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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.