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PoliticsMarch 27, 2024

We have Wayne Brown’s texts to the boss of AT. They’re exactly what you’d expect


We’ve received a cache of Wayne Brown’s texts to the chief executive of Auckland Transport, and there’s a lot of complaints about road cones.

Wayne Brown was in town for a council meeting last September when he saw something that left him angry and confused. Road cones were strewn on Durham St, forcing pedestrians into the carriageway for no apparent reason. Anyone else might have emitted a mutter of irritation and moved on. Not Brown. He had the perfect person to vent to. “WTF is this? Dugan St west, Wayne,” he texted the chief executive of Auckland Transport Dean Kimpton, along with a photo.

Road cones have long been Brown’s nemesis. He railed against them during his 2022 mayoral campaign, and wrote a letter to Auckland Transport’s chairman telling him to clear up the roads by getting rid of “unnecessary road cones and land closures” soon after his election. Last year he again urged the agency to slash its $145 million spend on temporary traffic management

The mayor’s commitment to the cone war isn’t in question, but his actual plan for thinning the orange herd has been less clear. His rhetoric hasn’t always been accompanied by statutory action. Even a strongly-worded letter doesn’t mean much if it isn’t imbued with legislative weight.

As it turns out, Brown has been trying to change the conescape from the inside, one cone at a time. Texts provided under the Local Government Official Information Act show Brown repeatedly haranguing the city’s top transport official, sending Kimpton screeds of cone complaints and miscellaneous traffic management gripes in the 14 months since his appointment as AT’s chief executive

Kimpton, for his part, has played the part of the city’s highest paid customer support representative. “Asked team to look at it,” he replied when confronted with the scene on Durham St West. “Wayne. I have passed on to Andrew Allen and he will update you,” he said, when informed that a lane of Victoria St West had been coned off for ute parking. “Passed it on and will get back asap,” a beleaguered Kimpton responded when told that “T8 traffic management on Queen St, Victoria St is rude, slow and excessive and everything that is wrong with this city”.

The teams investigated, the officials reported back, but the texts kept coming. Brown has furnished Kimpton with the details of almost every traffic management foible he’s encountered. Most of the aggravations are in the city centre, where Brown works, or the fringe suburbs near where he lives. “This truck is blocking Queen Street so no buses can come and nobody is working, probably the worst case I have seen, Wayne,” he sent, along with a picture, in August.

“This is outside Countdown in Wiilamson Rd , Ponsonby,” he said in January, adding: “Who approved it? How much did AT charge, answers please, Wayne. PS we need a meeting soon.”

Occasionally though, reports come in from the city’s outer fringes, where informants seem to be sending the mayor messages about their own cone-infused traffic nightmares.

These complaints are interspersed with feedback on AT’s plans and projects, often in more frank terms than what’s reported in the media. Brown cut a comparatively diplomatic figure in his public comments on AT removing car parks to make room for a bus priority lane on Karangahape Rd in November, telling RNZ its officials “got a bit ahead of themselves”. His feelings were slightly less opaque in text messages to Kimpton, which urged the chief executive to keep the carparks and “please stop trashing AT’s improving public perception and your own”.

Another text takes an overtly threatening tone.  Brown calls a $28m cycleway on Great North Road the “worst waste of money I have ever seen” and promises to reduce AT’s budget by an equivalent amount if Kimpton doesn’t delay the project. The upgrade was approved by AT’s board in June 2023, has a benefit-cost ratio of 2.4, and has been supported by a majority of councillors, who are unlikely to reduce AT’s budget for acting in line with their own decisions.

It’s unclear whether the tirades and threats are having any effect on AT policy, but it’s at least possible they’re weighing on Kimpton’s mind. During a presentation to the council’s transport and infrastructure committee in March, he surprised some progressive councillors by hedging when asked to commit to reducing speed limits in line with Ka Toa Ka Ora – Auckland’s speed management plan. That would likely please transport minister Simeon Brown. It may also have been received positively by Brown, who has railed against 30km/h limits via CEO text.

In general though, Brown’s messages are notable for their lack of tangible impact. The works on the corner of Ponsonby and Pompallier went ahead. AT is building the Great North Road cycleway. Karangahape Road has priority bus lanes in peak times. In some sense, Brown is just like us, impotently butting his head against the city’s incomprehensible bureaucracy. He’s exasperated at what he sees as the stupidity in the world and steadfast in his conviction that it would all be fixed if people would just do what he wants.

They won’t. The cones won’t leave. The cyclists won’t just ride on the footpaths. Even his own councillors don’t always vote for his plans, no matter how boisterously he berates them. Anyone who’s had an opinion will be familiar with the painful dissonance that comes with the often inaccurate belief that you have a lot of knowledge and the more accurate sense you have little to no influence.

Thankfully for Brown though, there’s a difference between him and the average schmuck: he can take his frustration out directly on the man who’s not only in charge of the cones, but the cars, buses and trains too. It doesn’t always make a difference. Sometimes it can be embarrassing.

But it’s at least cathartic. It takes the edge off the powerlessness. Without that, what’s the point of being mayor?

Keep going!