Last year the Ministry of Transport was subjected to a performance review, the results of which are now out and they don’t make for good reading. Out of the 28 attributes and tasks they were rated on, only in five were they considered ‘well placed’, only the second highest rating. The rest were listed as needing development (17) or weak (6) while in no areas were they considered strong. If I had a performance review like that in my day job I’d probably be needing to look for a new one. The reviewers say as much, commenting that the organisation needs a “re-boot”.
Even some of the areas they were marked well in feels a bit generous. For example, they were marked well for safety despite the road toll increasing again and the ministry seeming to offer no insight as to why and undertaking no actions to reverse this new trend.
One area the Ministry are marked well on is technology. This is not a surprise given it often feels likely they’re dedicating most of their resources into thinking about things like driverless cars and pizza delivery drones while little is spent on the short and medium term needs for the country.
Below are the rankings for each of the 28 areas mentioned along with the rating system.
Here are some of the more interesting comments from the report. It’s not an exhaustive list as there are just so many that could be included.
They get credit for “progressing the City Rail Link” because of the Heads of Agreement work they conducted. But this doesn’t take into account the years they spent trying to undermine and stop the project.
They have a lack of understanding about Auckland
There is a sense amongst key Auckland stakeholders that the Ministry has insufficient operational understanding and needs to draw on the operational experience of others to enhance its advice on difficult transport policy
And as part of its future focus
The Ministry as a whole will need to continue to devote resource to increasing its knowledge of Auckland transport issues and develop the capability and capacity to contribute effectively at the level and pace compelled by the city’s growth. It does not have an option to take its own time or it will quickly lose relevance.
Transport in the Regions
There are mixed views within the Ministry about what it can contribute, and what role, if any, transport policy has to play in supporting regional development. As a result the Ministry has adapted a passive ‘hands-off’ approach to the issue and is not really doing anything.
‘Multi-modal transport’ has been a Government Priority since early 2016, but the Ministry is yet to develop an understanding of what this means in practice. While the Ministry has contributed advice on specific modal issues, such as through the urban cycleways package, this has happened in an ad hoc manner and is not system-based
Regarding the increasing road toll
Further work is required to understand the underlying causes and potential initiatives to address this trend. This is likely to require a re-evaluation of the approach to road safety.
The third Safer Journeys Action Plan was seen by many as a missed opportunity, although there is growing confidence that the next Road Safety Strategy will provide impetus for a different approach.
And for their future focus
The Ministry needs to be Bold, Invested and show leadership in road safety by exposing to public debate the wide social impacts and tradeoffs that new technologies offer in this space.
Stewardship of the Transport System
They don’t understand the full impact of transport policy
The Ministry has traditionally had a strong focus on the economic analysis of transport, focused largely in the silos of the different transport modes, with social, environmental and cultural aspects less well-understood.
For the future they say a ‘mezzanine-level’ (5-year) strategy is needed and it:
- needs to develop ‘mezzanine-level’ strategy, informed by technological change and futures thinking, that is then reflected in the policy work programme. This ‘mezzanine-level’ strategy should be developed through engaging with the transport sector agencies and other stakeholders and needs to be informed by the experiences and views of customers, including those customers who are not well-served by the current transport system
- needs to shift to system multi-modal thinking where the intersections between modes are as important as the modes themselves
- in its strategic and policy thinking, must be cognisant of the social, environmental and cultural aspects of the transport system
Purpose, vision and strategy
Excellent work has been done in the 40-year horizon, but there is no intermediate 5-year strategy to guide the work on more immediate priorities and development of the Ministry’s leadership in the transport system.
The Ministry has developed these strategic statements largely internally and has not engaged the wider transport system. This means that partners and stakeholders do not understand the Ministry’s rationale. They do not see a compelling proposition from the Ministry that they can link to and that would drive a better understanding of the total system.
Some of the disconnections across the system have been reinforced by a largely siloed, modal approach to transport policy within the Ministry as well as the legislated focus of the individual transport sector agencies. Organisational changes, underway at the Ministry at the time of this review, will change this structure and way of working. This is necessary, but is not the solution on its own.
Leadership and Governance
Further to this, there is evidence that many decisions, which could be made at lower levels of the organisation under a proper delegations framework, are being handed off up the chain. This has concentrated decisionmaking, even for quite routine issues, at the top of the organisation. The consequence is that many people within the Ministry are not held accountable for their work.
Being able to write a paper well is seen as more important than having good quality advice.
The Ministry has identified that it does not have a strong ‘culture of learning’, despite in the past having worked to improve the quality of its briefings and policy advice.
For example, there is an established procedure for measuring the quality of its policy advice, but this focuses rather more on the quality of the writing of an individual paper
I think these comments reflect very poorly on the former CEO. Especially seeing as a similar review in 2013 also revealed serious issues. In mid-2016 a new CEO was appointed and they’ve just been through a large restructure which has seen significant change at the senior management level. He was also the one who instigated this review.
In an article about the review, Phil Twyford made a number of positive comments about the future he sees the ministry should be focusing on. Let’s hope they get the message quickly.
Twyford has asked the Ministry to look at transport as “an enabler of urban development, not just a way to get from A to B and reduce journey times – but to think about the effect on urban form.”
He said rapid transport systems would be an “indispensable and integral part of urban transport networks, to act as a pressure valve for peak hour congestion.”
“The idea for instance that to make cities work and in fact to get the most out of our freight system driving mode-shift, so that we get in cities more people choosing to bike walk take the train or bus, and in the freight network we get freight that can be more efficiently moved by rail onto trains, that’s a good thing.”
He said the ministry was excited by these challenges and he was confident they could deliver the policy he needed.
Twyford floated his interest in increasing central government public transport subsidies to councils so they could reduce the prices of buses and trains on the weekend – possibly even making them free.
Unlike his predecessor Simon Bridges, he is less keen on another version of the transport future – one that sees autonomous private vehicles take the load off other transport systems.
“I’m not of the school of thought that thinks that technological change like autonomous cars and pizza-delivery drones are going to rescue the transport system so that we don’t have to build rapid transit systems,” Twyford said.
He did see “mobility-as-a-service” systems where people organised many forms of transport from their smartphone as “the future” however.
The government’s job was to provide the best “mix” for each person.
“It might be cycling to meet up with a rapid transit busway or a ferry, or walking to work because there is really safe off-road walkways, or it might mean getting a ridesharing service to a rapid transit station.”
I guess one good thing about this review is there’s only really one direction to go from here, up.