The biggest challenge Auckland and the rest of the country face with transport these days is not the policy, as that aspect is generally in a fairly good space with the likes of ATAP and the current Government Policy Statement. Instead the challenge now is in delivery to ensure that the projects needed to implement those plans and policies happen in a timely manner, or happen at all. In that regard, as I wrote a month ago, we’ve become increasingly concerned about the performance of the NZTA who appear to be in complete disarray. That view was based on a number of observations we’d made.
Since that post we’ve seen more even more evidence of this issue, which is now reaching more mainstream media.
About two weeks ago Newsroom also reported that the NZTA was in disarray and that it threatened Auckland Transport projects.
Some major Auckland public transport projects are at risk of delay because of what Auckland Transport calls the “opaque” situation at NZTA.
The agency is in disarray and under review by the Ministry of Transport over its regulatory function, and its problems are now having a ripple effect.
Fears over the likely holdups surfaced at a council finance committee meeting on Wednesday looking at the organisation’s quarterly figures.
AT chair Dr Lester Levy told the committee the question of what was happening – or not happening – at NZTA was a critical one, “and an area of current concern. We need the whole eco-system there to be at the highest level of momentum and there are changes there that are quite distracting for us.”
CEO Shane Ellison said the situation was “quite opaque. We’re not getting a whole lot of visibility and the relationships that we had (at my level) are not what we had previously. Obviously we have an interim CEO (former Chorus head Mark Ratcliffe) and obviously they’re dealing with a number of different things. We’re trying manage that as best we can … but the key issues are, business cases and funding requests are not being approved in a timely way.”
Ellison said five instances where projects are being held up have been included in a letter sent to NZTA.
Then, a week ago Todd Niall over at Stuff reported on this too.
Transport officials in Auckland are frustrated at lengthy delays for government funding approvals and additional costs being added by red tape.
A major revamp of the transport interchange at Waiheke Island’s main ferry wharf spent a year going through NZTA processes before being denied funding in the forseeable future.
A planned bus and rail interchange at Puhinui may miss its America’s Cup deadline amid repeated rejections by NZTA of the scope for a business case seeking funding.
Auckland Transport’s chief executive Shane Ellison has listed the projects in a letter, and NZTA has admitted it is struggling with the level of funding bids from around the country.
Auckland Transport said the projects affected were those already on a list of work agreed between the council and the government, in ATAP – the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.
In a letter to NZTA’s acting chief executive Mark Ratcliffe, Ellison said relatively small projects were also being hit with the high costs of full-blown business cases required by NZTA when it considers funding.
Both of these refer to a letter from AT’s CEO Shane Ellison to the NZTA. This letter was further referred to yesterday by National’s Transport Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith during question time in Parliament
Last week we asked Auckland Transport for a copy of that letter and they’ve provided it to us. It is below in full.
There’s a lot in that relatively short letter. Here are a couple of thoughts on a few of the issues raised:
Key Themes – The NZTA uses the following business case approach and the intention is that larger projects get more scrutiny. This is understandable to a degree but I wonder how many times all these extra business cases end up resulting in a materially different project. Also, at each decision gate, projects can be thrown back to the start of the loop. This is an issue that’s not unique to the NZTA and I see it in other sectors too where rigidly following the process is considered more important than the outcome. This is what appears to be happening with many projects today and as AT note in point 2, some of this appears to depend on which desk at the NZTA something lands on. I wonder how many of our key PT and cycling projects are landing on the desk of a grumpy old guy who doesn’t like those modes?
Wellesley St – It’s extremely concerning that staff from the NZTA seem completely unaware of what’s actually happening in Auckland. This is not the first time we’ve heard of this issue and it’s not just the NZTA who suffer from this – In fact I’ve witnessed it first hand in some meetings I’ve attended.
Pukekohe Electrification – It would be interesting to hear what all these ‘gaps’ are but I understand that for one of them it was considered AT hadn’t investigated enough alternative modes. I guess AT should have checked if Lime scooters could have done the job instead or if they could just replace the rail line with another motorway.
Puhinui Interchange – At the rate the NZTA seem to be taking, we’ll be lucky to even see a business case approved before 2021 and it will be 2031 before anything is built.
Huapai roads – Did AT fundamentally leave out some key design elements or did someone at the NZTA see these projects as an opportunity to get something else tacked on?
For all the projects mentioned in the letter, we’ve heard stories about many many more that are suffering the same fate as these. The NZTA need to sort these issues quickly and the minister needs to take a more active role in sorting this out.