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.

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47 comments

  1. Had this restructure demoted the people who:

    – Put the Roads and Streets Framework under review
    – Delayed the release of the Transport Design Manual
    – Slashed the Cycling Budget
    – Wrote the disastrous roads-biased budget that was aborted after outcry
    – Held back from fully adopting Vision Zero as committed to, by using terms like “Working Towards Vision Zero” because industry partners didn’t want to have to move so quickly
    – Refused to incorporate “road reallocation” into the Statement of Intent, despite it being in Goff’s Letter of Expectation
    – Left the New Network team without support from a Transfers and Wayfaring budget

    Then I would be encouraged. Instead, those people seem to have more control than ever, and the advocates for a more liveable city who remain (many have been fleeing the sinking ship) are left powerless. I think Shane has listened to the wrong people.

    1. Maybe, just maybe, if the restructure at least goes some way to breaking down the silo mentality, it might encourage some of those who have left in recent times to consider returning in the hope that effecting change might be a little more possible than it has been in the past? That’s my half full glass view of things anyway 🙂

      1. Structure doesn’t change culture. Leaders do.

        I think Heidi is right to watch who gets moved where, because that will tell you a lot about what the reality will be.

        Silos happen because you have people who put their power and control above the mission, and because you have internal reporting and performance frameworks that emphasize process milestones over substantive outputs and evaluated outcomes.

        What the restructure does to the framing of work and how success is defined will also be telling.

    2. It sounds like what they are doing makes sense to me. Why have a separate walking and cycling team when walking and cycling should be part of all transport decisions.
      I get the feeling it is all to hard to make a simple change to a road at the moment. They have to get a whole lot of teams together, all of which want to make the change more complex and expensive. I’ve see plenty of little road changes around where I think why didn’t they make some walking and cycling changes at the same time – my guess is because it is just too difficult to get agreement.

      1. Yes, there’s a simplicity that appeals. And it would work if providing cycling and walking amenity on roads had to come out of the road projects and roads maintenance budgets – after all it is a cost resulting from the danger posed by motor vehicles.

        Then the 20% of transport budget that the UN says we should be spending on walking and cycling could just be put towards off-road walking and cycling infrastructure, eg paths through parks, new acquisition of alleyways to provide permeability through 60’s style dendritic roading patterns, new walking and cycling bridges.

        If that is what the people who set strategy in AT are gong to enable, Ellison must have done some magical professional development work with them since they put the RASF under review for its ’emerging financial implications’.

    3. Yes, who is coming or going will be very important. If a lot of the old school people or thinking is removed I have hope otherwise….

      One thing that gives me hope from the herald article is: “A new senior executive role has, however, been created to cover safety. An expert from the Australian state of Victoria, which leads this part of the world in road safety, has been recruited and will start work later this month.”

      I wonder who this is? Also is this statement correct regarding Victoria: “leads this part of the world in road safety”?

  2. In standard organisation design processes structure follows strategy. As this blog has repeatedly reported AT’s strategy is woolly headed, verbose and self serving. If AT has been re-structured to support the implementation of its strategy we can expect a muddled, padded and self serving structure. If it has not been re-structured to support the implementation of it’s strategy we can have limited expectation that AT’s strategies, such as they are, will be implemented. I think we need to hear from the Board with less about Governance and more about Transport and Place Making Strategy!

  3. If it results in one less group to have to deal with then I support the change. A Hydra with one less head is an improvement.

  4. I think we all know how this restructure will work. The staff in the 84 disposed positions will be largely transferred into many of the 112 new ones, maybe through some notional resign and reapply process that will retain all time served benefits. Additional positions will all be junior non decision making places.
    In all likelihood a few managers who have been generally disagreeable or even innovative but going against established procedures will be gone.
    In reality nothing much will change. The old Moar road guard will still be there generally resisting change and treating everyone else, especially AC, with measured contempt.
    The CEO will eventually give up in frustration and move off to boss an electric or phone company or perhaps overseas.
    Too cynical? Sure.

    1. I’ve had a bit to do with restructures in several large companies, and agree. I want to give Shane the benefit of the doubt, but this modelling you’ve succinctly outlined is painfully familiar and deployed with regularity.
      Redeploying the walking and cycling team throughout the company with roles that have the power to hold up or progress projects could be a beneficial move. I don’t have any inside information however, and my observational reckons suggest that the team was blindsided by the restructure. Which in turn suggests that it’s unlikely that there is an intention to place these people in influential positions.
      I remain worried as an invested partner to Auckland Transport, but haven’t had all hope quashed yet as I’ve set my expectations to ‘low’. I hope they are wildly exceeded.

  5. Having worked in an organisation that is large and has a very large and steep management pyramid, I can say with clarity that silo’s are a natural outcome of such structures.

    Too many layers of management, aimed at micro managing a particular area equals managers reporting to managers who in turn are justifying their jobs by controlling each level of their bureaucracy in their corner of the empire, all the while forgetting the basic objective of the greater organisation. A mindless never ending management-fest.

    I am guessing from what I have seen that AT is one such manager heavy organisation and if it is, it needs to move to a flat structure quickly.

    And maybe AT, like its parent Auckland Council need to focus on core objectives and pull back from trying to be everything to everyone, as in AC’s latest “Great Leap Forward” social campaign with cat extermination that are not chipped in certain areas. Why the hell is the council messing with this kind of Maoist crap?

  6. Without a simplified structure – four functional groups for example – service development, operations, customer service and finance-HR-IT..and without dramatically reducing the layers between the frontline and the organisation top – staff, Team Leader, then Leader, silos, siloed thinking and bureaucracy continue unhindered…no matter how many times the deckchairs are rearranged.

  7. People don’t restructure because things are going too well and improvements are too fast.

    Political leadership is required to bring this organisation to heal.

    The two Phils & Jacinda need to apply a bit of stick.

  8. I’d like to give Mr Ellison the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure he means well, but as a cynic I’d say some team got too big for it’s boots, stepped on too many toes, got too successful in promoting a certain mode and garnered too much attention. Now it is being dismembered into oblivion, never to be heard from again.

    It was fun while it lasted though. I feel for Kathryn King and all the great work she has done over the past few years. I’d wager she’ll cut her losses and head back to more civilised climes in Europe where she will be better appreciated.

    1. If the budget was completely reallocated to what is actually required: walking, cycling, public transport, safety, road reallocation, public education, basic maintenance, transfers, better amenity for loading / unloading, placemaking, environmental improvements, and if all the wasteful and destructive traffic capacity projects (which are taking the lion’s share of the budget) were stopped, Kathryn King’s experience would be needed in one of the top positions.

      I think Ellison is genuinely trying to improve a dysfunctional organisation, and genuinely trying to improve safety on our roads. But if he’s understood the big problem – of regressive thinkers determining strategy – and has a personnel shake-up on its way, he’s got his hand very well covered.

  9. This decision to restructure was kept under wraps until very, very recently. Walk Auckland had a meeting scheduled for Monday 5th with Kathryn King, Manager of Walking & Cycling. Indeed we got a reminder and confirmation message just last week, followed by an email exchange about the agenda. Suddenly at 9pm on Sunday evening (who is working at that day and time?) we were advised that our meeting has been cancelled. So, amongst all the other questions – if there is no longer to be a Manager for Walking and Cycling, who exactly do advocacy groups like Walk Auckland engage with? While we can obviously take part in project specific consultations, there are many more generic issues that we have discussed with AT over the years and wish to continue engaging with them over. For example, the Lime scooter trial which came about without any discussion whatsoever with Walk Auckland or Living Streets Aotearoa and which we most certainly wanted to discuss at the abandoned meeting.

  10. They need to make the organization design for user experience rather than tick the boxes.

    The current process is focus on moving x number of cars from A to B. The teams just implements the hard requirements with disregard to user experiences.

    The better process is to think about the user use cases and design from that. Then have the teams to implements that requirements and measured based on user experiences and satisfaction.

    1. Yes that’s my thinking too. A good example is how few pedestrian crossings we have in Auckland, because ‘traffic flow’ is considered more important than the safety of people trying to cross a road. Until we see real change in the most basic priorites within AT it won’t matter how many times the we restructure or suffle people around.

  11. What? AT built 20.7 km of cycling infrastructure in two years? Is that all? Wow, that is a surprisingly low figure.

    I’ve asked the people in the know what Christchurch City got onto the ground in 2016/17 and 2017/18 (i.e. presumably the same two financial years). Basically, they got 25 km done in the last three years, but nothing much was happing in the 2015/16 financial year when they started (ever so slowly) with the Unicycle route. My guess would be that in 2015/16, they built some 3 km of the route; it finally opened in September 2017. So all up, little old Christchurch (population 360,000) has, at some 22 km, put more cycling infrastructure down over two years than Auckland Transport has (population 1,600,000).

    Jeez, guys, you need to accelerate a tad.

    1. Hardly a fair comparison. CHCH streets are mostly wide and empty and land is a lot cheaper, so it’s easy to stick in cycle lanes. They didn’t even have rush hour traffic up til a few years ago.

      1. Compare the sizes of the cities, and the (additional) latent demand for cycling that Auckland has, that stems from frustration at such a dysfunctional transport network. They certainly get resistance to the removal of a few parking spots in Christchurch.

        Our cyclelane figures are very poor. Ditto for the buslane rollout. And there are over 600 outstanding requests for footpaths! Communities simply wanting to walk and knowing it’s not safe. Schools have to wait in line for traffic calming. Let’s be clear that this is not a cycling team problem – it’s the lack of investment and planning in the right places.

        1. I think you are right Heidi. Signs are that Auckland Council’s planning org. and their transport people don’t seem to work together effectively. It’s important that particularly on big projects where development depends on good public transport and the supporting infrastructure, council would require the 2 organisations to be on the same page. If AT is dysfunctional then the same could be said for Auckland Council. This debate points to a bigger problem. Very interesting.

          1. It’s a giant unwieldy bureaucracy, that by its very design, is virtually unanswerable to those who fund it.

            Great isn’t it?

  12. I have refined my technique of dealing with AT when they ask developers to fund things. Rather than fighting them I now tell the Council I am very supportive of AT’s ideas but AT should build them as they own the roads and that is their job after all.

      1. Waspman sadly you are not wrong.Talking about it on this or any other blog is not going to bring Auckland back from the disaster it has become. What do you think needs to happen?

        1. Hi Anne, Crazy I know but…..

          Have elected and therefore accountable representatives that have input and control in both AC and AT. Also known as a democracy

          Currently our elected councillors have virtually none.

          In fact, under the”Supercity” model I struggle to see why we even bother to vote!

  13. despite all its faults, this Wellingtonian is growing envious of the progress actually being made up there while we are fixated on the moar roads only approach in the capital.

  14. “Staff were blunt. They told AT the “prevailing approach inside the organisation was avoidance and oppositional behaviour”.”

    So what was AT’s approach when faced with this behaviour? An employment relations specialist would say that you call such behaviour; and if there is no change then you embark on performance management. Bizarrely AT seem to have utilised the same behaviour that they seem to find unacceptable and have avoided the issue by shuffling the deck. (I wonder where the staff learnt the unacceptable behaviour from?)
    It’s very conceivable that not only do AT now have staff that have the same behaviour, but on top of that are also disgruntled.

    1. In Takapuna AT are putting a cycle lane in Hurstmere Road up-grade, due to start soon. Hard to understand this as the next closest cycle lane is in Shakespeare Road Milford.

        1. Seapath runs from Northcote to Esmonde Road doesn’t it? I don’t think it connects to Hurstmere Road. There are other transport projects already planned and it would be a pity if they are delayed by AT’s ‘behaviour’.

          1. Cycle lanes are right up there in priority, though. And we won’t get a connected cycle network unless we take every opportunity to put them in.

      1. There are on street painted cycle lanes on Lake Rd south of Esmonde, on Esmonde Rd and on Taharoto Rd as far as Anzac (which I use regularly). They all stop annoyingly short of Takapuna but they’re definitely closer than Shakespeare Rd

        1. Good thinking Sailor Boy. This will likely discourage the huge amount of resurfacing that has occurred in the last two years and this money could be better spent elsewhere.

  15. Speaking of “lack[ing] results on delivery”, it’s now past the due date for the ian mckinon cycleway. One month of on road work and they still haven’t managed to even place all the prefabricated separators down. Whatever caused the month long delay in starting on-road works has obviously pushed out completion date.

  16. A change is certainly needed but I’m not sure this is the solution. Given some of the projects completed in recent years they really need to focus on what cycle infrastructure needs to look like. I think there has been a lot of money wasted building things that are barely fit for purpose. It should have been compulsory for anyone working in that department to be a year round rain or shine commuter cyclist. I suspect there were few.
    Some examples of their poor work include the cycle lanes through the Mt Albert shops, the Waterview cycleway, Dominion Rd parallel cycle routes, failing to install underpasses on the western cycle route at Carrington and St Lukes Rds.
    I’d also point out that only in the last week has work begun to repair the Gt Nth Rd cycle route bridge over oakley creek that was smashed in a storm 3 winters ago.

  17. Another issue is AT are focus on big projects and totally ignored the obvious low hanging fruits.

    Examples are missing shortcuts that connects the train stations etc.

    The current structure sends all the project teams to biggest and greatest project and ignores the other smaller yet useful projects.

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