Categories

Archives

Will “Auckland Transport” be a secretive agency?

One of my biggest gripes with the decision to hand transport matters in Auckland over to a semi-independent “Council Controlled Organisation” as part of establishing the Super City was whether that agency would end up doing most of its work in secret. At the moment (well, until Monday when the new Council is formally established) there’s quite a bit of information available on what transport stuff the various councils are up to. One of my best resources has been the agenda and minutes of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee, as well as what the Regional Transport Committee got up to over the last couple of years as it stitched together the RLTS. Information from the Transport Committee of Auckland City Council, and other committees from the various other councils often proved fertile ground for gathering information on the latest happenings in Auckland related to transport.

In contrast, ARTA have acted pretty secretly, with the only information they’ve shared being the Monthly Business Reports. While these reports are certainly very interesting, particularly in updating us on patronage statistics, by in large we’ve been left in the dark as to what else ARTA has been up to. For example, how’s progress going on integrated ticketing? Nobody really knows as we haven’t been able to read up on the various reports from ARTA staff to their board that I am sure must have been written over the past year since ARTA signed the contract with Thales to implement that system. How’s progress going on completing the CBD Rail Loop study that was meant to be finished in September? Once again, nobody knows because of ARTA’s secrecy.

So will Auckland Transport turn into a much larger version of the highly secretive ARTA, or will it turn into an open agency much like the transport committees of the various councils that exist at the moment? The final details of the legislation surrounding the establishment of Auckland Transport suggested that because the CCO will be doing so much work that was previously undertaken by Councils, it would need to be more transparent and accountable. But how will this actually translate into reality? Who knows?

In part there is some selfishness behind this concern, in that a lot of my potential blog posts over the next few years will depend on knowing what Auckland Transport is up to – if they make it difficult to find out what decisions are being made and what is happening, then that will make it difficult for me to keep ‘up to date’ with what’s going on. But there’s also a more fundamental reason why they should be open – transport will account for over half of Council’s spending and it’s arguably Auckland’s number one issue. We need to know what Auckland Transport’s up to because we’re trusting them with a huge amount of money and trusting them to help improve Auckland’s biggest problem: its transport situation.

Early signs are not necessarily that promising. Over the past week or so the websites for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have emerged and progressively been updated and populated with information from the old websites of ARTA and the various Councils. As I noted in yesterday’s post about St Lukes, the Council website already has been populated with agenda items for the first meeting of the new Council next week. It’s obvious on the website where further information will go, and now we know what the structure of the Council will be I imagine we will see the establishment of various places where meeting agenda and minutes will be uploaded to.

By contrast, while the Auckland Transport website is fairly comprehensive in what it says about various transport projects happening around Auckland, there seem no obvious place where we will be able to find out what their board is up to and what decisions are being made. Perhaps it might be added over the next few weeks when the Transport CCO board has their first meetings, I certainly hope so.

Ultimately, I think it is critical that Auckland Transport is as open and transparent as possible about what it gets up to. Over half the Council’s spending is likely to be on transport matters. While the Council’s transport committee will certainly play an important role in setting the big picture strategies, goals and plans the Council wants Auckland Transport to implement, many of the important decisions in terms of implementing these strategies will be left to the Board of the CCO. It’s important we know what they’re doing with such a significant amount of public funds. It’s important we know what progress they’re making on implementing the Council’s vision for transport. It’s important we know the reasoning behind decisions they make, so that those decisions can be analysed and critiqued.

It’s extremely important that Auckland Transport does not become a secretive agency. We have a right to know what they’re up to without having to go through the long-winded process of making official requests for information. I look forward to seeing Auckland Transport being an open, transparent and accountable agency.

16 comments to Will “Auckland Transport” be a secretive agency?

  • Matt L

    I do hope they are an open organisation and I imagine a large part of that will depend on how the council sets the statment of intent. Hopefully this will force them to be open and set a culture of openness that carries on into the future.

    For the CBD tunnel study, I wonder if perhaps Len has a final copy and will use it next week to hammer home why investing in PT is a sound idea. Nothing like starting the job with some hard facts behind you to silence the critics.

  • Armchair Critic

    The degree of secrecy at the new CCO will be part of the culture of the organisation. This culture will be fostered by the senior managers at the CCO and the Board of Directors. If these managers and directors are mostly from ARTA, and I understand they are, then there will be more secrecy at the CCO than at the councils.
    And that won’t be a good thing.
    I’m concerned that the CCO structure is not suitable for transport. It increases the distance between ratepayers and the CCO managers, and decreases accountability and responsiveness at the CCOs.
    I’m also concerned that the managers of the CCOs (for transport and water) don’t fully understand what they are getting into. They seem to have much more ability at seeing the big picture than actually dealing with the nitty-gritty of small projects like fixing pot-holes or putting on new water connections, and that they risk coming unstuck and ruining their reputation as a direct result.

    • Matt L

      I think the CCO could work really well for transport as it helps to keep the politicking out of the decisions. Currently you see far to much of certain areas getting special treatment which happens to coincide with the areas where were some influential councilors live while others miss out. The prime example of this is the eastern bays suburbs, going out there to see friends I can’t help but notice the much better quality of things like the footpaths compared to other parts of Auckland. Another example is Newmarket train station, if the ARC had its way they would have retained Newmarket West which would only have been a few hundred meters from Grafton and meant that western line passengers would still have to walk through Newmarket to transfer south (while the end change is annoying it is something that can be resolved and minimised and in my opinion wasn’t worth keeping the temporary platform over).

      • Luke

        We dont want to eliminate ‘politicking’ from the decision making. Politicking is the only reason we have a rail network upgrade, we need to have responsive politicians to keep the council organisations/departments to account.
        On the other hand we do need the council organisations to keep the politicians to account by making sure decision making processes are transparent. Then we can see if decisions are being made with the right information in-front of them. Then if they make silly decisions we can hold them to account on this blog, and hope that it will spread further.

        • Matt L

          I agree that we need to have politicians holding them to account but we need to be careful that they don’t over step the mark and start promising stupid things. I have made another comment further down about the Parnell station site which is a prime example. Another was the issue over the Newmarket west temporary station, Mike Lee was jumping up and down to have it saved even though Grafton was about to be opened just up the track and Newmarket had a $35m new station and while there are issues with it in regards to the end change, that is something that can be sorted out and the benefits of having everything in one place probably outweigh the negatives. Some other examples are the old Auckland City council trying to change the bus lanes along Dominion Rd against advise from ARTA and their own experts

  • Many of the councils have done such an appalling bad job on transport matters recently (yes, I’m looking at you Auckland City Council) that it’s difficult to conceive how Auckland Transport could do worse. So hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

    I just want to know what Auckland Transport is up to.

  • sam

    I hope ARTA manages to push out their final MBR…September 2010 would be an important one, as it would provide our first hard statistics on the Onehunga line, and may even give some sort of update/excuse for the CBD loop study.

  • Chris Harris

    One issue which might get overlooked is that the textbook author Vukan Vuchic regards it as essential to set up an ombudsman-like “Transit Committee” in which community stakeholders are able to provide real input and get real answers on quite nitty-gritty issues such as bus shelters and route changes. The Committee itself needs to include community representatives, bus operator representatives, and so on. Running such a committee for the whole of Auckland would be a HUGE job and for obvious reasons it can’t be done in secret. This was an area where ARTA fell down badly because all it had was Maxx fora which weren’t quite the same thing. The Regional Land Transport Committee was more like it in some ways, but Vuchic’s transit committee concept is more operationally focused, a filter for the literally thousands of often quite micro-level but collectively important complaints that people have about public transport, whereas the RLTC was more strategic. Anyhow the lesson here is that operational stuff can’t be dealt with using anonymous engineers, a helpline or anything like that, it needs an accountable committee. There could be a constructive role for Local Boards here. ARTA staff always flatly refused to front to Community Boards (or were instructed not to). Admittedly there were too many Community Boards for ARTA’s limited number of planners to deal with and that may have been the issue. But the Local Boards are a bit more serious and can’t be kept out of the loop, or, at the other extreme, given under-resourced responsibility for some matters (e.g. bus stops) but not others (e.g. services.). In sum, the Local Boards should become the nuclei for a roving, mobile, Transit Committee which in turn reports back into the Transport CCO. I can tell you that if that role is taken seriously, it will occupy a big slice of Local Board time.

    • I like those ideas Chris, a link between the transport agency and the general public that can be independent and critical of the transport agency where that’s necessary.

      I think the local boards will be very interested in transport matters. The big question mark is what influence they will actually have, or to put it more crudely: to what extent will the Transport Agency just be able to ignore them.

    • Matt L

      Chris – I completely agree that the community needs to have some input into things and having that community input without having to go through the council first is a good idea. My concern was with things like the potential Parnell station where Mike Lee has demanded the station be next to the mainline steam site which will cost about $15m just to modify the tracks to give a flat site even though ARTA had supposedly studied locations and determined the best site was further north to give better coverage to both the residential and commercial areas as well as linking in with local buses.

  • TopCat

    All that would be fine if 1. Local Boards had adequate staffing to be able to find out what residents wanted ( look at the pathetically low numbers allocated to them by ATA) and 2. If we had Local Board members interested in pushing for this. In my own Henderson/ Massey Board for example all the members bar one are aged over 50 years with three older than 80. These guys are mired in the Roads/Rates/Rubbish mentality so good luck trying to drag the Boards into the twenty-first century.

  • Paul

    Joshua, has Auckland Transport appointed its CEO and other execs? Or have they just given the heads of ARTA those roles? The ATA website is OK, but no real mention of Who’s Who in the zoo, apart from the board.

    Regards

Leave a Reply