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Image: Tina Tiller
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PoliticsOctober 27, 2022

Auckland Transport responds to Wayne Brown’s open letter in all-staff meeting

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown sent Auckland Transport a letter telling it to stop changing how Aucklanders live. In an all-staff meeting yesterday, its top executives seemed to be taking that instruction on board.

Auckland Transport will be putting some cycling projects on hold and making sure it considers cars more in road upgrades, its top executives told an all-staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon. 

Interim chief executive Mark Lambert said the change in direction was a response to a letter from incoming mayor Wayne Brown, staff members present at the meeting told The Spinoff.

Brown’s letter chastised AT for focusing on “changing how Aucklanders live” with transport policy, and ordered it instead to “deeply understand how Aucklanders actually live now, how they want to live in the future and deliver transport services that support those aspirations”.

Though Brown doesn’t have the authority to set AT’s direction, and any actual policy decisions are the responsibility of the council’s governing body where he has just one of 21 votes, Lambert said the letter would be treated as an informal letter of expectation, two sources say.

A formal letter of expectation is usually sent to AT by the full council in November or December, and sets out its priorities for the organisation.

Lambert said the agency would respond to Brown’s instructions by making sure road users who can’t walk, cycle or use public transport are considered more in project planning, revisiting some cycling projects that are now more controversial than they were before the election, and looking at delegating more decisions to local boards.

Lambert also signalled a potential slowdown in public transport investment.

Mayor Wayne Brown and Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick (Photo: Supplied)

Multiple sources said he told staff that AT may not need to increase public transport patronage as rapidly as projected, given Auckland’s population growth has slowed.

He added that the agency would respond to the mayor’s aversion to road cones by completing current projects before starting new ones, sources said.

If Lambert’s presentation defines AT’s actions going forward, it would mark a big policy shift for the council-controlled organisation. 

In the weeks before the election, councillors passed the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway, which delivers a roadmap to decrease Auckland’s transport emissions 64% by 2030. 

It sets out a rapid reduction in the city’s dependence on cars, and a huge escalation in its investment in other transport choices.

A graphic from the TERP showing the transport transformation required in Auckland.

When it passed, AT board chair Adrienne Young-Cooper said “decarbonising transport in Auckland will be a critical part of meeting Aotearoa’s global obligations to reduce the impact of climate change”.

The TERP remains in operation, along with the policy it’s designed to enact, Te Tāruke-a-Tāwhiri Auckland’s climate plan.

Councillors haven’t been sworn in, and the council’s governing body hasn’t yet met following the local body election earlier this month.

One councillor, who did not want to be named, said any major policy changes would need to be signed off by the full council. “I haven’t seen that come through our emails. No update from Mark [Lambert]. There’s a ‘no surprises’ policy, so I thought just as a matter of courtesy it would come to us. But even process-wise it’s got to come to us,” the councillor said. “And they know that.” 

In a statement to The Spinoff this morning, Auckland Transport did not dispute the meeting’s agenda, and said the team was “looking forward to working constructively with the mayor and wider council through the upcoming formal annual statement of intent process.”   

“We agree with the mayor that a new approach is needed to better understand the needs and expectations of our communities, and how we, our decisions and the work we do impacts on people’s daily lives,” an AT spokesperson said.

“We are reviewing some of our existing and planned public consultations and engagements, and if appropriate we may take the opportunity to get further local input. This is a request we have had from various parts of the community, not just the mayor.”

During his campaign, Brown railed against AT and another council-controlled organisation, Eke Panuku, for what he saw as underperformance and in AT’s case, social engineering.

He has called on the boards of both organisations to resign, but so far only Young-Cooper has followed that instruction.

AT has been the subject of heavy criticism in recent years. Conservatives have accused it of trying to force people out of their cars, while advocates for transport choice and climate action have pointed out that the organisation is failing to enact the progressive strategies passed for it by the council, and blamed that lack of action partly on resistance in the organisation’s management.

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