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Photos: Getty
Photos: Getty

OPINIONSocietyOctober 20, 2021

Situation vacant: who will turn around the transport supertanker for Aotearoa?

Photos: Getty
Photos: Getty

There are few more important jobs than leading NZ’s transport agency. The country needs someone who can steer us towards a positive, climate-friendly future, urges Jolisa Gracewood.

Cool job alert! Waka Kotahi (the New Zealand Transport Agency) is looking for a new chair of the board, to guide the organisation through the next three to six years. Here’s the job description. Applications close at 9am on Tuesday October 26. OK, maybe this is only cool to a small subset of transport and democracy nerds. But hear me out.

The job ad is Weetbix-dry, as befitting the rarefied world of board appointments. It also buries the lede.

Of course this is a role for someone with top-notch governance chops. But it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime gig for a visionary who’s keen to leave the world a better place. Would the ad reach more people at the heart of that Venn diagram, if it sounded more like this?

Your Country Needs You!

We face a climate crisis, and decarbonising our transport system is a vital part of the solution. Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, needs a new chairperson. A governor who can bring the right wisdom, on the right issues, at the right time.

That time is now. We’re looking for someone who understands the urgency of this moment, and the immense potential for transformation. Someone who:

  • has extensive governance experience and exemplary leadership skills
  • has a clear understanding of the stakes of climate change and the need for action
  • sees the potential of low-carbon transport to create better lives for all New Zealanders
  • can create a vision and lead the necessary culture change to deliver what Aotearoa needs
  • is ready to challenge status-quo mindsets and vested interests
  • can lead an evidence-based approach that prioritises future generations

Is this you? Please step up, so we can all step into a better future.

Seriously – the next few years are critical for saving our planet from overheating, and reducing the consequences that fall unfairly on the shoulders of future generations. There needs to be a lot of climate action, and soon. And, in the words of the great YA author John Green, just like falling in love or falling asleep, it will happen slowly and then all at once.

Which is also, it turns out, how supertankers turn around. As Buckminster “Call me Trim-Tab” Fuller explained, you don’t necessarily need a lot of pressure – you just need to know where to apply it. (Knowing when and why to cut the engines is also useful.)

That’s why this role is so important. Transport is one of the major drivers – pun intended – of Aotearoa’s carbon emissions. Fortunately, it’s also a sector that’s making good headway on what needs to change. When the draft Emissions Reduction Plan was released last week, the government was promptly hassled for once again asking when it could be telling. Why more consultation, when the way ahead is surely obvious? But commentators did note that the transport analysis was ahead of the pack, strong on policy directions.

For example: a major reduction in car travel. Reallocating “significant amounts of street space” towards bus lanes and bike lanes. More support for micro-mobility – great, because e-bikes and scooters already outnumber electric cars by around five to one. More low-traffic neighbourhoods, more walkable cities. (Heck, maybe even some sexy overnight trains? A girl can dream.)

All this policy momentum puts us on a roll. But to deliver the goods, we need eyes on the prize and a firm hand on the tiller, or the trim-tab, or whichever part of a supertanker that it is that needs nudging. Which is where the chair role comes in.

Here’s another way to look at the current moment: from the ground up.

Check out this short “futurementary” made by Bike Te Atatū in 2014. It’s a brilliant, hyper-local, low budget vision of the upsides of streets designed for sustainable transport, the kind of transport/ climate comms we desperately need. Watch it, and I defy you not to get goosebumps.



I get an extra layer of goosebumps, because one of the little kids in that video is my nephew.

Seven years on, he towers over me, has a driver’s licence, and is off to university next year. His neighbourhood still lacks safe local bike lanes or safer speed zones. Meanwhile, there’s a catch-up plan to retrofit bus lanes on the nearby motorway that was inexplicably rebuilt without a busway.

My nephew’s looking forward to catching those frequent fast buses to town. He marched in the last School Strike for Climate, with a sign that read: “SUSTAINABLE AND ACCESSIBLE PUBLIC TRANSPORT”. (Hell yeah, that small subset of transport and democracy nerds gets bigger by the day!)

What I’m saying is, six or seven years goes by in a flash. But also, you can also get a lot done in that time.

Aotearoa’s next top transport governor may already be deeply versed in the field. Or maybe they’ve had a recent road-to-Damascus moment about transport as climate action. They’re out there somewhere: a wise elder, with three to six years up their sleeve and a hankering to make a huge difference for the youth.

Hopefully they’ve already thrown their hat in the ring. But if you know top talent looking for a cool governance job, especially if they have experience nudging supertankers – please let them know. Their country, really, does need them.

Jolisa Gracewood is an advocate, transport and democracy nerd, and freelance writer.

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