We’ve known since last year that Auckland Transport have looking at how they operate and their corporate accommodation. Both of these issues have been items on the closed session of the AT board meetings in the past, such as this one from December.

Corporate Accommodation – Long Term Strategy

Value for money review

I understand the value for money review was looking at how AT performed at a structural level and where, if any improvements could be made.

We know that AT are currently spread out in numerous locations around the region including having some staff in the city in the HSBC building, some in Henderson, some at Smales Farm on the North Shore and some in Manukau. We also know that AT have come under fire before for running private shuttles between the city and Henderson because they found the public transport options weren’t good enough – a practice that they’ve stopped.

Putting some of this together it comes as no surprise that AT want to consolidate their operations into a single building. After all the agglomeration benefits they talk about at a city scale from projects like the City Rail Link enabling more people to work close together also apply within organisations like AT.

We’ve also seen news recently that AT are looking at consolidating their operations and it appears they’re looking at the building Vodafone will be vacating near the Viaduct. Interestingly that move by Vodafone is partially into space AT currently occupy at Smales Farm.

Of course leasing a building and especially one in the city and in an election year is going to cause politicians from all stripes to jump up and down with Phil Goff the latest to do so.

AT seem to be fairly clear they’ll only move if there is a financial benefit from doing so

“The overriding factor for change is that it will be cheaper/less expensive than current disbursed arrangements. Quite simply, if it is not financially beneficial it will not happen.”

Auckland Transport has claimed the savings will be largely driven by reducing its overall office space requirements by about 2000sq m – from about 18,700sq m down to about 16,000sq m.

On top of the financial savings there are probably quite a lot of other benefits of them being in the city too. For one they seem to work a lot with the Council, NZTA and MoT who are all based in the city. In addition most of the consultancies they use are based in and around the city and you can bet they’ll be charging AT for every trip they have to make out to places like Henderson. And who knows, perhaps being closer to the city might even help some of their road focused engineers learn that the city is about people and not just a place for moving individual boxes of tin.

It seems to me that just rejecting the idea because an office looks flash without considering the benefits – of which there are probably way more than I’ve listed, is probably a good idea.

But one area I was a little surprised by was this statement

Today, general manager of communications and corporate relations Wally Thomas would not say if Auckland Transport planned to explain the benefits to council and ratepayers before proceeding with a lease on the Vodafone building.

If the benefits stack up then why wouldn’t they explain them? Given so many of their projects and the projects of the council are about enabling the city to perform better it seems like the perfect opportunity to live what they preach.

What do you think, should they move to the city?

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  1. If the benefits stack up then why wouldn’t they explain them?

    Becuase they will be contractually obliged to keep the rent they negotiate with the landlord confidential and that forms the basis of any explaination….

  2. Seems that the cost saving is based on bringing all staff under one roof.
    But city real estate rate costs would eat a large part of that up.

    Why not locate on the NEX bus route, in Smales Farm or Albany for instance?
    Cheaper than city.
    Consultants can hop on a bus from Britomart, rather than charging for travel. If these consultants prefer not to use PT, then are these the transport consultants that we want?

    1. Transport consultants can bill over $300 an hour, and you want to add an hour to every meeting out of ratepayers’ pockets?

    2. Boils down to the type of contract any given consultant is involved in, if it is time charge it would be in AT’s best interests to currently have them driving to Henderson. If it is a fixed term contract, the project manager wouldn’t want to waste money have a consultant consumes a couple hours travel time to go out to Henderson. Your suggestion boils down to requiring someone work for free and pay for their own transport. If AT require someone to come to their offices to seem them then it is reasonable AT cover their costs. In my mind I would prefer to see AT officers travel to consultants offices much more considering most of their time is already a sunk cost to AT.

  3. I would prefer them to stay in Henderson. It opens their eyes to what’s happening in the suburbs instead of just being city focused.

    The workers there also help support the businesses in the area which is much needed. Yes the AT office space could be replaced by another company but it is very unlikely they will be the same size as AT.

    Hendersons on the western line and a supposed transport hub for the west. I would think the ideal location for a transport agency.

    1. So everyone wants them in their neighbourhood. Well folks isn’t this a good lesson on how cities work: the closest place to everywhere is the centre, that’s why it’s the centre. This is a fact of geometry. That’s also why cities with a strong centre are more productive than dispersed ones; it’s that function of geometry, there is simply less movement required in order to achieve the save amount of work.

      1. Patrick, what’s your view on (a) UK dispersal of major commercial elements to places like Cardiff and Manchester (rather than allowing them to naturally settle in London); (b) Chinese dispersal of SEZs away from the major cities (at the time); (c) Soviet dispersal of industry from major western cities to Urals-east from the 1920s onwards.

        Does centralisation only work at the city level or also at the nation-state level? Can we starve the regions so the centre is satisfied? It starts sounding a bit “Panem”

        1. Sigh; your failure to understand scale is at the heart of many of your irrelevant posts here; why mention distribution between cities when we are discussion location within one city? Try to focus on the actual point or don’t bother posting at all: Auckland Transport definitely needs to be in Auckland; it does not need to hide behind the Urals from marauding Panzer armies.

          1. This is an opportunity to educate me. If centralisation is good, does it apply solely within cities or at the level of the nation-state? Because surely the arguments about “the centre” would suggest we should move major industry etc. to Wellington as this is the closest location to all points within New Zealand. Or, if there are phenomena operating intra-city that do not operate inter-city, please explain them.

            PS the decentralisation of Soviet industry occurred well before a German threat. The decentralisation of British government agencies to Cardiff, Manchester etc. had nothing to do with military threats; neither did the Chinese decentralisation of their economic zones.

            Again, if there are different intra- and inter-city forces, I’d love to understand them, because it doesn’t make sense to me that agglomeration works within cities but not within countries.

          2. Not quite EC, the point that is centred on the landmass is irellevant. The vast majority of both islands is non-productive and uninhabited wilderness.

            The point you are looking for is the one that is closest to the most people, which is more or less synonymous with the centroid of the economy. That point is just south of Hamilton.

            Should we move major business and industry to the Auckland-Waikato-BoP triangle? Yes, except we don’t have to because it is moving itself already.

          3. Chinese sezs are centralisation not decentralisation. The Chinese are centralisning into about 50 cities.

          4. Countries are artificial economic units, cities are natural ones. Agglomeration works naturally in cities, politics intervenes in countries. One reason that both Hong Kong and Singapore have performed so well for so long is that are city-states, with all the simplification that structure brings. Suggest you read Jane Jacobs’ classic on the matter: Cities and the Wealth of Nations:


          5. So, the ideal city is a mathematical point with zero size because that is the “ultimate” agglomeration? Or is there a point like an atomic bomb where implosion meets explosion and there is expansion?

            Centralisation seems to be efficient but ineffective; remember the goal is NOT $$$ the goal is UTILITY.

      2. That is just too funny Patrick. You are claiming having the Vogons located in the centre will increase work done. Have you met these people?

    2. Henderson is right on the edge of the urban area. It’s about 2km from farmland. While it is on the rail network, it is last but three on the western line. In other words, it’s horribly remote for a regional organisation. If you expect people to catch a train there, you’re expecting most people to catch a train to the city centre then spend another 45 minutes travelling out to the very edge of the suburbs.

      This is like any major organisation or facility, the simple geometric reality is that the centre of a city is the point closest to the largest amount of people (staff, clients, suppliers etc), while the edge of the city is by definition the place furtherest away from the most people.

      If you want AT to attract good staff, work efficiently with its clients and suppliers, and generally be efficient with time and resources… you should put it in the middle. The edge is the worst place for it.

      Auckland Transport isn’t unique in this regard, the reason for having AT in the middle town is the same as for having Fonterra, Vero, BNZ or any of the other large organisations in the middle of town.

      1. What if the good staff choose to move out West? O to Manukau or Albany? I’m not saying it will happen but having smaller, local offices is not a silly idea but, yes, the main office will surely need to be central.

        1. Well the mid point between out west, Manukau and Albany is the city centre. An office in the city centre is accessible to staff from all three, rather than close to only one of the three and very far away from the other two.

      2. “Good staff” only exist in the city? An odd view.

        At the end of the day it depends on where AT staff currently live. If there’s a lot living out west, close to their current work, then the most efficient location will be out west. No point in replacing all those easy commutes out west with a daily grind to the city and back. And obviously moving to the city to avoid the commute is out of the question as accomodation costs will skyrocket.

        Would be good to hear from some AT staff on what they would prefer.

        1. Not odd, very well documented actually…but I’m not suggesting that good staff only exist in the city. Good staff exist right across the region, which is why you want to locate in the centre of the region rather than the very edge. So you can be a workplace of choice for people from everywhere, and so you can recruit from amongst all million and a half Aucklanders, and not just one corner of Auckland.

          There are good staff living out west. But put your office out west and you only get the good staff who live west, and its far away from the other good staff located north, east and south. So you end up with only 1/4 of the talent you could draw on if you are based in the centre, and you have to draw on the less good staff to fill your potions.

          That’s an oversimplification, but the effect is strong and undeniable. Simple geometry.

          AT staff have been moving away from Henderson for years now, shifting teams to various city centre offices as staff demand it. They call it Horrendouson for a reason!

          1. When I worked in Milford, I lived in Milford. When I worked in Henderson, I lived in Kelston. When I worked in Manurewa, I lived in Papakura. Always easy commutes.

            If I had to work in the CBD, I wouldn’t be able to live there as it’s too costly. So it would be a lengthy commute instead. The options are bad or worse.

            I would say the complete opposite of your assessment is true. The CBD is probably the worst possible location, as it locks workers into high cost living or high cost commute. Just about everywhere else will be cheaper, and more convenient.

          2. Well Geoff clearly your dedication to moving every time you change job is clearly unusual; otherwise there would be almost no commuting at all; yet travel to work is as strong as ever….

        2. I work for an organisation based out by the airport and we have continuous difficulty attracting quality staff due to the location and difficulties with public transport.

          People move jobs and don’t necessarily want to move house. I imagine a number of staff at AT are ex ARTA staff, who I believe were located in the city and probably hate the commute or have left to find work more centrally.

      3. You make this place sound idyllic in Henderson. 2km from the wonderous waitakeres and only 15 km from the cbd. Why would they leave.

  4. Perhaps for public relations purposes they should remain at numerous locations, utilising public transport to move between them, showing faith in the system for which they are responsible? I’m not sure if we need more bureaucratic, corporate monsters downtown, I have a personal preference for food and leisure options taking over. In any case, I hope they have no carparks for their employees, you can hardly encourage others to change if you aren’t practising your sermons!

    1. I heard on the grapevine that this is exactly the plan… no employee car parks. That said… this option still needs to be evaluated against the alternatives, not just the status quo.

  5. Government organisations can benefit just as much as a private corporation for agglomeration benefits. The amount that AT pay in rent will be a tiny fraction of their operating expenditure, by being in the city they will be better placed to work with other organisations located their and will be best placed to recruit skilled staff. Politics ought to stay out of everyday operating decision like where to base HQ.

  6. Depends on if ‘explain to council’ is really code for get their approval and go through long winded approval processes and consultation. If it is purely just “we’re doing this, FYI this is why” then sure. If it’s going to delay what ever benefit AT think they’ll get from it then no; let them make a decision and get on with it so they can focus their attention and funding on the things that really matter.

  7. The AT PR guy said to the Herald that “The overriding factor [for moving to the Vodafone building or not] is that it will be cheaper/less expensive than current disbursed arrangements”. That, of course, sounds like a good answer but is not… the “overriding factor” for moving into the fancy downtown building should be that it is better value than *any other option* not just whatever expensive arrangement they currently have.

  8. Unlike a lot of other council jobs, a lot of ATs jobs are actually out and about all over Auckland (not just the city). Sure consolidation of management into the city makes sense but for the others who’s jobs are to be on site it sounds like it would be traffic inducing to have staff travel into the city each morning to then pick up a car to go to a site back on the North Shore/West/South/East etc and then head back in to get their ride back home again. Office space is expensive in the city also.

  9. Do AT have to pay rent for the Henderson site? It’s still owned by the Council isn’t it? Ex-waitakere city Council building. Hendersons not bad it will be around 30 mins to Aotea post-crl.

    1. That is just the point. Who else would want to lease that building? At least when I go there I can park in the Westfield carpark.

  10. Whilst locating everyone in AT at Henderson because its adjacent to a key transport node in the AKL PT Network, seems like a good idea, there’s just not enough room in the two buildings there. Other council departments would have to move and thus a Hendo relo wont work. A building in the city is the best but the Vodafone Bldg in the Viaduct/Wynyard Quarter area is not served well by PT to/from the west, east and south. If only AT could get more space in the HSBC Building where they and NZTA already are…

    1. That’s only because it doesn’t have a proper PT corridor along Fanshawe. It is one of the busiest PT corridors in the city so it really should be an easy transfer to a quick one minute bus ride down a median busway.

  11. It would be a shame for them to leave Henderson. No other organisation would be daft enough to lease a building in Henderson with such a chronic lack of parking. When we learnt that the anti-parking people at the old ARTA were going to be pushed out to Henderson most people I knew thought it was the funniest thing to happen for ages.

  12. Parking under the Vodafone building exists. Other than that parking is a pain. But you can bet your last dollar that any expensive parking charges paid in the area will be passed on. To imagine for one second that AT staff will all suddenly cycle, walk or use PT is naive.

    1. Yes, crazy to assume that new staff locating in the city centre will do the same as the other 250,000 people who are already come into the city centre each day… The ones that have a 60% transit, walking and cycling modeshare that is.

      1. Even better is that increasing employees in the cbd hasn’t increased driving commutes for over 15 years so a number of people equivalent to all staff at AT would start commuting sans driving

    2. “But you can bet your last dollar that any expensive parking charges paid in the area will be passed on. ” transportation to work isn’t typically included in employment contracts so I am not sure what you are envisaging here.

        1. Ok. Consultants would probably taxi to Vodafone. Overall cost less than to Henderson with time included.

    3. I worked for London Transport, at 55 Broadway near St James Park – and there was no parking provided, for anybody. Being a transport organisation, and expecting everyone to use that said transport, is an excellent way of making sure that everyone actually does use their own service, and so is immensely well versed in all the good points and all the bad points of the service. Bus, Tube, cycle or walk – no one used a taxi or drove a car. End of story. And that’s exactly what Auckland Transport should do as well.

  13. Here’s some basics about moving from facility X to facility Y

    First, baseline the following:
    – staff satisfaction with environment
    – productivity
    – costs

    Now, identify how the move will improve them. And I’m not talking about “agglomeration benefits” in a vague, wishy-washy way, I’m talking about specific, measurable benefits. Outputs per staff member. Will we get more tickets per parking attendant etc.

    I’d be wary about any move that doesn’t specify baseline performance and anticipated performance. In particular, reduction of office space by 2.5k sqm is likely to drop staff satisfaction and engagement, which in turn can have negative effects on efficiency.

    Remember, staff drive effectiveness. Keep staff happy, and the rest will probably follow. Forcing a bunch of people to a more crowded location is likely to reduce engagement.

      1. I don’t have big data, but I do have anecdotes: Silicon Valley was “remote” initially, as was Seattle’s engineering hub area. Boeing wasn’t exactly downtown!

      2. And, regardless of external evidence, unless this specific move has specific baseline performance and specific targets it is impossible to assess whether (a) it’s the right thing and (b) whether it has worked. The AC move to 135 Albert St still hasn’t been evaluated properly.

        Imagine if surgeons just “assumed” a new procedure worked better without careful analysis of the preceding outcomes.

    1. Seems a bit overkill to regulate how staff travel to and from work, that would make me look for a job somewhere else pretty quickly. Pick a CBD location with minimal parking and let staff decide themselves how they get there, most will use PT, some will drive and some will cycle. The discussions around the office will soon determine to pros and cons of each mode.

      One thing for certain, Fanshawe St will turn into an excellent PT and pedestrian corridor!

  14. Auckland disperses the majority of its suburban development away from the central city. Positioning Auckland Transport in the CBD will isolate it from the major growth areas of the Auckland region.

    1. I’d say the Henderson site is further away from the major growth sites out south and similar distance from those to the north, not really sure what you’re argument is here.

  15. Put them into Manukau.

    Excellent train service to the City if required

    Appalling bus service to the city after the new network is in – but that only applies during the all too frequent train/track failures.

    1. So for every meeting with Council, MoT, NZTA, with their consultants and subcontractors a 45min train journey first, and back? More efficient to be there already don’t you think?

  16. I was offered a job there a couple of years back.I nearly took it but came to the conclusion the trip was going to be too painful (I live east), instead I took a job in the viaduct.

    Remote locations mean you either have to overpay for staff or limit your choices

  17. It makes sense to centralise. When you have different teams all over the place that have to meet and they spend hours travelling, it isnt really productive. One location for most staff in a central place makes sense. The Vodafone building isnt the best for PT access, but they can always pave over Victoria park to fit in some more staff car parks.

      1. Yes, large organisations are so much more effective when none of their staff talk to each other about what they are doing.

    1. It is a pre-requisite to any large organisation to have many many meetings in order to justify having so many staff.

  18. Seems obvious they should move to the central location, it’s central, even if rent is higher. Yes hope they all have to use PT (no staff car parks provided). Yes travel time charged by consultants would be significant otherwise. Keeping all the staff altogether should leverage better quality service from them, which would be very beneficial to the city as a whole and may be hard to quantify.

    1. If you can’t quantify it, even through proxies e.g. survey measures, it doesn’t exist. Planning isn’t based on wishes.

  19. I’d also like to raise an equity issue.

    House prices, by and large, descend in a ring around the CBD: closer = more expensive, further = cheaper. From this we could assume that the suburbs closer to the CBD are inhabited by richer people.

    Centralisation thus *puts more employment within easy reach of the rich* and is thus *regressive*. It would seem fairer for major government agencies to colocate themselves in lower socio-economic areas thus driving employment opportunities.

    1. Perhaps we should base them in Mercer then!? Good PT to the CBD helps overcome the barrier for people living further out.

      1. Grant, let me explain geometry

        If a person in Remmers currently has a 30 minute trip to the CBD, and someone in Manurewa has a 60 minute trip

        And then you put in a new PT system, and the Remmers trip is now 15 minutes, and Manurewa is now 30…

        It’s not progressive, because Remmers still gets the same benefit and is still privileged.

        NOW… if we introduced express services from South and West, and then congestion charged car trips and increased fares from richer suburbs, then yep, it’d work

  20. What about pushing the Vogons into 1 Greys Avenue? The Council already owns it and will struggle to find a commercial tenant. It’s a win win.

  21. I have the answer! Find a derelict tower block in town, ask Mott McDonald to assess it. Ignore their report and pay through the nose for the building, then when it turns out the building needs to be reclad for tens of millions just pretend that everything is normal and let the ratepayers pay.

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