Today the council will decide what to consult on in next years budget. Another important item on the agenda will be approving the Letters of Expectation for Council Controlled Organisations like Auckland Transport. The letter of expectation is meant to do what it says on the tin, to tell the CCOs what the council expects of them and the CCOs are meant to take them into account when developing their annual plans – though it seemed Auckland Transport pretty much ignored them during Phil Goff’s term.

Given much of the campaign rhetoric from the new mayor, the worry was the LoE for Auckland Transport would be regressive

The good news is that while there is some room for improvement, the LoE is largely on point. The full LoE specific to AT is below along with some commentary and suggestions for each key section.

For Auckland Transport we expect the following:

  1. A fundamental change of approach: deeply understand and respond to what matters most to Aucklanders in transport
    • an appropriate focus on travel time benefits for all modes, looking at both journey time and variability. Clear, understandable metrics for travel time are required, including exemplar journeys. Travel times should be kept at least steady on the arterial road network. Projects should be evaluated with travel-times as a key factor.
    • deeply understand and respond to other key factors that matter to Aucklanders: convenience, safety, accessibility, choice, climate change and environmental factors. This is to be supported by independent research into transport user sentiment.
    • significantly improve communication to council, customers, and stakeholders about the transport system, which is another significant factor that influences transport user experience. This is especially important in relation to public transport, so that users receive up-to-date information about services. AT should adopt better ways of engaging with the public on transport, rather than ineffective consultation.
    • ensure public can easily report issues on the network through a clear online interface and/or mobile application.

The big concern here is what or who the mayor means when he says “what matters most to Aucklanders“. The results from significant amounts of Council, Auckland transport and independent research/consultation has shown that Aucklanders as a whole want to see a lot more focus on public transport and cycling. This is an example from 2015 but we’ve seen similar outcomes in all major consultations.

The challenge has always been what happens when things get down to the individual project level, where inevitably a few very vocal opponents make the levels of opposition seem a lot larger than they are.

What is required here is for a direction on AT to act on the research they already have and start delivering on projects rather than the endless cycles of consultation and redesign that is, I feel, the real cause of discontent with the organisation. Furthermore, it could also be seen in the light of, in trying to find a way to make everyone happy, they’re making no one happy.

  1. Get the most out the existing transport network
    • complete existing transport projects on time and on budget, and halt low priority initiatives that are not yet underway.
    • prioritise significant gains with faster, smaller scale improvements to arterial roads and public transport, e.g., increasing the use of dynamic lanes, smart traffic lights, transponders on buses, bus and transit lanes and re-configuration of existing roads.
    • work with government to fix the public transport crisis, address long-standing punctuality & reliability issues, and recover and improve passenger transport patronage.
    • ensure the road maintenance and renewal program is adequate and supports the whole region, including rural roads. This includes improvements to the rural road maintenance and sealing program, and targets to ensure prompt completion of simple road repairs.
    • work towards achieving Council’s objectives under the Transport Emissions Reduction Plan.
    • improved oversight and management of contractors.

Getting more out of our existing transport network has been a staple in planning documents for many years so it’s no surprise to see it here again.

It’s great to see the Transport Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) mentioned as it feels like there’s a strong chance it wouldn’t have been. However, it would be great to see councillors push for some stronger wording that just “work towards“. AT need to be required to implement the TERP otherwise they’ll just plod on with business as usual and say they’re still working towards it.

It’s also good to see the letter call for faster, smaller scale improvements such as road space reallocation. Though, when it comes to things like dynamic lanes, the requirement needs to be that these don’t come at the expense of safety. While some of the options mentioned in the letter will help PT, it’s hard to see how much actual improvement could be made for car travel. Things like smarter traffic lights have been worked on for decades so there’s no ‘pot of gold’ just sitting there untapped.

As well as fixing the current PT issues, I’d also like to more emphasis placed on improved travel times for public transport. It is covered a bit in the first segment but I feel it needs more focus. This should also include things like speeding up our trains.

  1. Reduce Auckland Transport’s cost to Council
    • deliver the proposed savings in budget ($25million) and identify future opportunities to reduce overhead in the 10-year budget process, especially in corporate costs.
    • prioritise affordability and value for money in the delivery of the capital programme. This should include phased delivery of projects and lower cost delivery of the cycling programme.
    • look at opportunities to increase external income, including parking charges and fines

I’m particularly concerned that the proposed savings in budget all come from cutting public transport services while also increasing fares. However, it is positive that the mayor is calling for increases to parking charges and fines – though some of those will need government support to change. It is absurd that AT are making public transport more expensive while some parking rates haven’t changed for over five years.

I’m also supportive of finding ways for a lower cost of delivery for the cycling programme, as long as the programme is still delivered and done so to a safe standard. It’s also important that AT are clear about just what those cycleway costs are, such as the recently discovered breakdown for the Pt Chev to Westmere project.

An estimated cost breakdown of the Point Chevalier to Westmere project, received in December 2022 in response to an October 2022 LGOIMA request by a member of the public.
  1. Deliver a better approach to traffic management: reduce developers’ footprints on roads and enable fewer orange cones
      • replace the prescriptive Temporary Traffic Management (TTM) regime, by drawing on the draft guidelines by Waka Kotahi and adopting an approach that is more targeted to risk. This is to reduce both the cost to council and other public and private organisations, as well as the footprint of temporary traffic management in the road reserve such as road cones. TTM should not be used for contractor vehicle parking

We certainly agree more could be done to improve TTM in Auckland, particularly as it regularly strands people on foot and bike, puts them in direct danger, gives them the lowest priority, and delays their journeys due a focus on vehicle flow. A particular bugbear are signs obstructing footpaths and/or cycleways.

  1. Take direction and oversight from Council
    • support the Mayor and the Transport & Infrastructure Committee to set the direction on transport in Auckland and ensure there is democratic oversight of Auckland Transport’s activities.
    • achieve closer local board involvement in the design and planning stage of local transport projects. Local projects not supported by local boards should be approved by the AT Board before they proceed and reported to the Transport and Infrastructure Committee along with why AT believes it is appropriate to proceed, for example meeting regional strategic objectives. Regional projects should consider local impacts when being implemented. Thresholds for local and regional projects should be defined in the SOI.

The mayor seems poised to hurtle into the trap for young players, one that AT specialises in, which is to send everything back through the mill for reconsideration, racking up a heap of internal hours and external consultants. Arguably, you couldn’t design a better incentive for more of the same old.

If the mayor wants to unclog the pipes of AT, a focus on clearing out the clay in the middle/top of the top of the organisation would be a better place to start.

  1. Support development of a joined-up, comprehensive transport plan, written by Aucklanders
    • the Mayor and Minister of Transport will lead development on an integrated plan across all transport modes. A shared, single plan across the many agencies that work in transport in Auckland is needed. Auckland Transport will support development of this plan.
    • Auckland Transport should support council to advocate to government for a more flexible funding assessment regime as well as identifying central government legislation that is unnecessarily constraining Auckland Transport.

We covered this the other day and it’s hard to see how this is any different to the plethora of plans that already exist but that AT just don’t deliver on. I’d also like to see them be required to take a more evidence based / best practice approach to transport.

  1. Improve performance on resource consent report delays and reduce the costs of development
    • speed up advice provided for resource consenting and report on improvements.
    • improve and automate the process for road access and road closure notices, and access to easements for utility providers, such as mobile network, fibre and backhaul builds (with appropriate safety and traffic management considerations).

It will be interesting to see how Auckland Transport take this. Despite having strong council support in the last few terms for things like active modes, they dragged their heels and delivered very little. Will they suddenly turn on a dime and do as the council say and prove they were just deliberately delaying things all this time or will they just show they’re just really poor at getting stuff done.

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  1. “support the Mayor and the Transport & Infrastructure Committee to set the direction on transport in Auckland ”

    Trying to superimpose the Mayor over the governing body again?

    1. ATAP is owned by council not AT. The Mayor is already the main sponsor from the council side for that plan. But the council transport team is understaffed vs AT, so fundamentally it still circles back to what the AT staff value and prioritise in their work and recommendations output.

      1. If the Council has a Transport team what do they do? Could bring AT back into the council fold reduce the expense of two disparate organisations?


        1. The transport team within Council provides policy support to the councilors and mayor. There are not many of them, and their support also extends to wider function like developing the Auckland Plan, the LTP and the annual budgets.

          The LGA (Auckland) would probably need to change if AT’s function was merged back into Council. Personally I think this would provide better transparency and governance than the existing structure. But it’s not an easy process.

        2. There IS significant duplication in various positions. Not only in Council and AT doing strategic work (often at odds, it seems), but also at lower levels. For example, Auckland Council regularly hires their own transport consultants to advise on / review resource consent applications by developers even though AT is also doing so. Great fun for a developer when they end up disagreeing (as if it isn’t enough that AT can disagree with itself…)

          So yes, having it all in one hand would improve a few things. Even though I dislike Brown and his policies, in the long run we got to accept that AT is not independent, and creating it as a fully hived-off, pseudo-independent org is just not actually providing any benefits. It just spreads the blame over more buraucracy.

        3. “AT is not independent” – they are pro roads regardless of which mayor or council are elected, that is pretty obvious.

  2. Hard to know what to make of this “Letter of Expectation “, as shown previous consultations show what Aucklanders want. The suggestion that AT’s consultation process is flawed,probably means “l don’t not like the answers,reconsult until you get the answers l want”.
    What all Aucklanders surely want ,is a safe ,time efficient ,way of moving around the city,at all times.
    Cars can meet either one of those objectives all the time,but not both.

    1. “The suggestion that AT’s consultation process is flawed,probably means “l don’t not like the answers,reconsult until you get the answers l want”.”

      It often also simply means “Reconsult again (and then redesign) on this project I hate, so it gets pushed out another 2-3 years”.

      Justice delayed is justice denied. So is road safety and transport choice delayed.

  3. In the context of speeding up journeys – I wonder why people are not told to get off the bus via the back door so they don’t block the incomers? (Unless disabled of course).

    1. Probably depends on what stop the bus is at. In Ellerslie on the way to the city you’re probably right but on Symonds St it would be quicker to have people disembarking through both doors.

    2. If all doors were double doors and you could get on/off at either there would be no issue at all. There is no need to tell train users what doors to use…

  4. Once the council agree to the letter it no longer becomes the mayor’s letter, it is their letter of expectations….

  5. From the Letter of Expectations:
    “Projects should be evaluated with travel-times as a key factor.”

    From this month’s issue of ‘Roundabout’ magazine.

    “Traditional ‘travel time savings’ being used to justify (poor) investment decisions is a tangible example of what we are doing wrong. If we use those metrics, we assume that demand as indicated by traffic volume is something we can accommodate with more roadway space. ”

    1. Also, (modelled) travel times in NZ are ALREADY being used far too much as a decision factor. They quite often trump ethical decisions like road safety designs, because they (the safety measures) are considered to add added travel time by slowing down traffic and reducing car capacity.

      So basically, this kind of statement doubles down on decades of unethical roading design, in the quest to get to the next queue a second faster.

  6. Allowing buses to have the right of way would improve Public Transport by saving time & money. This would also speed up journeys.

  7. Telling AT (and other CCO’s) to take a good look at corporate costs is probably not the right way to get “corporate costs” down. HR, Comms, Finance, Marketing & Design, and so on are all functions that are duplicated across all CCO’s. Council should be mandating that these functions are centralised within AC, with CCO’s no longer having these functions individually. You might even get some joined up messaging and thinking on project planning / co-ordination as well.

  8. ATs wastage of money with idiotic and unwanted “improvements” has to stop. Raised crossings at 200k where they are not needed, painting roads at ridiculous prices, the paint particles will eventually end up in the harbour and ill thought out bike lanes .. special note to tamaki drive where the bike lanes seem largely ignored by cyclists in favour of keeping to the road and a Queen Street and Kroad who’s only “benefits” seem to be sending more people to shopping malls. Second big wastage from council is funding the Te puna maunga authority for chopping down trees against the publics wishes and holding their hand out for cash as they see fit. ie a court case they lost, and are going to appeal. Yep, to chop trees down. I guess they are unaware of climate emergency, or at least see fit to ignore.

      1. All the raised platforms on Queen Street, Northcote Point.
        They increase cost due to loss of productivity while significantly increasing air pollution as Nox is proven to increase where vehicles slow down and speed up.
        There is no Skypath, no northern pathway and no cyclists on the cycle way.
        These should be removed straight away.

        1. “as Nox is proven to increase where vehicles slow down and speed up.”

          Sounds like a great reason to remove cars, not road safety devices.

          Also, it is a fallacious argument anyway. Sure, they may momentarily increase. But over the whole journey, the change from speed bumps is minuscule. Emissions come from cars being used for transport, not from speed bumps.

          People live, and walk, and cycle in Northcote Point even without SkyPath. They people walking and living there deserve safe roads, and those roads are far too wide to encourage safe speeds without traffic calming.

        2. Sorry but you are not understanding how emissions work.
          Apart from the obvious extra exhaust gasses emitted when power is applied to move away from the speed bump/table, the catalytic converter cools down at Low speeds and doesn’t capture the Nox efficiently.
          There had been no recorded incidents involving cyclists on Queen street prior to the speed tables being installed and the excuse (Skypath) for adding them is no longer relevant.
          They should be removed in the interests of public health.

        3. Speed tables are to slow down cars – mainly so pedestrians are safer, not just cyclists. Especially children who deserve to be able to do basic things like walk to school or their local shops. Let’s not be grinchy.

      2. Anything that a small hatchback can’t navigate without front-end scraping even at greatly reduced speeds, given we want to encourage people are from hulking great SUVs utes, not smaller and efficient cars. I also sure as hell wouldn’t want to drive an EV over some of the ones I’ve seen, given the battery pack is slung underneath.

    1. Isn’t getting more poeple into all the shops and malls and offices and bars and resturants and cafes and theatres the whole point of Queens Street?

    2. We could certainly do with some raised crossings in our area, it is very hard to cross the road almost anywhere. I guess they could reduce the need by lowering the speed limit by 20km/hr

  9. The Mayor accepted my request to add the TERP is a joint strategy between AT and Auckland Council as we developed it together, and I requested it be changed from `work towards’ to `implement’.

    1. Thank you Cr Dalton,
      That the TERP needed actioning tells us that your work is more important than ever.

      If Aucks decommits from its carbon commitments, I know I’m speaking for many that we’ll be looking for other places to call home.

  10. Well done Mayor Wayne Brown
    In such a short time you have Auckland at attention Thanks for saving our precious taxpayers dollars Get rid of the Traffic Sign companies who we simply don’t need Also the huge list of Managers at Auckland Council and Watercare you need more rank in file workers

  11. Would I be inaccurate to suggest that Rodney Hide set up “Super Auckland” so that a decade later a minority could elect an authoritarian mayor who could then claim to represent us, although not understanding that South and West are very difference to East and North? Plus allowing the extensive green field expansion increasing carbon emission by removing arable land from our food production for this city? It is so roundabout when every other city that calls itself a city on this planet has been building up for decades, building underground and above ground rail networks, cycling infrastructure and other modern although historic modes of transport. Kiwirail finally has the mandate to attack the train network and prepare for the future, with the protection of the CRL timeline. But this is Central Government finally respecting the importance of Tamaki Makaurau. We are half of this motu and nothing will progress without a progressive agenda from local council.

    1. You would be inaccurate.

      Conspiracy theories are rarely true, and Rodney Hide, while leading the process, didn’t get what he (presumably) wanted either. There’s been two left-leaning mayors so far, and there will be again. Sometimes the pendulum swings tho.

    2. You’d be more accurate to say the super city was set up with the intent of kneecapping council’s ability to set a course for Auckland independent of central government, including by spinning out its functions into nominally council controlled organisations that are effectively beholden to Wellington and to maintaining the status quo in the face of whatever else council might direct them to do (AT being a case in point).

  12. 2 ideas to lower carbon emmissions greatly, first get rid of motorway onramp traffic lights, they block up the suburbs when there is plenty of room for cars on the motorway, cars sitting idling for ages is no good lets get more flow happening and journeys completed quicker.
    Secondly lets kick all Transit lanes to the moon, that would just about double the flow rate, the car doesnt care how many people are in it or if its a bag of onions on the seat. The car and driver still need to get to where they are going, and come on where is anyone going to find more people to ride with them to acheive a positive environmental impact. The status quo is a generous 3.5 farts out of 5.

    1. Can you back that hot take up with some actual evidence or studies? Or were you meant to call Newstalk and got the wrong URL?

    2. Lol, we spent the last six or seven decades trying to get traffic to ‘flow’, turns out it doesn’t no matter how much space you give it.

      I’m happy to get rid of transit lanes, they should just be bus lanes.

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