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Isn’t Auckland now a “grown up” city that can lose the “transport training wheels” imposed by the Beehive?

In brief
  • Auckland Transport is a Council controlled organisation meant to operate at arm’s length from Council. 
  • Because of this, the Council has relatively little control over how decisions are made. 
  • The Beehive gets overly involved in Auckland Transport  and may ignore what Council may actually want or need. 
  • It’s abnormal for cities’ transportation policies to be so politicised by democratic central governments. 

How are Auckland’s transport decisions made?

Auckland Transport (AT) is responsible for managing and controlling Auckland’s public transport, local roads and footpaths, and preparing the all important 10 year Auckland Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP).

AT is a council controlled organisation (CCO), which is designed to run like a corporation – at “arm’s-length”. Auckland Council appoints the directors. Two of these directors are Auckland Council members themselves and one is a non-voting member nominated by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency. Currently, the board has 8 members.

Primary funding comes from Auckland Council and NZ Transport Agency. 

It may seem like the central government’s one non-voting representative does not give them much power. But the fact the central government can change the rules at any time, and also is providing a lot of the funding, gives them much more potential sway than their one formal position would suggest. It is not known how much this leverage is used.

Discord between Auckland Transport and Auckland Council

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has been critical about how decisions are made at AT. He’s discussed with the Minister of Transport a shift to put Aucklanders in charge of the Super City’s transport system. He is calling for a shake-up on how transport decisions are made. 

Brown says he was left out of the planning and announcement by the Government for a $35 to $45 billion investment in Auckland’s transport infrastructure. This was for tunnels across the Waitemata Harbour, announced  two months out from October’s election. 

Isn’t Auckland now a “grown up” city that can lose the “transport training wheels” imposed by the Beehive? - Centrist
Many say (including the Mayor) the Beehive has too much say over Auckland’s transport system.

Newsroom reports “Brown compared the relationship between local and central government with slavery on RNZ on Monday morning: ‘It’s a partnership in the same way that the guy that owns the cotton fields is in partnership with the slaves.’

He called the plan part of a ‘long going interference in Auckland by Wellington politicians and their idiot bureaucrat mates’, and ‘an election promise unlikely to happen.’ 

Claire Gomas, an advisor to Auckland Council, notes  “Auckland Council is the only council in New Zealand that does not have a direct formal role in preparing and approving the strategic direction for transport and the allocation of funding in support of that direction.” 

Few seem to be raising the point how brazenly political it is for Hipkins to be involved in these sorts of announcements.  Brown, with his “Clearly, it’s an election year.” comment, is one of them. It is certainly not the norm in overseas democracies for the central government to routinely try to use civic infrastructure planning as an election issue.

How have things got so off track?

The 2020 CCO Review Panel found that AT “does not collaborate enough” with Auckland Council on transport strategy and other matters and should have a formal role.

Brown’s proposal for Auckland transport planning and execution

Brown and council have unanimously agreed to support legislation that would result in Auckland Council taking the lead in the City’s  transport strategy, including the RLTP, and other transport decisions like being able to set (and raise) parking fines. This is contrary to the Labour Party’s current penchant for centralising control.

AT’s role would be to execute this plan.

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