There was lots of news out of Auckland Transport yesterday. Firstly, they finally have a Chief Executive – at least for the next 18 months – with former Auckland Council Chief Operating Officer Dean Kimpton being appointed:
Auckland Transport (AT) has today announced the appointment of Dean Kimpton as the new Chief Executive Officer on a fixed-term agreement for 18 months starting 3 April 2023.
AT Chair, Wayne Donnelly says the appointment of Mr Kimpton reflects the Board’s commitment to addressing the Letter of Expectations and the need for a fundamental change in approach.
“Auckland Transport is at a critical moment in time, where we will need strong change leadership to overcome some immediate challenges, while also not losing a focus on the future. The Board is confident that Dean brings the experience and strategic oversight needed to do that, and we are pleased to have someone of his calibre join us.
“Dean understands AT through his previous roles, and he has the specific skills that we are looking for to lead this fundamental change and deliver the significant budget savings that Council has proposed. The Board has elected for a fixed-term CEO, as he will need to come up to speed quickly and make some crucial decisions for the organisation. We are confident Dean is the right person to do that.”
Dean seems well regarded, and deeply understands the way local government works in Auckland from his time with the Council. So this is good news in that respect. It also thankfully means that the interim position shuffling within Auckland Transport, which seemed to elevate a variety of people into positions they weren’t very well suited to and left a large leadership vacuum, can now disappear.
It’s good timing for Auckland Transport to start sorting out its leadership, because the organisation seems like it’s a chaotic mess at the moment. This was illustrated by two other pieces of news yesterday – firstly an article by Hayden Donnell in The Spinoff that highlighted what seems to be a simply awful internal culture within AT when it comes to creating a safe and sustainable transport system, especially around cycling. The article shows many anonymous comments at an internal AT seminar talking about their cycling work, with heaps of staff members bringing up all sorts of nonsense myths about cycling.
It’s obviously impossible to know how widespread these sentiments are within Auckland Transport, but it certainly reinforces the perception that AT have done everything they can to undermine progress on building a safe and attractive network of cycle lanes in Auckland over the past decade.
The other news from yesterday that highlights just what a mess Auckland Transport is in, relates to the Inner West improvement projects we discussed recently in these two posts. Ultimately the AT Board basically rolled with what was put to them by staff (which itself was completely inadequate, as discussed in those two posts), including kicking the Great North Road project back to the Council.
The AT board has given the go ahead for construction for the Point Chevalier to Westmere Improvements project (on Point Chevalier Road, Meola Road, and Garnet Road.)
Great North Road Improvements (Improvements to walking, cycling, buses and stormwater on Great North Road between Ponsonby Road and Crummer Road) is subject to review of capital funding and consultation with Councillors at the Transport and Infrastructure Committee on 15 March.
Both projects deliver new stormwater infrastructure, public transport and walking and cycling improvements, giving locals more transport choice to get around their local neighbourhoods.
Both projects are 51% funded by the government.
These two projects have been formally endorsed by Waitematā Local Board and Albert Eden Local Board over the past two weeks. They have been through three rounds of consultation and have widespread support from community groups including six local schools, multiple business associations, and several other groups.
Stuff reporter Erin Johnston covered the meeting’s outcomes, and this thread from Jolisa provides a really great detailed summary of the Board’s discussion on this issue:
While the outcome is yet more delay on a project that should have been finished around five years ago, it’s the principle of Auckland Transport abdicating their decision-making responsibilities to the Council that is especially notable here.
It sounds like there was some discussion by Board members about whether this sets a precedent, and why the ultimate call should rest with the Board. There was also clear concern from several board members about what all of this means for climate progress in particular. But not enough concern to bite the bullet and approve the Great North Road project on its own merits and the support of the Local Board.
Back in 2009 and 2010 when the structure of Auckland Transport was being deliberated and finalised, there were a lot of good arguments in favour of not having a separate transport CCO. There would be more democratic accountability, more integration between transport and the rest of Council’s activities if we didn’t create a whole separate organisation. But set against this was the potential benefits of having an independent transport organisation able to make the “hard but right” decisions. This would – supposedly – reduce some of the uglier sides of pork-barrel or hyper-local political decision making.
In short, Council would set the strategy, through a democratic and political process that broadly agreed what the goals are and the key ways to achieve those goals. Then Auckland Transport would implement that strategy, even when that required them to make some “hard but right” decisions along the way.
In the past five years I think this system has broken down. Since around 2017, Auckland Transport has been an increasingly rogue organisation that ignored for years the Council’s strategic direction on things like emissions reduction and creating cycle lane networks. The confidence, capability and willingness to deliver the goods has been visibly shrinking just when it should be growing, putting Auckland increasingly behind other NZ cities and embarrassing us amongst the international C40 cities alliance.
And now it seems that they can’t even make an obvious final call to proceed with projects that clearly align with Council’s policies and strategies, have gone through many rounds of engagement, and are broadly supported in the community – with calls for action from schools, business associations, and dozens of community groups as well as the relevant Local Boards.
Even the one project that got the green light, which is obviously something to be celebrated, has been delayed by six months with all the costs and stresses that involves. All of this at the behest of one councillor who is arguing against investment in his own ward.
It really makes you wonder what the point of continuing to have a Transport CCO is.
So Dean Kimpton will certainly have his hands full over the next 18 months. Maybe as a start, he should have a read of what some other guy might have done if he’d got the job.