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.

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  1. I do wonder how much Goff removing the Councillors from the AT board had to do with that move away from instituting Council policies. As we see here, 2 councillors argue for what (they believe) is best for Council. I wonder if we had Dalton and Coom on the board over the previous term if there would have been more willingness to get things done – and also more investigation of how badly things were being implemented.

  2. Do the AT Board just not care enough? Surely they can order senior management to do exactly what they demand and get rid of anyone going against policy on things like active travel?

    1. One problem is managing up. Directors often have multiple roles, the AT board position maybe one among 4-6 roles. Boards rely heavily on their CE and executive leadership to provide them guidance.

      Clearly AT leadership has failed. The example is shown by the culture values expressed in the cycling workshop. This culture is a direct result of bad executive leadership.

    2. The Board can only instruct the CEO, not other staff. Hence why the person in that role can make or break how stewardship is translated into action (or inaction).

    3. I think AT’s Board is making a good call for their (and AT’s abolishment). If their “leadership” is non-existent, and projects that align with both AT’s policy AND Council’s policy cannot be approved, why have them approve it at all. I think they should hand back their salaries.

    1. Stop at what, there are no railway stations at the “many stops along the way”. Pukekohe station is undergoing a complete rebuilding and not available. Anyway given the ever lengthening journey time, no more than one stop would acceptable until the Auckland rail works/remediation are finished. Pokeno is the obvious candidate.

  3. You said it right Matt. AT went rogue. It is out of control, driven by people with their own perverted agenda as shown by the Spinoff article on anonymous internal comments against cyclists.
    AT is without question the most hated organisation in Auckland- and a key reason Brown won the mayoralty.
    Forget having an interim CEO from a council which also isn’t flash. The pressure needs to mount on AT being disbanded and its duties woven into the council’s direct operations with direction from the governing body.

    1. “AT is without question the most hated organisation in Auckland- and a key reason Brown won the mayoralty.”

      … but the things that people who voted for Brown hate about AT, are the very things that AT does right.

      1. What these people hate about AT is actually just AT *Talking* about doing things. If you asked these people how much AT spends on cycling, they’d probably tell you “Oh, probably about a third of their budget! They are doing cycleways all across town, everywhere, where people don’t want them!” – When the reality is something like 1% of the budget and a few measly kilometres a year in a network of thousands and thousands of kilometres. Media like the Herald and Mike Hosking are partly to blame for it, but AT doesn’t help when one single project goes through 5 major consultations over a decade before it is built.

        1. Active Modes $247 mill
          Total spending $656 mill ( down from budgeted because covid delays)

          Wooah! Since when has PT been an active mode? $40M spent on active modes and $207m on PT.

          AT still spending $3m on parking when Paris are pulling half theirs out.

          AT spent $40m on active roads, and

  4. Working at AT,should be more than “just a job”,especially for those further up the food chain. To be handed a role,that could significantly impacts on current and future generations, and to do very little with it,(accept the status quo as OK), is a dereliction of duty,isn’t it.
    AT seems to attract senior managers,who hoover up cash,and move on,to their next “victim”.There is a massive opportunity for board members,and senior managers to proudly say to their children and grandchildren “l made a difference “,surely that is one of the goals for any sort of employment. To “turn up”,collect your wages and muddle through is harmful to all.
    We can fondly look back on Len Brown,as the only person to have made any meaningful change in Auckland, quite sad really.This piece of garbage from the current mayor is equally demoralizing.

    1. I think AT has just pissed off the majority of Auckland because they’ve basically done nothing that last 3-4 years.
      Any rail project that was ‘good’ has been hi-jacked by the terrible state of the rail network (Otahuhu, Puhinui etc).
      Any bus project (seems like there’s only been ‘big’ ones on the busway) have been hi-jacked by bus cancelations.

      Any cycle project that has been consulted on (new north road, great north road and the other inner west ones) just seem to disappear after consultation for years.

      Safety improvements often result in intersection ‘improvements / widening’ or speed humps.

      And there’s been little to no ‘roading improvements’.

      So (IMO) AT have just pissed off so many people, regardless of what sort of transport system they’d advocate for.

      1. “Any bus project (seems like there’s only been ‘big’ ones on the busway) ‘

        How quickly we forget. All nee low emmission buses, double deckers, electric buses on Waiheke, EBuses on the City Link route, Ebuses on the Airport link, EBuses on the new Tamaki link, integrated HOP fares, new bus stations at Otahuhu, Panmure and Silverdale, Night Buses, etc

  5. I attended the meeting on the Inner West item, and it was saddening to see. There didn’t even seem to be a robust mechanism for correcting misinformation, which to me is a pre-requisite of a sound discussion and decision-making process.

    There were a few aspects discussed well. For example, an alarmingly stupid idea about changing the design for GNR was brought back to reality by three speakers:
    – technical staff explaining that safe sightlines were a major part of the design, and redesigning it to retain more parking and to squeeze the cyclelanes onto the footpaths would not be as simple as reallocating space
    – the chair explaining that the idea of relocating underground services in order to plant trees down the middle of the street would be a hugely costly exercise, and also that reducing the width of footpaths in an area where so much intensification was intended was foolish
    – the CEO of WK questioning what the brief had been. Nicole Rosie impressed me with this.

    AT’s answer was useful; AT had been directed to design within the kerbs, and retain the mature trees – for price and environmental reasons that are quite sound. Rosie pointed out the huge waste from pausing and rescoping projects. It was clear to anyone who cared, that wasting our rates and taxes on redesigning anything – let alone something with substandard active modes facilities and that would cost more – was rightly considered regressive.

    The problem was that this discussion should have meant that the Board simply approved the project. The board did change the resolution so that they will only “consult with” the Council committee, instead of seeking their endorsement. This was good, but timid compared to what they should have done, given AT’s role as transport expert is supposed to be at arms’ length from politicians doing politics.

    The other aspect to GNR that was preventing them from approving it outright was the “need” to wait for the capital expenses review. The gaping hole in the discussion was why these projects needed to paused for this reason, while others didn’t. Good governance should have brought this rot into the open. It had been brought to the attention of the directors but they chose to ignore it.

    And failing to approve the WSR project was just incomprehensible.

    1. It is frustrating with GNR.
      The resident’s association have a fascination with the planted median.
      I’ve been at engagement discussions where this has been talked about with AT and they’ve always responded with the above, that due to services etc it would be hugely costly, plus the tree lined centre doesn’t provide benefits for people walking who would actually want / need the shade.
      This has rubbed off on Councillor Lee, who again seems to believe that a tree lined centre is the way to go. It’s a bizzare fasciation.

      1. I suspect the obsession with the planted median is just another way to delay things, knowing full well it is too expansive so won’t be funded.

    2. Good on you for attending, I don’t know whether I could have been in the room without screaming at them. Cr Lee is pathetic, doesn’t represent his constituency and obviously doesn’t prepare for these meetings as seen by the “hadn’t seen letter” comment.

  6. I still wish they’d appointed Matt or Kathryn King as the CE of AT, not that I think either would actually want the job

    1. Well, I think Shane Ellison sort of wanted to do the right thing, but was not aggressive or manipulative enough to clear out the deadwood. Any new CEO will face the same problem, plus currently having a Mayor hostile to actual improvement. It’s a shit show, and no wonder nobody really wanted the job.

  7. I was just thinking about how Rob Campbell would make an excellent leader of AT. He has some spare time now.

      1. Yes he wasn’t sacked for being wrong. He was sacked for being more effective than the Government. They found that embarrassing.

    1. I agree with you Miffy. He has the fortitude to front up to dissidents and yet relationship build with others.

  8. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. A lot of people want all the carrots but don’t like any of the required sticks (even Phil Goff comes to mind). And people want too many different carrots: some want cycleways, others PT, others roads.

  9. I read in Erin Johnson’s report ” But AT board member and councillor Mike Lee said he was concerned about increasing cycle infrastructure when cyclist numbers had decreased.” I’d like to know where he got this statement from and did he say anything further about this

    1. The whole statement SCREAMS about the inequality in our system that decreases cycling numbers in the first place, and why they are proposed to be built more. They aren’t even investing as much into cycling as current cycle numbers, and interventions like Lee’s create a disjointed network that makes it hard to get good patronage.

    2. I bet he just plucked it out of the air because he heard it from a mate. He can’t make a statement like that without showing his workings! It makes me so sad that he completely disregards the community he claims to represent.

    3. We we never built any roads we would have very low car numbers too, so by Mike’s logic we should have never built roads.

      Numbers do appear to be down more than 20% since before covid but many other things have also been disrupted. I’m glad they’re at least getting on with Pt Chev/Meola and would be interested to see a schedule for when it’ll be open.,decrease%20compared%20to%20October%202021.

      1. Hang on – to get this trend data – those 26 sites needed to be active way back in 2015. Since the Quay St cycleway or the majority of the NW cycleway for instance was only established about three years ago then that data is missing is it not?

  10. A new CEO hopefully will be great. Odds are they won’t be able to make the necessary changes. Basics like getting value for money, applying for funding where we can, ensuring existing services don’t deteriorate aren’t quite being achieved. Leadership needs to kick the org into gear. There are lots of great (and not so great) people in the org, leadership is about managing them to achieve the goals.

    AT should be penalising operators for not meeting their contracts, and take over the contracts/staff themselves if the operators are forced to liquidate. Applying the contracted penalties are great for ATs finances, the networks performance, and perception of AT – all of which aren’t doing so great.

    KR is still a nightmare, AT should continue along the track that it has in the past advocating for KR to go back to a freight company and split the track access/maintenance back into a Network Rail/Ontrack equiv that can be run like roads (not for profit) that charges track access fees.

    The ferries I’ve not followed too closely, but there appears to be a few things not passing the sniff test – e.g. services not being delivered, ferry/cruise ship conflicts (both seem to be at fault and blaming the other – and the harbourmaster isn’t sorting it fully), feeder bus timetables.

    All in all, we’re getting worse results for more money, and it’s not a problem we can only throw money at. The words ‘supply chain’, ‘shortage’ and ‘covid’ are just used as magic words that AT is accepting, rather than digging down into it and dealing with nonperformers. There is a time for compassion when force majeure happens, but when that force majeure has happened and it’s the new normal, it’s time to adjust rather than just accepting it as an excuse to get less and pay more.

    I’m happy the Pt Chev improvements will finally happen, as much as I love the median for driving at night, the bus lane is needed. Wasn’t super happy with the roundabout for walking – but it’s far cheaper, and has the traffic benefits and I can continue crossing before then back after. I’m guessing AT not managing to keep up with the deterioration on Meola/it being a project that helps cars was what pushed it across the line (not that it needed to be knocked back behind the line before).

  11. “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.”

    You only need to look at who joined AT around that time and started to shape AT’s strategic direction to understand how it’s ended up where it is. When the AT strategy team leadership is actively hostile to the Council’s stated strategies then it’s no surprise you end up with no progress.

    1. But AT isn’t supposed to set strategic direction. That’s the thing. This is a prime example of unelected bureaucrats undermining elected decisions.

      Brown can say he’s got a mandate. And technically speaking he has (though he still needs to make sure his mandate passes the vote of the elected councillors).

      The issue is that AT has been ignoring Council strategic direction for years when it didn’t please them, and now it is taking the MAYOR’s strategic direction despite being a Council body (not a Mayor’s body) just because they like that one.

      It is a fundamental breakdown in democracy. Why even vote, when in the end, only the votes of the cars first people are counted?

  12. From what I can tell, seems like he is being brought in to restructure, fire a bunch of people and then leave for the new CEO to take over.

    I think the problem is that he will probably cut back everything except the “build moar roads” part of AT.

    I guess time will tell.

  13. Aucklands broken and going broke.

    Our captain, is off playing tennis, or swearing at reporters.

    South Auckland commuters are fighting for 3 lanes of motorway, no busses, and no trains. Chemical truck fires and concerts easily defeat the best planning teams we can empower.

    WK cancels climate action, due to the action of the climate. No walkit, rideit. Next summer says the obituary.

    AT’s climate commitments – are aspirational says the court.
    WK’s climate commitments – are also aspirational, median barriers also. Policy is for consideration, not delivery it seems.

    Sell our airport shares says the haveyoursay. Manukau shares some would say, as the other pre-supercity councils sold earlier. $2.2B of future council income set free.

    Auckland – Why are you so crap ?

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