There’s been some worrisome news in recent days after it emerged that Auckland Transport are disbanding their Walking and Cycling team as part of organisation wide restructure.
Auckland Transport is axing 84 positions and creating 112 new ones in an attempt to change an internal culture it says is based on “avoidance and oppositional behaviour”. The changes include disbanding the dedicated walking and cycling unit.
The move comes a year after the appointment of a new chief executive, Shane Ellison, and follows a major internal review by the council-controlled organisation.
AT spends more than half of Auckland Council’s rates income and often comes under fire for the way it manages roading projects, bus lanes, cycle ways and even, most recently, e-scooters.
Ellison told the Herald that AT has known all year that it needs to transform the way it works. In May it adopted a new regional long-term plan (RLTP), having earlier been criticised for producing a draft that did not recognise there was a new government with new transport priorities.
The new RLTP stresses safety, rapidly increases the spending on public transport and makes a stronger commitment to walking and cycling, known as active transport.
It’s been clear for some time that Auckland Transport need to do better with cycling. As we pointed out a few months ago, cycling projects have often become more than just about cycling and in may cases they’re now a whole street upgrade and a better name might be “safety-and-streetscape-upgrade-and-stormwater-fix-and-traffic-calming-and-pedestrian-improvements-and-retaining-parking-and-cycling projects“.
It’s because of this that AT have missed targets for delivery of cycling projects in recent years. For example their annual report for the 2017/18 financial year shows just 6.5km of cycleways from a target of 10km. That follows 14.2km from a target of 16.4km in in 2017.
For their part, AT are saying this change will mean active modes are a priority for the entire organisation. If that’s what happens then that’s fantastic but as our friends at Bike Auckland have asked, they really need to “explain how disestablishing its walking and cycling team will enhance its focus on walking and cycling and help remedy historic underinvestment in these modes“. One of my concerns is that without a dedicated team or champion, it becomes easier sideline and dis-empower those trying to deliver active modes and that this often happens at levels lower than the executive team may see.
Of course, what it does mean is that advocates like us and Bike Auckland will be certain to be even more vigilant to ensure that AT live up to the promises they’re making on delivery. Cycling numbers have seen strong growth in recent years on the back of new, safe cycleways. AT need to ensure that their plans build on that work and if anything scale them up to roll out an even wider network than previously planned. For example the 10-year cycling business case already looks it will need to be even more ambitious.
But it’s not just cycling where AT have lacked results on delivery. Many PT projects have also had issues with delivery, none more so than the Eastern Busway which has been glacially slow. I’m keen to understand how these changes will help delivery in other areas. How it will help break down the silo’s that permeate through AT that leads to poor outcomes, like those of Albert St. In theory, based on what AT have said in response to this news, there should also be PT or parking or other mode specific teams.
One of the more interesting comments from Simon Wilson’s piece on the news is this
Ellison said a key driver of Project Enable was a “culture and effectiveness survey” AT conducted among its staff in July. It was designed to discover “underlying behaviours” and had an 80 per cent response rate.
Staff were blunt. They told AT the “prevailing approach inside the organisation was avoidance and oppositional behaviour”. Typically, Ellison said, staff felt their own unit was doing well, “but the rest of the organisation was not working well together”.
These are certainly things we’ve seen and heard about over the years and a good example was highlighted recently in a paper looking at how AT dealt with a request to trial a new type of pedestrian crossing. If the restructure addresses some of those issues then it will certainly help.