It is expected that in the next few weeks the Board of Auckland Transport will make one of their most important decisions – who they appoint as the next Chief Executive. David Warburton is retiring from the role he has held since formation of the Super City in 2010. As far as I’m aware he’s the last of the inaugural chief executives left among the Council Controlled Organisations. We have previously highlighted some key attributes the next chief executive will need to have – strong international experience in a major city, a really good understanding of land-use planning and placemaking, and hopefully a bit of much needed diversity into their executive team.
Whoever the person is, they will have a big job ahead of them. While there are many great people working within Auckland Transport, it does at times seem like a dysfunctional organisation. Let’s run through a few “big picture” observations of the past few years:
Bizarre City Rail Link decisions:
This was highlighted well in a recent article on The Spinoff. While CRL is no longer under Auckland Transport’s control, up until a few months ago it was. While credit is due for their part in getting the government over the line in supporting the project (although this mainly seemed to be Len Brown’s persistence), it seems like the main thing Auckland Transport has done in recent years is make the project more expensive and also worse. Let’s run through a few things:
- The project’s cost increased from $2.5 billion to $3.4 billion (while not telling the mayor about it).
- The Beresford Square entrance to K Road station was swapped out for the hopelessly hidden and difficult to access Mercury Lane station.
- K Road station also isn’t being future proofed for longer trains, even though stations throughout the rest of the network have been.
- The operation pattern proposes a stupid “purple line” which costs a lot to build and run and only adds unnecessary complexity for passengers.
- Crazy intransigence about a hopelessly inadequate reinstatement of Albert St
Extremely slow progress on changing anything
This has been particularly evident on a number of key projects. Perhaps the most notable of these has been AMETI, which after seven years of AT’s existence still doesn’t yet even have consent for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga, let alone Botany. Also notable has been the new bus network which was meant to be completed by 2016 but now won’t be till sometime in 2018. Many other projects have suffered delays or take an extremely long time, even projects that should be simple. One such example is that it could be up to 18 months to get a bit of white paint laid.
A culture of secrecy
In addition to the CRL costs mentioned above, AT has had shocking culture of secrecy over the years. Examples include that they didn’t tell the Mayor or Councillors they were investigating Light Rail until they suddenly realised at the last minute it needed to be included in the Council’s Long Term Plan documents if they wanted to get it funded. This was a strategy that helped make the government agencies more sceptical of the project. More recently we saw AT try and kill the Victoria St Linear Park, a key project in council documents, in large part because of backroom discussions with the Universities and they surprised council again with a sudden funding request for more (much needed) trains.
Obviously not everything has been bad and one of the most notable aspects has been the general growth in public transport use, which has grown by more than 40% – although it might be even higher if more projects were completed on or near time.
The AT CEO role will be the latest in string of recent changes within our transport agencies.
- The NZTA got a new CEO back in 2015. Earlier this year the NZTA restructured their senior leadership team which I understand was to break down some of the silo’s that existed within the organisation.
- Over at the Ministry of Transport, a new senior leadership structure starts at the beginning of next month. One of the interesting comments in the announcement is about teams no longer being mode based.
Peter initiated an organisational review in February to reflect the changing nature of the Ministry’s work.
“The increasing importance of emerging technologies, urban development, housing, tourism, and environmental and social issues all have impacts on our transport system – and I believe we need to make changes now to continue delivering what is being asked of us,” Peter says.
“A key difference under the new structure is that our teams are no longer mode based. This makes us more agile and helps us to bring a systems thinking approach to the transport sector.
With so much change on in recent times and coming up, we can only hope this will lead to better outcomes for transport.