GUEST BLOG: Mike Lee – ‘Fear and Loathing’ – Auckland Transport and the Super City

By   /   November 30, 2017  /   8 Comments

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Recent disclosures about an unbudgeted blowout on staff salaries amounting to $42m, ‘communications’ costing $45.6m per year, and $1.3m spent on business class travel and luxury hotels, unhappily have coincided with widespread public complaints about the council’s failure to manage even basic services such as mowing the grass in local parks.

Photo Jared Abbott First Union
ML receives petitions against AT union bashing outside AT head office from First Union senior bus delegate Phil Morgan.   The petitions were then presented to AT management, To Mike’s right RMTU delegate Andrew Ward and Tramways Union delegate Manoj xxxx.  At right is veteran Tramways Union leader Gary Froggatt.

 

Our new coalition government is faced with many challenges – much of them relating to Auckland. But one issue never discussed in the election campaign but one the new government will have to tackle sooner or later is Auckland Council. Like many of the other problems Auckland Council is a legacy of the former government. The so-called ‘Super City’ it must be remembered was Rodney Hide and Steven Joyce’s baby and was imposed on Aucklanders without any vote. In fact it was one of the first things the National-led government did. It was created in great haste and now, as the saying goes, it is being regretted at leisure – by an increasing number of Aucklanders. Recent disclosures about an unbudgeted blowout on staff salaries amounting to $42m, ‘communications’ costing $45.6m per year, and $1.3m spent on business class travel and luxury hotels, unhappily have coincided with widespread public complaints about the council’s failure to manage even basic services such as mowing the grass in local parks.

The last time Auckland Council surveyed the public, in 2015, only 15 per cent were satisfied with the council’s performance and only 17 per cent said they could trust the council to make the right decision. One year into the Goff mayoralty it would be surprising if the situation is any better. In fact given the recent bad publicity it’s probably even worse.

Photo Jared Abbott First Union

RMTU, First Union and Tramways Union members rally together,  At left former First Union leader Robert Reid.

As it happens one of the most unpopular aspects of the Super City is the CCO Auckland Transport (AT). Now ensconced in plush harbourside offices at the Viaduct, AT is the cause of rising public resentment. Instead of a publicly-benign quietly efficient transport agency, AT’s image is the opposite. It has become a lightning rod for public discontent. Easily the majority of the complaints I receive as a councillor relate to AT’s failings. Despite being allocated billions of dollars over the last seven years, (most of our rates go to AT) too many Aucklanders are still complaining that their bus does not turn up on time, or worse doesn’t turn up at all. Meanwhile AT staff numbers have grown from about 1000 in 2010 to around 1600 today. There is too, I have found, a rather bad culture within AT and what happens internally in an organisation tends to be reflected externally.   Top-heavy, top-down, with its directors, councillors, local boards and public fed carefully processed information, AT has become increasingly unaccountable and wilful. The skewed ‘business case’ supporting light rail down Dominion Road to the airport rather than a comparatively short heavy rail link is a case in point.

Last week I was asked by officials of First Union (bus drivers) and RMTU (train staff) to present public petitions to AT management. These related to plans to make train staff redundant and AT’s interpretation of the bus contracting system which acts to drive down bus workers’ pay and conditions. I can say from my own experience that the success such as we have achieved in public transport in Auckland has been very much due to the efforts of our train and bus staff. Working split shifts, long hours, holidays and weekends to serve the public, they deserve our thanks. But while transport bureaucrats are happy to enhance their own pay and conditions what they plan for the workers who actually do public transport is a kick in the teeth.

But it’s not just public transport workers who have become embittered at AT. Currently there is growing frustration across my ward, from Parnell to Westmere, at AT’s interpretation of what ‘public consultation’ means, especially in relation to cycleways and the removal of on-street car parks. What has happened at West Lynn is particularly unfortunate. Back in 2016  AT pushed through the cycleway consultation during the local body election interregnum. There was little apparent willingness to take into account community views. I know because I actually tried to participate, suggesting to AT officers that they trial a cycleway down the median strip, in the centre of the road. This approach is used successfully overseas and does not impinge on car parks or traffic lanes. It’s a smart use of a very limited resource. But the AT people weren’t interested, it was apparent they had already made their minds up. I concluded then that the ‘consultation’ was a sham so I can well understand the incandescent anger at the mess AT have made of Richmond Road and the West Lynn shopping centre.

Grey Lynn businesswomen Soala Wilson lays flowers on one of the 18 roadside trees felled by AT contractors. 164 trees earmarked by AT for destruction in Grey Lynn and Westmere to build a cycleway.

The Richmond Road cycleway not only restricts traffic flows, including buses, but removes car parks vital to the livelihood of small retailers. They also take away parking from homeowners, who do not have off-street car parks. John Elliott recently undertook a survey in West Lynn and found that 16 out of 18 business people polled said ATs consultation was ‘poor’, one said it was ‘adequate’, one ‘didn’t know’. On the question ‘Did AT listen to submitters’? 18 said ‘no’ and not one said ‘yes’. The problem is AT is too big, and has been given too many responsibilities and too much power. With that has grown a corporate arrogance. AT needs refocusing, downsizing and a culture change but so does the parent Auckland Council. Sooner or later the new government is going to have to deal with both.

 

Mike Lee is an Auckland Councillor 

 

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8 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    “The so-called ‘Super City’ it must be remembered was Rodney Hide and Steven Joyce’s baby and was imposed on Aucklanders without any vote.”

    Thank you Mike for placing the blame rightly on two evil politicians who during their time as “public servants” did nothing meaningful for all NZ of our public commmunities and instead “imposed their own personal style of uncaring nasty hardships” of less services and more taxes on us all for their own ‘grandious plans’ for ‘highways to nowhere’.

    These ‘highways to nowhere’ must really be seen as roads to their own beachside properties which must be investigated by the labour coalition Government in the coming months.

    This is pure corrupt politics by two of the most “devise politicians NZ has witnessed in our history.

  2. CLEANGREEN says:

    Here is our today’s blog on this issue;
    Todays blogs. 30/11/17.

    https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/11/30/guest-blog-mike-lee-fear-and-loathing-auckland-transport-and-the-super-city/#comment-409470

    “The so-called ‘Super City’ it must be remembered was Rodney Hide and Steven Joyce’s baby and was imposed on Aucklanders without any vote.”

    Thank you Mike for placing the blame rightly on two evil politicians who during their time as “public servants” did nothing meaningful for all NZ of our “public communities” and instead imposed their own personal style of uncaring nasty hardships of less services and more taxes on us all for their own ‘grandiose plans’ for ‘highways to nowhere’.

    These ‘highways to nowhere’ must really be seen as just very ‘extravagant ’yet more public taxpaid roads just to their own beachside properties, and not for other any benefits for other NZ regions, which now must be investigated by the labour coalition Government in the coming months.

    For instance our Napier/Hastings/Gisborne regions has for many years been damaged by poor roads and declining road maintenance and mitigation measures such as “low noise road surfacing of (OGPA) ‘open graded porous cement’ on truck routes and noise barriers for all our city’s residential zoned roads that are now being impacted by a massive increased amount of truck freight traffic that is now harming the health and wellbeing of many thousands of those residential property dwellers/owners.

    http://www.pce.parliament.nz/media/pdfs/Hawkes-Bay-Expressway-Noise-and-air-quality-issues-June-2005.pdf

    One example is the shoddy built highway known as the “HB Expressway” built to a lowest cost standards then without any noise walls or smooth road surfacing as the trucks pass through residential zones at the time of building the roads, and any improvements in mitigation was only made after some residents spent many years fighting for their rights to fair mitigation as the residents on “the highways to nowhere” received. Sadly in many cases when we look back now most of the urgently needed mitigation requested by those residents were ignored by NZTA or the former Transit NZ and even some of the smooth road surfacing has now been replaced by cheaper noisier rough chip road surfacing, and the residents have still no relief from increasing truck noise, vibration and air pollution brought to them by steadily increased freight truck movements through their residential areas.

    These same politicians Steven Joyce and Rodney Hide actively promoted closing down regional rail services in these regions at the same time making matters far worse now.

    This is pure corrupt politics by two of the most “devise politicians NZ has witnessed in our history, which now must be investigated by the labour coalition Government in the coming months.

    The current lot of NZTA regional managers who allowed this to happen must be sacked as a result of a sadly woeful lack of services offered to these regional communities so badly affected by their inactions.

  3. Alan says:

    Thanks Mike. The recent debacle over school bus services in East Auckland is another good example of hubris from AT. Up to 5000 children were going to be affected by the decision to axe these services. There was no consultation initially, some principals were unaware only 4 weeks out from the new East Auckland network going live. AT staff at meetings showed no interest in engaging with affected staff from local schools. Very young children were expected to use public services with remaining buses only arriving at schools after the schools duty of care ended meaning staff having to be rostered on for up to 2 hours per day to look after hundreds of children (some schools act as hubs). Mercifully common sense has prevailed. There is still a problem with Auckland hospital staff not being able to access the hospital via the new network at peak times from the Howick service. No one listens. Why Phill Goff removed the two council members from the board is not clea. Especially since there were complaints over council simply being a rubber stamp for whatever a CCO wanted. There needs to be full council oversight and control over all CCOs. From published data the super city seems to be costing us 50% more than the old city. Sort this out.

  4. savenz says:

    You are 100% right Mike Lee. This is an excellent post and what a pity AT were too arrogant to take your advice and put the cycleway down the median strip.

    Thank goodness the nasty dirty campaign against you by Spinoff writers did not work as you are a voice of reason in the corporate IYI hell water of arrogant idiots that the Auckland council have become.

    $42m, ‘communications’ costing $45.6m per year, and $1.3m spent on business class travel and luxury hotels… while having a 15 per cent public satisfaction rate with the council’s performance and only 17 per cent trust in the council to make the right decision.

    And most of the rates money going to AT who provide an appalling service with poor wages for staff that actually do the work driving the buses and trains while paying themselves handsomely, and are completely unaccountable to rate payers.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Yes Adam 100%

      Steven Joyce’s idea “bigger is better ” was a costly public failure as usual for all he thinks up & does.

      Sack the bloody idiot. he is a liability to NZ.

  5. adam says:

    Bring back the Onehunga Council for starters. We ran our affairs better that any model since.

    Small is good.

    • darth smith says:

      all the councils current park and services contracts are a major stuff up who in there right mind pays contractors in advance for work not yet done heads should roll these dicks destroyed there work force Auckland council cant manage basic services. with rates set to rocket these hot shot managers have a lot to answer for we are paying these useless pricks top dollar and getting totally shafted in return. boot the bureaucracy and contractors out and hire bloody staff that actually do the work on the ground and pay them a decent wage to keep them. that CEO town should be fired we need a city engineer not some corporate wanker

  6. Lachlan says:

    I see these new cycle ways in Grey Lynn. There are no cyclists. Its just a money go round for civil contractors.