Most Saturdays we dig into the archives. The post below was originally published on 1 April 2022. That’s barely six months ago, but it feels like a timely re-read given this week’s developments.
Developments in a nutshell: A year ago, Auckland Transport’s CEO, Shane Ellison, resigned. We wrote at the time that what was needed was a change agent. An international search identified a preferred candidate, who from the few indications we had, sounded promising.
Late on Thursday afternoon came the announcement that the successful candidate, described as “a high calibre chief executive, up for transforming Auckland Transport.” had withdrawn.
What happened? As reported by Stuff’s Todd Niall, by the time immigration clearances came through, the election had occurred. The candidate evidently sought assurances from the new Mayor Wayne Brown about the new climate he’d be stepping into, but the Mayor chose not to engage.
Matt spoke to Checkpoint RNZ yesterday about what this all means. TL;DR: it’s not great for the city. So what next? As per AT’s announcement, Interim CEO Mark Lambert will stay on until the end of March 2023 or until such time as a new CEO is appointed. It’s back to square one.
And now for a flashback within a flashback. Back in 2010 when AT was established, the appointment of the first CEO was a last-minute affair. We wrote at the time:
“Rumours had been flying around that we might get some high-flying transport visionary from overseas, but that hasn’t happened.”
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Certainly Aucklanders might have come to think, welp, c’est la vie. But it really shouldn’t be this way. AT provides and operates essential services that vitally impact the daily lives of a third of the country’s population.
Obviously we had fun writing the post below, which like the rest of our work is made up of equal parts frustration with what’s (not) happening, and hope for better days ahead. But honestly? This is getting beyond a joke.
This is the final post of Greater Auckland.
Today I can announce that I have been offered, and have accepted, the role of Chief Executive at Auckland Transport. I will succeed Shane Ellison, who announced his resignation last year. I will start in this role in early May.
While I am honoured and excited by this opportunity, I have mixed emotions. Winding up Greater Auckland, after nearly 14 years and more than 7,200 posts, has not been an easy decision. Greater Auckland has been an enormous part of my life, and I cannot thank all the other contributors enough, as well as all the commenters for engaging in the discussions.
Over those 14 years there has been a huge shift in the level and quality of conversation that have occurred about urban issues in Auckland and across New Zealand. I’m happy that we’ve been able to play a part in making that happen.
I thank the Board of Auckland Transport for making what is clearly a bold and courageous decision in hiring me for this role. For a bit of transparency, I was first approached by the recruiting agency a few months back as they wished to understand what I hoped to see in the next candidate for this role. I understand they talked to many stakeholders as part of this process. I must have made a good impression as this led to further discussions and – ultimately – selection by the Auckland Transport Board.
I believe the Board has appointed me because they recognised I was willing to lead a programme of significant change. There are many passionate people working at Auckland Transport, doing their bit to make this city a better place, but unfortunately their efforts are too frequently stifled. This is what I hope to change under my watch. I will be focused on bringing out the best in staff by improving the culture and processes they work within. By ensuring transparent decision-making is aligned with strategy, I hope to unleash the passion that our people have for making Auckland a better place.
The Board has asked me to match the courage they showed in appointing me to the position, by leading in the same vein. We discussed the need to take risks in order to aim for transport system transformation, and the Board has committed to supporting me in this.
As the outgoing CEO has said, Auckland Transport is fundamentally a delivery agency. It is our job to achieve the goals Auckland Council has set us, and deliver the change they – and through them the public – expect from the more than a billion dollars each year they entrust Auckland Transport with.
My goal is to make Auckland’s transport system one in which residents and visitors to our city find the easiest option for travel is always the healthiest and most sustainable option; and where the easiest operational decision for anyone working in the transport sphere is always the decision that will enhance the safety and liveability of our city.
I want Auckland Transport to become the sort of organisation where passionate and brilliant specialists flock – from around the city, the country and even the world – in order to be part of a thriving and exciting movement for change.
Under my watch, Auckland Transport will get on with meeting the emissions reduction and Vision Zero safety goals the Council has set us. Sometimes change will be tough, and I have no doubt that decisions we make will not be universally welcomed by all. I am rolling my sleeves up now to defend all the “tough, but right, decisions”, and to start demonstrating what is possible. This is why Auckland Transport was established at arm’s length from politics in the first place – to do the right thing, even if that is not always the most popular thing to do.
There is no doubt, a big job lies ahead of us. As 14 years of Greater Auckland posts record, there were decades of misguided decision-making that left Auckland’s transport system unsafe, unsustainable and inequitable. We remain a car-dependent city because the alternatives to driving just don’t work as well as they need to, for far too many of us. We can resolve our climate and road safety crises, but we need to radically change our transport system.
Auckland Transport will be asking Aucklanders to make changes – to drive less, to drive more slowly, to park around the corner rather than on a main road, and to minimise the risks and costs they impose on others – but we will also help them to do so, in ways that make everyone’s lives better, not worse.
I will lay out my vision for change in the coming weeks and months, through Auckland Transport’s communications channels. But let me make clear four things that will be different from day one:
- First, we will bring back a dedicated and integrated walking and cycling team. It breaks my heart that despite strong political support, more available funding than ever, and clear evidence that cycling investment must play a key role in achieving the goals Auckland Council has set us, we have struggled so much in recent years to deliver the connected all-ages routes Aucklanders want and need. Transformational change is required to unleash the potential of walking and cycling in this city, and that requires a passionate and dedicated team to impel things forward. When I employ excellent staff, I will aim to retain and empower them.
- Secondly, we will get the cars out of Queen Street immediately. As I said earlier, Auckland Transport is a delivery agency for Auckland Council. Back in 2019 Auckland Council unanimously voted to get the cars out of Queen Street – and we will do that on day one, as a symbol of our commitment to the shared vision for our city, and as a demonstration of the regeneration possible in centres all over the city.
- Thirdly, we will replace all on-street parking on arterial roads with bus and/or bike lanes as quickly as we can. We will do everything we can to ensure that never again will lives be taken tragically, and unnecessarily, due to substandard infrastructure. Accompanying this we will also immediately start ramping up parking enforcement, with a particular focus on ensuring our footpaths, bike lanes and public spaces are kept clear and safe. These actions will, together, help in providing people with viable and safe alternatives to driving.
- Fourthly, I will be making significant changes to the leadership of Auckland Transport. It is absolutely clear to me that people in senior and middle management have created barriers to progress. Anyone who has not already demonstrated their willingness to deliver change should not expect to remain in a position that requires change leadership.
At Greater Auckland we have had several long discussions about whether we can continue to operate the blog, including with some of the authors and contributors who were involved in earlier years. We have concluded that today’s post will be Greater Auckland’s last.
I wish my Greater Auckland whānau all the best, and thank them for the many years of help, commitment, expertise and hard work they so willingly and freely gave, to set the course for a greater Tāmaki Makaurau.
We have achieved much, and we will continue to do so, in new ways. Please keep advocating for Auckland to be greater and ensure that Auckland Transport is held to account for delivering a better city
Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou kātoa,
Stop press: an alternative candidate has emerged!
Ah well guess I'll just have to be AT CEO https://t.co/wB2XCkf5K4
— scoot! (@ScootFoundation) December 1, 2022