Last week I had the chance to sit down with Auckland Transport’s new CEO, Dean Kimpton, and ask him some questions and I think there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the future.

It was only Dean’s sixth day in the role so understandably he’s not going to be over all the details yet, but his understanding of the role – and many of the issues faced by both the organisation and the city – is invariably helped by his previous tenure as Auckland Council’s Chief Operating Officer, and more recently as the Chair of the Eastern Busway Alliance.

The impression I got from him that a large part of his focus will be on improving how AT serves the community and improving the experience people have in using the network. We’ll obviously have to wait to see just how that will actually manifest but it’s a good intention. As Todd Niall at Stuff reported last week, Dean uses the bus himself so hopefully that helps in his understanding.

We started our conversation talking about how AT (and council) often has very good strategies and plans but struggles when it comes to delivery. Delivery is of course always the hardest part, and Dean talked about how AT need to get better at it, especially when it comes to plans like the council’s Transport Emissions Reductions Pathway (TERP). I took it as a good sign that he raised the need for AT to deliver the TERP before I had got around to asking about it.

He also agreed with my assessment that AT’s current approach to the TERP is what I would describe as “Business As Uusual-plus”, and that it needs to change. By BAU-plus, I mean AT seems to hope to keep doing everything they’re doing now and only deliver the actions of the TERP as an optional add-on on if the council gives them more money for it. However, while some actions may require new sources of funding, a lot of progress towards the outcomes required by the TERP can be achieved by changing BAU – either changing processes to get better climate outcomes, or not doing some things on current plans.

An area AT needs to improve on, which I highlighted a few times throughout our conversation and with which Dean agreed, relates to strategic communication and tying that back to project delivery. We, as a society, have had many discussions and consultations over the years about various strategies like TERP. Consistently, most people support the idea of changes to our transport system with a greater focus on public transport and active modes – but then there’s very limited reference to that consensus when it comes to AT talking about individual projects.

As such, projects can often feel as if they were plucked out of thin air, leading to opposition or even the relitigating of the overarching strategic objectives. AT needs to be much better at explaining how individual projects work towards achieving the outcomes that Aucklanders have agreed are important.

As I highlighted in last week’s post, in the same Todd Niall piece mentioned earlier, Dean has said he wants ridership back to pre-Covid levels by the end of the year:

“The first step for us over the balance of this calendar year is to get from the 80 million to over 100 million trips, to get that, we’ve got to get drivers, we’ve got to get them trained, get the services back on and get it funded,” he said.

Getting back to 100 million trips by the end of 2023 whilst still dealing with the bus driver and ferry crew shortage – as well as the rail shutdowns – is clearly going to be a big challenge. However, to my mind it’s good to have a clear target, even if it’s one that may not be achieved.

As I said to Dean, I think far too often AT (and other public sector orgs) hide behind weak targets, or don’t share them at all. One example: AT has often set PT targets so low that they’re achieved within the first couple of months of a financial year. Another is Kiwirail’s network rebuild programme, where they regularly talk about how the work will make trains faster and more reliable but refuse to put any numbers behind just what that means – just how much faster and how much more reliable will the network be? – which makes it difficult to hold them accountable.

With the various challenges mentioned above, the makeup of how our PT network will almost certainly look different to what it did before Covid. I pointed out how we need to get more efficient use out of our bus fleet. For example, Vancouver’s bus fleet is only 20% larger than ours (1,627 buses vs 1,360 in Auckland) and yet they achieve nearly four times the ridership with it.

I’m sure there are a heap of ideas from people throughout the organisation for low cost improvements to routes (e.g. fixing the Outer Link) and for delivering bus priority to improve speeds and efficiency. I challenged Dean to get AT to dig these ideas up, put them together in a programme, and break through the layers of clay inside the organisation to help rapidly achieve that 100 million target.

I also pointed out the disconnect between how AT manages pricing for parking and public transport. For PT, the focus is revenue-based so even though ridership is down, fares have had to go up to cover that. Yet for parking, pricing is based on occupancy, and AT only puts up prices if demand is high. This has resulted in a perverse situation of parking prices being left unchanged while PT fares increase – thus working against AT’s goals to encourage more people using PT.

One early challenge Dean will have is managing the organisation through disruption. The day before he started in the job, the organisation announced a restructure which is all about trying to save money as a result of the council’s proposed budget cuts. At this stage, it’s not known who or how many people will be impacted (staff find out this week), and after that restructure is completed then potentially Dean’s own structural changes will take place. This period of uncertainty will undoubtedly have an impact on morale and delivery.

Finally, one thing that’s been obvious for many years is there’s a huge disconnect between how the media portray/public perceive AT and its work, and what AT actually does. Some in the media seem to suggest that all AT ever does is build cycleways to steal space from drivers. Yet AT has barely built any cycleways in the past few years. I did suggest that perhaps AT should just lean in to the perception and start just building them everywhere.

It is only early days, of course, but new leadership brings a glimmer of optimism that AT can grow into the organisation that we (as a city) need it to be.

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  1. There is no reason to be optimistic. This guy was appointed with the blessing of the incumbent Mayor, who hates all public transport and just lives to “own the libs/greenies”. He chased an actually qualified appointee from England away. Things are only going to get worse; public transport in Auckland is now a dead duck.

    1. “We need to get more out of Auckland’s existing transport system before starting on the next mega-project. This involves harnessing technology, completing busways in the eastern suburbs and much-needed northwest, adding dynamic lanes to move buses faster without losing retail parking, and optimising transport networks to get Aucklanders moving faster, and more conveniently. From late April, new technology using GPS tracking will go live, giving buses priority at key intersections and keeping them to planned timetables along some of Auckland’s major road corridors, including Manukau Rd and Pah Rd. This is one of my original campaign promises and the local trials have been positive so far, showing a reduction in bus wait times of 10–35 per cent.”

      1. I don’t get your point Anthony? Brown suggests finishing the work that is already about to be finished (wow), get rid of some cones and give some buses a little remote to change traffic lights. Oh he also shows he isn’t willing ot sacrifice parking but coming up with complex dynamic lanes when full bus lanes will do the trick.

        He still doesn’t understand, much like most people that it isn’t just about commuting ot the City Centre. He’s a dinosaur stuck in the 00’s.

        Nobody is asking for mega projects and other than Light Rail there aren’t any planned during his tenure, so his promises pretty much anount to do nothing. He’s against funded cycle lanes and buslanes in the inner west.

        IF you are defending him, then you must be one of the last few standing.

        1. Daphne….. WOW, what a disgusting response…… I assume the site moderation team will respond to such a disrespectful race baiting comment

  2. BAU is cancelled buses, overloaded buses that drive on past, train line closures, cancelled ferries and a lack of delivery on cycleways, bus lanes, even footpaths.
    Money is required to fix all of this, and there’s no way we get back to pre-covid with everything the way it is. If he’s serious then he should have a plan to get the money.

  3. That’s great. Thanks, Matt. The guy certainly comes with the approval of many forward-thinking people who know him.

  4. People have seen what clear communication around so called ‘contentious’ issues can do with the new approach to Three Waters. If AT are serious about delivering the approved plans then they need to start with clear communication to fight back against misconception, case in point are the cycleways they haven’t rolled out but the perception the city is over run with them. Simply explain in numbers how badly there are being rolled out.

    Transport is one of the few areas left in ‘politics’ where you can actually use evidence, data and measurements to show both what will and won’t work, and how much has been done so far, pretty much every thing you can do with the Transport field has been done somewhere else. Counter the ‘culture’ wars with clear, easy to understand evidence. Then if people choose to ignore it, then you at least tried to bring them round. AT seem to just sya what they are doing, let everyone shut and back down..

    I have no grounds for opptimisation, the CEO will be too busy sorting out the job losses and restructures and getting yelled out by a crazy man with glasses that nothing will get done, certainly nothing in terms of delivering on the TERP.

  5. Seems positive. However, i also remember reading your write up about Shane Ellison and feeling optimistic and look how that turned out. This time I think I will wait to see some results first.

    1. There was so much excitement for Shane “breath of fresh air” Ellison…who proceeded to eviscerate – sorry “embed” – the AT cycling and walking team. Such an inept action; one that empowered the forces of BAU. Let’s hope that Mr Kimpton receives better advice than Ellison.

  6. It would help the financial side if drivers did not let people on the bus who have a hop card with no money on it.
    Every time I am on a bus there is at least one person who is allowed on and does not pay. Why is this allowed?

      1. No, it’s to get around the embarassing lack of backup for drivers who try to enforce the rules. And these people are often trouble for everyone else on the bus but it’s the tail wagging the dog again.

    1. Nice one—focus on the $1.50 of missed revenue from the poorest or most mentally unwell people in our society who literally have no other way of getting around, rather than the structural inequity built into our economic, social, and transport systems

      1. No you do no-one any service by teaching them that rules are there to be broken. They will go on to the next disrespectful thing and the next and so on. They will not learn how to become a member of society. If you want to help the poorest people then give them a special Hop card with prepaid or zero fares.

    2. 1. Drivers aren’t paid enough to risk their lives over a $3 fare.

      2. HOP cards don’t update balances often enough and sometimes fail to work properly.

      1. “HOP cards don’t update balances often enough”

        HUH? If you top up at a HOP dairy, or at an AT Customer Service Centre, then the HOP card balance is updated instantly. If you top up on line, your HOP card is updated the next time that you tag onto a bus, or HOP post located on the train stations

        1. Online HOP top-ups require you to wait overnight for bus use.

          To quote from the My AT website:

          “Top up online

          If you travel by bus, your top-up will be ready tomorrow.

          If you travel by train or ferry, your top-up will be ready in an hour.”

    3. Would also off-set all the accidental/machine failure missing tag on/off’s that charge users more. Also people loose/break HOP cards with balances on them that are probably not used again or not refunded, I have a couple.

  7. A restructure of this kind – which removes people/positions from the organisation – is undoubtedly easier for a CEO if s/he hasn’t yet made personal connections with the people involved. I think Ellison quickly leaned on the very people he needed to restructure out, and came to realise this error too late.

    I think the key consideration is: how will Kimpton form his understanding of transport transformation? If he is guided by the ELT or the Board, we’re unlikely to see much change. The former resist change using bog standard “techno-rational” barriers, and the latter are keen for improvement but haven’t demonstrated they understand how these barriers keep preventing it.

    Matt’s summary suggests we may be lucky in the level of understanding Kimpton already has of the problems. If he also has his own network of progressive advisors on transport – and this is certainly possible given the networks he’ll have built over many years – then I think there is good reason for optimism.

    We’ll know after this restructure. Will he break through the clay layer, allowing the talent in the organisation to rise?

    1. There’s a beautiful presentation online where Johnnie Freeland lays out a challenge inherent in Te Tāruke ā Tāwhiri – Ak Climate Plan, in that it calls for a transformation in ways of relating from oppositional/in corners (where people are forced to take positions) to engaging in a way that is circular (so we have perspectives rather than a hard position).
      Which I think some folks within AT have been working towards for a while, with much obstruction!
      Perhaps there’s still quite a journey to go on there – and the new CEO might be able to enable AT and its stakeholders to make progress more easily than before. Seems unlikely that any instant fix is reasonable, or kind!

      1. Is this the presentation you mean?:

        It’s very good. I like the scale analogy. I’m thinking about what, in the transport sphere, the small actions / projects would be like little scales of change. The individual street repair projects would be included – ranging from temporary play streets and Innovating Streets / Streets for People trials, to permanent school streets, to small safety fixes like pedestrian crossings and footpaths, to the bigger street improvement projects.

        All focused on oranga, wellbeing. All enabling people to travel by any sustainable mode they like.

        It would help if AT would start embracing the tactical approach, in the way that many smaller councils did. If engaged residents were able to fix local things easily there’d be more of a kaleidoscope of improvement happening. It would also help if AT applied VZ policy properly (ie for every user, not just some) and consistently (ie for every project) so safety was provided like a mosaic, eventually covering the whole city.

        Hopefully these are the things the CEO will figure out. It’s certainly time.

        What sort of instant fix are you referring to that might not be ‘kind’? Is it the AT restructure? I think if Kimpton can make instant organisational changes that fix the problems in delivery, so that our children’s health, development, and safety could be improved rapidly – I would call it “kind” to do so. I think it’s fine to expect adults to accept rapid and wholescale changes in their lives if it benefits children.

        But whether that’s what’s on offer is another thing altogether.

  8. If cycle ways were not the only thing that AT did how come in the past 5 years the cycle way from the CBD to St Helliers has been upgraded 3 times whilst the road narrowed down to a single lane?
    If busses are to be the way forward then how about speaking to the drivers of various bus companies directly to learn from the horses mouth! So to speak the issues faced.

    1. Funny. When I looked today, that road (Tamaki Drive) had the same number of lanes as it had for the last couple decades. Not a single one got taken away for bikeways.

      Or are you just grumpy that some of the lanes got narrower, to – in some still disconnected sections – provide a cycle path on Auckland’s *busiest* cycle route? Shock, horror. Indeed, lets just revolt. This going too far. It’s almost progress, and we can’t have that, even when it took a decade to get anywhere. At that speed, there will be cycleways everywhere by (checks stone calendar)… when the next ice age comes.

  9. Paid parking should be in virtually every town centre in Auckland.

    Peak time ocuppancy is well in excess of 85% in most places. It however becomes a political football, when it should simply be implemented based off the back of an already consulted on policy (Spoiler – 2015 Parking Policy – already covers this).

    Driving is the most used mode in this city. Implementing the current policy should be of an incredibly high priority. Again it is not all about pricing the CBD it is about everywhere else, and making people think twice about driving 800 metres to the dairy.

    The other thing that the new parking policy brings in is removal of onstreet parking on key arterial (Around 3% of the roads) to create another movement lane (cycling and or bus)… Just do it.

    @Dean – The AT way of not wanting to offend anyone ,and in doing so not pleasing anyone needs to urgently change!

    Evidence, data driven decisions for the safe and efficient movement of people should be #1. No more ‘I reckons’ please.

    1. +1000. Implementing the 2015 Parking Policy would be hugely transformative. This would result in millions in revenue, help even the playing field with PT, reduce carbon/vkt… The impediment caused by ‘XyZ Business Owner from Pukekohe/Henderson thinking it will kill their town centre is no longer tenable and shouldn’t be entertained.

      The removal of off street on some arterials would also be a game changer for cycling and Bus time frames. A revenue positive move and would be cheap to implement.

    2. I think the end game should include a ban on overnight street parking, except for those with a permit. And a permit should be “competitively priced”, i.e. 1000’s of dollars rather than a few dozen per year.

      So we can solve the problem that without parking minimums developers and home buyers will rely on on-street parking to make up the shortfall of parking in higher density houses.

      Then people will have a choice of either keeping cars and paying the cost of parking, versus not having a car and thus actually not paying for parking. Instead of current practice to just spill out extra parking on the road.

      (not paying for parking can be interpreted broadly as a cost in dollars, in the form of extra rates to maintain an 11m roadway instead of a 6m roadway, and also negative effects in terms of more danger and a more oppressive street)

      1. Exactly Roeland. People shouldnt be able to store their private property on public land without paying market price.

  10. That the new CEO actually uses a bus to move is definitely a reason to be positive. There are so many AT signaged cars around it makes it a joke about being serious about climate change. There needs to be institutional change from the top and this guy on the face of it, could be the person to instigate it. Efeso Collins remains the saddest political story in the history of this city and one could only imagine how positive everything would be if he was representing the city, rather than that old guy who says he is the mayor but not the ceo and is not a hugger and is clearly an old man who can hardly put a logical sentence together. To fix this city is to build up with residential instead of the weird office blocks that are still the principally consented in the central city. House families within walking distance of mum or dad’s office and both family and work life will become economical and more enjoyable, while addressing the climate change emergency with the haste it requires. AT needs to make driving a car not only stressful, but also economically unjustifiable. That needs to be their principal mandate. Not balancing ignorant drivers who become ignorant cyclists; when we are all born less than pedestrian, and that is a far more pleasant state to live, and observe life!

    1. Fortunately, we have just the exact type of man to Fix Auckland: build more waterfront apartments in the heart of our supercity. The impact and scale of such a decision requires support from laymen like you and I. Transformational projects necessitate we get behind, not backstab, those who are willing to make a stand and fight for a better future.

    2. “There are so many AT signaged cars around it makes it a joke about being serious about climate change.”

      The cars used by the AT parking wardens have been electric for several years.

  11. There are so many AT signaged cars around it makes it a joke

    Many of those are parking enforcement cars…you know, the people at AT that you call when an inconsiderate mummy parks over your driveway, then wander off, so she can drop Tabitha off to the local school. AT could help to plug their budget gap, by hiring 100 more parking enforcement officers, which would also help free up the bus lanes.

        1. There’s no call for snark about ‘mummy and Tabitha’ as if mothers should be singled out as the worst offenders, and no call for snark towards JakeySnakeyPastaBakey who made an entirely conventional suggestion that is standard practice in many cities.

  12. Age old saying – If you don’t vote you should not complain.

    Every eligible demographic has the opportunity to vote but I guess there are some that are just too lazy. In doing so they are saying I leave it up to others to make a choice.

    I guess the old folks as a demographic are a bit more clued up in the importance of voting ?

    PS I’m one of the lazy ones.

    1. That ignores the structural issues of political power. Things are not as bad as in gerry-mandered US states, but people of a certain ethnicity and demography voting for X does not automatically translate into the existing power structures dominated by MUCH DIFFERENT ethnicities and age / wealth demography doing said X.

      “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” is the (not totally unrealistic) joke.

      Many potential voters – the young, the poor, the brown – know this to varying levels. And is at least some truth to it.

      So please don’t call it lazyness. Apathy, potentially. Lack of energy potentially (because of the stress of life, which again affect some demographics a lot more than others).

      It’s not an automatic, permanent issue – the demographics of those in power can change too. But right now, we have two white guys called Chris vying for leader of our nation, which is a nice example of what I mean.

      So sure, they could have voted for Efeso, but I can understand at some level I can understand why people felt “Oh what’s the use.”

      1. So sure, they could have voted for Efeso, but I can understand at some level I can understand why people felt “Oh what’s the use.”

        What would have happened if 60 000 people who did not vote because of “Oh what’s the use” and voted for Efeso ?

        Oh and that would have sorted Daphne comment on racism.

        1. Regarding your ‘whats the use’ comment, from talking to people while campaigningfor Efeso, I totally get this. It can take a whole lot more energy to even feel like its worth taking a chance on being positive unfortunately, and I got this sense when talking to a few peops.

      2. Nah, it is definitely laziness. I’ve lived my entire life in one of the poorest suburbs of Auckland and see that it is mostly laziness. At 20% turn out, all the brown people refused to vote for Efeso. That’s not racism. That’s just laziness. They were unwilling to tick a box and post a letter.

        1. Calling it lazy is missing the point. Electing representatives is one type of (very limited, ineffective) democracy. It’s not the original kind of democracy. It’s not best practice democracy. And it’s currently resulting in decisions that are not just harming us all but are leading to an impoverished future.

          What citizens could do to be helpful is to read / attend lectures / listen to experts about modern democratic practices, and to join the call for a better system.

          Disengagement from the system is a logical consequence of local government consistently failing to deliver people-focused improvements and to demonstrate the value of voting. It doesn’t have to be this way and we’d all benefit from having everyone’s voice heard. Achieving that is our work as a society.

  13. Positive about AT? Ha. Maybe when I see a project where a reasonable about of space gets reallocated.

    AT is having a restructure right now. That will mean they will do dramatically less “work” for the rest of the year. Staff outcomes could be terrible. Also, no new staff are coming on board for a bit.

  14. The rapid development in our Isthmus highlights the transformation Auckland embraces to become a true supercity in size and scale. It’s great to see AT planning road networks to support growth and development. Shovel ready projects like the Pakuranga flyover will offer seamless integration to connect our eastern suburbs with the rest of our supercity’s superhighways. AT lobbies for central government and Waka Kotahi initiatives; we must support AT’s drive to provide the resilient highways our affluent communities deserve and stimulate economic flow.

  15. Glad I came across this article. Sounds like I need to meet with this group. I have a transport unitiative for Auckland. It would be very good to have some feedback on it. NDA’s required. Contact email:

  16. Many of the improvements to the AT PT Network are delayed because AT is sensitive to the vocal feedback from a small number of “concerned citizens” or self appointed experts, who object to the proposals. Changes are also delayed to avoid local body elections. Example; changes to the OuterLink buses, to avoid bunching.

  17. It’s always encouraging to read about positive developments in transportation, and this article highlights some promising aspects of Auckland’s transport system. The emphasis on public transport, cycling infrastructure, and sustainability initiatives is indeed reason for optimism. Improving transportation can lead to a better quality of life for residents and a more sustainable future. I hope these positive trends continue to grow and serve as inspiration for other cities.

    1. Why are you using Greater Auckland to advertise your services?

      You live in a flat in a “nice” suburb with a government valuation of $1.85 million and annual rates of $4,363.71.

      Surely you can afford to pay for your own advertising.

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