This week we are taking a break from our usual Friday roundup. It’ll be back next Friday.

We have all been waiting to see what impact Auckland’s new mayor and council might have on the city’s transport direction. The messages so far have been pretty mixed.

Meanwhile, Auckland Council’s complex architecture of plans and strategies that provide direction for Auckland Transport’s activities remains in place. And in most cases, it would require a complex and lengthy process of public consultation to change those plans and strategies.

Despite this, it seems like Auckland Transport’s Interim Chief Executive Mark Lambert is already suggesting the organisation might ‘jump the gun’ and embark on significant change to their current plans and strategies.

A worrying article published yesterday on The Spinoff by Hayden Donnell reported on an internal staff meeting:

Auckland Transport will be putting some cycling projects on hold and making sure it considers cars more in road upgrades, its top executives told an all-staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Interim chief executive Mark Lambert said the change in direction was a response to a letter from incoming mayor Wayne Brown, staff members present at the meeting told The Spinoff…

…Though Brown doesn’t have the authority to set AT’s direction, and any actual policy decisions are the responsibility of the council’s governing body where he has just one of 21 votes, Lambert said the letter would be treated as an informal letter of expectation, two sources say.

Lambert said the agency would respond to Brown’s instructions by making sure road users who can’t walk, cycle or use public transport are considered more in project planning, revisiting some cycling projects that are now more controversial than they were before the election, and looking at delegating more decisions to local boards.

Lambert also signalled a potential slowdown in public transport investment.

Obviously there’s a process issue here, with AT jumping the gun ahead of formalised direction from the Council. And while on paper the Mayor might have the numbers around the Council table to push for a change in direction, the Council is fairly evenly balanced.

So, this pre-emptive interpretation of the Mayor’s letter would represent a significant change in direction that’s arguably inconsistent with a whole variety of Council plans and strategies, let alone with the Government transport plans and strategies that also guide what Auckland Transport does.

But setting aside the process issues, what’s perhaps most worrying here is how it looks like Auckland Transport is now jumping to attention to respond to this political direction – when they seem to have spent most of the past five years or so doing everything they can to avoid giving effect to Council‘s political direction around making our streets safe, and focusing less on cars and more on enabling people walking, cycling and using public transport.

Reaction to this news is about what you’d expect:

Perhaps above anything else, we have been enormously frustrated at how bad Auckland Transport has been over the past few years at giving effect to the Council’s strategic direction.

It wasn’t always certain whether this inability was due to just a general challenge of getting stuff done, or whether it was because key leaders within Auckland Transport simply didn’t believe in the task they had been set – and had been malevolently working behind the scenes to undermine achieving this direction.

Sadly, it seems it was the latter and that the organisation have been acting in bad faith with the council, government and the public.

In other news Heidi has decided to resign from Greater Auckland in order to concentrate on more direct action and other creative endeavours. She says, “I wish the Greater Auckland community well, and will continue to enjoy reading the posts and comments. Once I have some other tasks completed, I may be able to submit some guest post ideas in future. Thank you to the Greater Auckland team – who have generously taught me so much, and who give an incredible amount of time and energy to this work. Truly amazing people. Thanks, too, to the readers who take the ideas further out into society, and to the commenters who regularly contribute their knowledge and thinking. These public discussions are incredibly important.’

The Greater Auckland team thanks Heidi from the bottom of our hearts for her simply massive contribution over the years and what she has brought to us. We wish her the best of luck, and look forward to her future Guest Posts.

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  1. “…making sure road users who can’t walk, cycle or use public transport are considered more in project planning” lol as if these users aren’t the only ones who have been given consideration over the majority of the last 70 years. What an embarrassing retrograde step.

    1. also, watch them continue to ignore people who can’t walk, cycle or use public transport (disabled people, babies, children, some elderly) and instead focus on people who just don’t want to.

      1. Exactly. When people tell me that they “can’t use PT” because it doesn’t go where they want it’s usually code for “I don’t want to use PT”. Very retrograde step by AT – I seriously don’t understand why their response couldn’t have been a polite “thanks for advising us of your hopes for AT during your Mayoralty. We await the formal Letter of Expectation. In due course.” Knowing, of course, that the letter is agreed by the full Council and there will be a lot of discussion over some of Brown’s more car-focused objectives before the LoE is agreed. Absolutely wimpish. And of course there are strategies and plans in place (PLTP and RPTP in particular) which represent an agreed direction.

        Knowing that Lambert was previously personally responsible for PT and oversaw the progressive moves on PT that have been taken in the last decade makes it even harder to accept. Maybe he has been given an instruction by the acting Chair?

      2. The great irony is that these people don’t want to walk, bike or use public transit because of the number of noisy, space hungry cars on our roads. A lack of investment in pedestrian and bike infrastructure doesn’t help the situation and nor does the embarrassing infrequently of public transit services due to, you guessed it, a lack of investment!

  2. Is AT so broken that we should put our shoulders to the groundswell that wants it broken up so we can start again. It’s obvious Rodney Hide’s grand idea hasn’t worked for everyone.

    1. This. The jury is in and the super city CCO experiment of Rodney Hide has turned out to be an utter fiasco. It was all designed for privatisation and the looting of the public purse anyway, so time to get of rid of them.

      Who would have thought unaccountable technocratic managerialism where untouchable members of an elite executive class get to spend public money with no to minimal political checks, balances and oversight would be a failure?

      1. I keep saying this until I’m blue in the face. Before the SuperCity, urbanists on the predecessor of this blog and elsewhere were continually bemoaning the fragmented and politicised nature of local body transport decision making. The classic example was the railway bridge over the Whau, where the Auckland and Waitakere City Councils couldn’t agree on what to do with it.

        We DREAMED of having something like AT, is the issue. The fact that we didn’t anticipate that its leadership would, in vulgar terms, suck, doesn’t mean that it’s not the right thing in principle. Or does it?

        I would make a point about “short historical memory”, but then I noticed the comment above me is bringing back the late Penny Bright’s conspiracy theory about “it’s all a set-up for privatization”, so maybe there’s too much historical memory, I dunno.

        1. you could just run it like every other council: where it is the democratically elected councilors deciding which projects go ahead, rather than the unaccountable CEO/board. The way it’s currently run seems more like Waka Kotahi, where the Government has, at best, indirect levers to get it to deliver the outcomes it wants.

          Now that there is one Auckland Council making decisions for all of Auckland, that would fix most of the fragmentation, wouldn’t it?

        2. I mean, the logical counterargument to that is: do you really want Wayne Brown and Mike Lee making the practical decisions about transport infrastructure?

          If there is a criticism to be made about this blog’s strategy over the last few years, it’s an assumption that making actual cogent, thought-out, evidence based argument about transit issues would matter a hill of beans to either the politicians or the professional bureaucrats. It honestly seems that the real question is not whether electeds make the decision, or managerial professionals – it’s that they both come from the same class of older gentrification millionaires.

        3. Have occasionally thought that if there was a central planning office, that overlooked all projects and reported directly to the planning committee that there could be a more co-ordinated approach to projects. Leaving the COOs responisible for implementation and operations. Would this lead to better outcomes and more compliance to council directives?

        4. I hear people saying how unaccountable AT is all the time, and I have to say that it is just plain wrong. There are a number of mechanisms that Council can use to direct and control AT – not least of them the budget process. However my experience of observing Councillor through a number of budget processes is that they don’t rock the boat because to do so might be seen as controversial and even might set Councillor against Councillor (especially when it comes to setting project priorities). Councillors would much rsther leave that to AT and then criticise from the sidelines in my experience.

          What people mean by “holding AT accountable” is having the ability to micro-manage. People have very short memories as Daphne says – pre-AT transport was fragmented and beholden to narrow political interests. Whatever AT’s failings, let’s not forget our history and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        5. Yes. And then there’s the Board, which approaches governance as if it’s about managing the risks to AT’s assets. And as if they can each spend just a handful of days each month as directors, despite the transport system creating multiple crises for the city. No-one should be on this particular board unless they’re willing to actually come up to speed on the problems, the details, the governance solutions.

          I’m disgusted.

  3. This is satire though…right?

    The quotes being taken from the CEO almost seem like a joke response to Wayne Brown, the wording seems like a p*ss take?

    That said they can’t get any worse than they have been, what are they gonna do build less cycle lanes and PT upgrades than they do already? We are doomed anyway if you read what the UN says..

    Anyway, thank you Heidi, its been great reading your artciles. Good luck!!! 🙂

      1. Presumably in the hope of getting the CEO job permanently. How best to stop it as he’s obviously bad news? Who appoints the AT CEO?

    1. I’ve been consulting on an extensive network of prioritised bus lane and cycling infrastructure which we have just been told is on pause until 2023 >:( so yes, it gets worse.

    2. The UN gives out all the bad news but the fact is each fraction we mitigate is ending countless suffering and pain for ourselves and other species.
      We can’t let AT and Auckland council get away with this.

  4. Thanks Heidi for all your work. You have been a real inspiration to me with your endless writing and campaigning to make a difference.

    1. The quantity of loud, space-hogging automobiles on our roadways discourages people from walking, biking, or using public transportation, which is a big irony. The problem phrazle isn’t helped by the fact that pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure hasn’t been adequately funded, nor by the fact that public transportation services run so embarrassingly seldom.

  5. Is this April first?

    “Auckland Transport to ensure road users who can’t walk, cycle or use public transport are considered more.”

    Wasn’t Mark Lambert in charge of public transport, I guess that say something, one stiff letter from a mayor who hasn’t secured the support of council yet and he’s sacrificing public transport to make more room for traffic.

  6. Massive thanks to Heidi for all the articles you’ve written.

    As for AT…….sigh……this is just surfacing the dysfunction that we all know has stagnated any actual progress for many years….

  7. Vindicates my decision to leave next year. Maybe the CRL will change things, but who knows. Hard to see a light at the end of this tunnel.

  8. Sadly AT is bunch of outdated roading idealists who still think the US is the best source if roading design. How could an intelligent person do this when there are so many successes coming out of europe?. Idiots

  9. Thanks Heidi, you will be sorely missed at GA. You have made an enormous difference to the world through your work already and I am excited to see what your next steps might be.
    All the best, Rober

  10. Thanks Joe, Sacha, Paul, Brendan and GA for the kind words! Paul – looking forward to hatching plans with you soon.

    “Mark Lambert said the change in direction..” A change in direction is something directors decide, not an acting CEO. The question here is:

    Did Mark decide on this “change of direction” with the Board’s approval?

    If not, he must resign. If it is with the Board’s approval, then I suppose the Government needs to appoint Independent Commissioners.

  11. So how exactly will that be different to what have been going on for the last couple of decades? It’s always been about the cars…What cycling or public transport have been getting is peanuts and nowhere near what is needed to create an actual change. Mr Brown is delusional thinking that this will improve anything on our roads. More roads will not solve the problem. To be fair more buses won’t do that as well – we have heaps of them so we need priorities so that they’re fast and reliable. And we need safe cycleways so that cyclists stop dying on the roads.
    It is absurd…

    1. Yeah, but this decision enables them to actively take money out of the cycling and PT budget because dairies will be saved by the two people who can park in front at any given time.

      I wonder about those people who can’t walk, can’t take PT and can’t cycle. How can they drive? Should they drive? Should there be more accessible PT (like trams with street level entry for wheelchairs) or shops within 500m of accessible apartments with sidewalks leading to them broad enough for two prams or wheelchairs passing each other? Or should we built massive parking lots so people can drive all the way* there?

      This is ridiculous and makes me actually quite angry.

      *after having driven all the way there, you just need to cross this 200m of parking lot without pedestrian infrastructure and then notice the elevator is on the lower deck of the garage.

      ps. Thanks Heidi!

  12. Direct action, Heidi? Like, gluing yourself to works of art? Or actual direct action of the type you can’t talk about in a forum where the cops are watching? 🙂

  13. It really is essential that Wayne gets on with his actual job of producing policy direction not press releases.
    Working with his Council to produce a clear statement of intent for AT needs to be right at the top of the list.

    The problem right now is the media statement of malcontent. This only creates uncertainty and for a CCO that is already known to be very risk adverse that is just going to lead to institutional paralysis. I don’t see this as an actual change of direction by AT so much as just a decision spend time rethinking (translation: stall on having to make any hard decisions) until the SoI gives clarity.

    1. Agree that there is a vacuum of real information. Generic statements that things will change are not very useful. All we really heard prior to the election was less road cones, finish the projects in hand before starting more, open up Albert St faster and that future projects will be thrifty. Pushing project decisions to local boards is also interesting but I don’t know if this might speed decisions. I’m still waiting for any sort of Meola Rd cycleway. I’d also like to know the cost and opening date for CRL. How long will the vacuum last?

    2. Wayne Brown knows very well that the real power of the mayoralty is as a bully pulpit. We have seen, and we can expect years of, him trying to prosecute his pet causes via the media instead of within Auckland Council (where the mayor is weak).

  14. Wishing you all the very best in your new journey Heidi. I have always enjoyed your well-considered, people first outlook, and also the considerate way you have dealt with differing viewpoints. Go well, Nga mihi nui, Vinny

  15. I would like to say this to all government agenices.

    While you’re deciding how to spend or not spend my tax dollars, can I have them back I’ve got projects I do want to do, and that are simply awaiting funding? Happy to pay again once you decide what to do.

  16. Heidi, your effort has been simply outstanding. Time will show that you have stood on the right side of history. Too late most others will realise, what if we had actually done something, individually and collectively, to reduce emissions. All the very best in your next endeavour.
    GA will be the poorer for the absence of your regular contributions.

  17. Wow – am truly lost for words on this news… As others have said, surely it can’t be correct? Taking the foot of the gas around PT patronage is a city where it’s still so poor for so many is beyond a joke…

    1. Ah but you see – in the view of the dinosaurs, the last 2 years have proven that PT is not WANTED by Aucklanders. Why else would PT have crashed while people keep driving?

  18. Shows how ineffective Goff was, he was so neutral that AT didn’t have any direction to go by. I think this was a big reason the left didn’t win council, left voters couldn’t be bothered voting because their candidates have proven to be ineffectual and soft. I expect we will see this in the upcoming government election too.

  19. It’s easy to get angry with the right, but they are just doing what they were democratically elected to do. The anger should be directed at the left who were so ineffective in 3 (or more?) Auckland Council terms.

    1. Yes, thank you so much for your massive contribution Heidi.
      Anger also towards our Labour Government for its timidity over 2 terms to effect the changes we need to make to have any hope of averting the coming climate catastrophe.
      I believe for example Michael Wood was played by Waka Kotahi over the Habour Bridge cycle bridge. This was never going to fly with the general public and Wood fell for it.

  20. It’s funny. For many years AT ignored their responsibilities to people of Auckland and tried to be as sluggish and ineffective as possible. Now when a politician sent a very general and vague letter they suddenly jump on it to interpret it as ‘we have to change direction so finally we can go from bad to terrible’. Like how did they come to these conclusions. And the letter wasn’t even formal. Buffling. But it’s AT. Who could expect any better from them.

    1. I think they feel empowered, they can do stuff without being thrown under the bus (although it would probably be cancelled anyway). Previously with Goff they were criticised no matter what they did.

  21. All the best, Heidi. You have raised the level of debate on transport through GA posts and discussions, from out-there ideas that really deserve talking over to solid, straightforward stuff that should just plain be done.

  22. Thanks all.
    Jack and Taka-ite, keep up the post writing, and asking for better outcomes!
    Vinny, I think of you when I need some calming inspiration. Thanks.
    John, Kerry, Streetguy – appreciate the kind words.
    Dave – indeed! Let’s make that happen sometime.

  23. Wow. As my gold carded cycling father has said, Wayne Brown is stuck in last century. This city needs climate change action, and bikes are the biggest part of this, not to mention the health benefits; obviously hard to enjoy while surround by carbon emitting private motor vehicles etc. The off road shared paths are gems in this city, but they are disconnected by not just Moana, but motorways, roads, trucks, everything created from the 1950’s. As Efeso Collins noted, it will not be easy to push back against this national psyche. But if we want our children to survive to our age, then we must start pushing back a lot harder, without resorting to the simple vitriol and other uneducated, bigotted, unevolved loud speakers that seem to dominate the radio waves and have learned to harness soclal media also. Wayne Brown does not have a mandate, and certainly even an elected mayor does not have a mandate to do what he is doing. This is autocracy on a civic level. There is no place for it in Aotearoa 2022, and certainly not in the grand city of Auckland, Tamaki Makaurau.

  24. Good news at last from AT acknowledging their lack of interest in the 25 % of the population that live with illness and impairments that just cannot “get with the programme” I.e. cannot use buses, cannot walk long distances, or rise a bike, and so on.

  25. Good news at last from AT acknowledging their lack of interest in the 25 % of the population that live with illness and impairments that just cannot “get with the
    programme” I.e. cannot use buses, cannot walk long distances, or ride a bike, and so on.

    1. Still haven’t heard how you’re supposed to do this trip if you’re one of the 30% of the population that are disallowed to drive.,174.8405954/Milner+Mobility+9+Pacific+Rise,+Mount+Wellington,+Auckland+1060/@-36.919444,174.8386123,17z/data=!4m9!4m8!1m0!1m5!1m1!1s0x6d0d48ee40e33de3:0xf1f26dc244a9ccc2!2m2!1d174.8389555!2d-36.9217275!3e0

      An intersection with a grand total of zero pedestrian legs.

      Turns a 500m distance into 2.5km of walking. Uncontrolled 5 lane road crossings, multiple uncontrolled slip lanes….

    2. That 25% includes my buddy with epilepsy who can walk cycle or catch PT, but not drive and my buddy you uses a wheelchair and catches the bus, but also cannot legally drive. When will they be considered in planning?

  26. Is there is way to restructure the whole organisation? If so, how will this work or make it happen? The current organisation is NOT doing anything positive for Auckland. Sorry for the rant but it is frustrating that they are still in static mode.

  27. I also want to throw in a vote of thanks to Heidi – not just that you have been a tireless (?!) advocate for better Transport solutions, but also that you (and Daphne too) have made GA not such a male dominated discussion. It has been really awesome to have your slant – and sensible, grounded thinking, on GA over the years and I hope you return !

  28. Remember, long long ago, when All Aboard Aotearoa took Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to the High Court? And AC argued that AT didn’t have to follow “Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri : Auckland’s Climate Plan” when creating the RTLP.

    Greater Auckland described it at the time:
    “Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri was the culmination of years of community-wide advocacy and internal Council policy work. It was created via a democratic process that required commitment from the public in time, resource and effort, as well as ratepayer-funded Council resource.”

    And AT basically ignored it when writing the RTLP.

    But a letter from the new mayor? Better get on that right away.

  29. And thank you Heidi for your valuable and informative work and contributions here, and your wider advocacy.

  30. Should we all reduce emissions by following your approach, which seems to be sitting at home in front of your keyboard with your finger up your oorse.

  31. Is your perception that the council is majority right leaning? If so, I have news, its not.

    This is purely Brown bypassing the democratic process. Sending letters not endorsed by the council. Contravening the offical direction that the the CCOs have received.

    It is quite funny watching righties absolutely lap up Browns rhetoric at the moment though. It was the same thing (but opposite political side) with Goff at the start. Then the rhetoric washed away into ineffectual status quo keeping when rubber hit the road. Same will happen here. Brown needs council votes to do anything with real effect, votes he will struggle to get.

    And no need to report the comment for hate speech, private platform under no obligation to keep any comments at all.

  32. All the best Heidi; you have created some brilliant, informative and detailed articles over the years and provided some insightful and constructive comments to the discussion as well…

    As for Akld Trpt… I suspect there will be some incredibly frustrated staff further down the rungs at this fast about-face (they’ve been frustrated enough already at the slow pace of change for many things meant to be heading in the right direction…). I get that a big city like Auckland has a LOT of different levers to pull at the same time, and yet Akld Trpt still seem to make many tasks far harder than they really should be, especially for an organisation technically without significant direct political interference…

    1. Yep fully agree, Heidi has opened many eyes with a different way of thinking and different expectations of what Auckland should become. All the best.

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