading while standing in one makes me queasy.

        I find using it on trains (and ferries) a lot easier.

  5. Ahhh..Mobile internet. One of the greatest inventions and something I can’t live without whilst overseas. A big step towards increasing productivity on public transport…It’s just a tad unfortunate that Telecom and Vodafone price it far far far out of reach for us in here in NZ.. Just another reasons why NZ lags the rest of the developed world…

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