AT: A Nice Earner

The party at AT goes on. Staff numbers continue to increase and the number of those on salaries over $100K increased even more. This outfit is scandalously out of control.

at2016

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We are short of parking spaces, not plans

The former Auckland City Council approved a plan for Matiatia back in 2009. It was a somewhat grandiose ecological/cultural/heritage/gateway/destination scheme which the Auckland City Council estimated would cost well over $20 million, in current dollars. That Council decided that its own plan was not affordable and the development options were not commercially viable. The traffic infrastructure elements could be advanced if and when budgets allowed, but the balance of the site was to be landbanked. The successor to that Council in transport matters was AT. It conducted a 30-year planning exercise for parking and, in 2015, told us: “AT has no plans to significantly increase parking supply at Matiatia”. Period.

The current Local Board has no delegated responsibility for the provision of parking services in Matiatia. It has not, in our view, advocated as much as we would have liked for effective solutions to the parking crisis. Instead, it continues to stress the supposed ecological/cultural/etc. elements of what is in effect Waiheke’s main park-and-ride facility. With the local elections approaching and growing concern in the community about the Matiatia parking crisis, the Local Board decided to develop a new plan. There is much talk about re-educating the community away from their cars and towards bikes and buses, as an alternative to providing parking infrastructure.

The board also decided to outsource the formulation of the new plan and granted $50,000 of ratepayers’ money to a group called Direction Matiatia Inc. (DMI) for that purpose. That group proposed to run a workshop and invited “organisations and groups with an interest in Council owned land or facilities at Matiatia from a commercial, operational, environmental, cultural, heritage, public amenity or public safety purpose”. The decision-makers from AT and the Council were not expected to take part in workshop deliberations.

FUG thanked DMI for the invitation, but declined to participate, at this stage of the electoral cycle. The new Local Board about to be elected may well hold different views from those of the outgoing board. We have not reached the current crisis situation through lack of consultations and plans; we reached it through the failure of those legally responsible for “meeting the current and future needs of the community for good-quality local infrastructure” (Local Government Act 2002) to do the job we pay them to do. Another round of consultations may only result in more excuses for that failure to continue for a few more years.

FUG will continue to advocate for the urgent addition of adequate parking infrastructure at Waiheke’s park-and-ride facility in Matiatia, using the ample land holdings owned by ratepayers in that location . We are encouraged by the support received from Councillor Mike Lee and hope to receive a similar degree of support from the next Waiheke Local Board.

On Your Bike!

At an Auckland Transport (AT) board meeting on 2 June 2016, director Paula Rebstock moved “That the Board […] approves the direction of the current investment in cycling infrastructure and a supporting programme of behaviour change activities, along with a new framework for future investment for cycling” (our emphasis). We used to leave transport matters to qualified traffic engineers, but now all we seem to get is social engineering.

The same meeting received a statement with ‘shareholder comments’ from the Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, who requested AT to include in its ‘Statement Of Intent’ document “an increase in the cycling target for 2017/2018 to reflect the additional $110 million for walking and cycling provided by the Accelerated Transport Programme” (our emphasis).

Those suspended magenta highways for mamils don’t come cheap…

Pink Cycleway

Picture: Auckland Council

This is just a snapshot of a deeply dysfunctional and profligate bureaucracy that wants to run the Waiheke ferry services.

Why FUG Opposes The Petition To Hand Ferry Services To AT

AT Boat

A meeting to promote a campaign to hand over the management of Waiheke’s ferry services to Auckland Transport (AT) took place in Oneroa on 6/8/16. This was billed using the corporate buzzwords of ‘starting a conversation’ but FUG was not invited to address the meeting. We were told that we could ask questions from the invited speakers, but should not make statements. Had we been permitted to do so, this is what we would have said:

1. Moving decisions on pricing, frequency of services and capacity from a successful private company to a failed bureaucracy makes no sense. Fullers has a history of providing a service to Waiheke for more than 30 years. AT has a history of failing to provide those services for which it is directly responsible, for example parking in Matiatia, wharf facilities and managing the timetables and frequency of Island buses.

2. The current government policy is that public transport is to be regulated only when those services are subsidised. Services, like the Waiheke ferries and the airport bus that are not subsidised are exempted from the regulation framework known as the Public Transport Operating Model.

3. If this campaign manages to persuade government to change this policy, the immediate result would be to lock the incumbent (Fullers) in place for a period of 12 years, during which no new entrant would be allowed on the Waiheke route. During those years, Fullers would just need to do the minimum required to contractually hold on to the regulated monopoly overseen by AT.

4. Fullers has said that it “operates in an open market which means new competitors can start operating at any time. This encourages stable fares, continued investment in our services and fleet and the development of services. Fullers believes Waiheke Island will be disadvantaged by regulation of the ferry service as it will discourage future competition, stall investment and impact economic growth”.

5. AT, on the other hand, supports the regulatory framework. If it was to be given custody over the Waiheke ferries, it is safe to assume that quite a few more highly paid jobs for bureaucrats would come into existence.

6. The motivator for this campaign, according to its organisers, was the recent demise of the competing Explore service. The operators of that service cited these contributing factors: (1) Exclusion from SuperGold Card (culprit: National Government, but later and belatedly reversed under pressure from the public and other politicians); (2) Unfair allocation of wharf slots (culprit: AT); Unfair provision of on-Island connecting bus services (culprit: AT). We commented on this topic at the time.

7. Explore wanted to provide its own on-Island bus service to meet its boats, but it was prevented from competing by the regulatory framework managed by AT. Yet, that is precisely the ‘solution’ that the campaign advocates for the ferries.

8. AT declined to attend the meeting to answer questions and has conspicuously not promised any fare reductions or the maintenance of the frequency of sailings. An AT-managed service would be focused on public passenger transport and would not be concerned with tourism operations or freight. It is highly questionable whether it would continue to operate the 25% of all current sailings that carry less than 50 passengers.

The organisers of this campaign could be well intentioned but, perhaps due to poor local knowledge, came up with an answer that would achieve precisely the opposite of what they say they want to achieve.

We urge the people of Waiheke not to sign this petition. We remember what happened last time, when a similarly well-resourced and sleek campaign collected thousands of signatures to prevent marine reserves in the Northern beaches. While many were happy with the outcome, some of those who signed it came to regret having done so.

Our ferry service ain’t broken and it doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ by politicians handing it over to a failed bureaucracy.

Keep AT Away From Ferry Services

A local MP supports a proposal to confiscate the Waiheke ferry services from Fullers and hand them over to Auckland Transport.

National Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye saidI think we all had really high hopes when Explore was in the market that we’d get better services but when the company dropped out, it was very clear to me that things had to change.”

Explore introduced competition that resulted in more frequent sailings and improved services. That company said that AT’s ongoing failure to provide a level playing field in the allocation of wharf slots and on-Island bus services was a contributing factor to its decision to terminate the service.

The MP’s supported proposal would seem to prevent any possibility of future open competition and to have the ferry services run as a regulated monopoly by the same organisation responsible  for parking at Matiatia.

There is no known commitment from AT to reduce fares. There is no acceptance from Auckland Council that ratepayers should subsidise Waiheke ferry fares. There is no known assurance that frequency of sailings would be improved or even maintained.

It is highly likely that any regulated operator would keep investment to the minimum required to hold on to the regulated monopoly, in the knowledge that its property ran the risk of being confiscated, without compensation, by proposals such as that supported by the MP.

Ms Kaye was quoted as saying that she “would be presenting the petition to parliament on behalf of Waiheke Island.” The Ferry Users Group of Waiheke makes it very clear that Ms Kaye does not represent its views. Chairman Daniel Silva said, “We are concerned that this ill-considered proposal has the potential to seriously impair the current and future Waiheke ferry services on which the Island depends.”

UPDATE: We received this message from Nikki Kaye MP.

“I am presenting the petition on this issue as it’s an important role that I undertake as a local MP.

“I am personally supportive of improvements regarding ferry infrastructure and services and that’s why I am supportive of this petition opening up this conversation.

“With regard to the specific option in the petition I think it’s one option but there could be a number of ways to achieve improvements. I am open minded at this stage about removing the exemption and I am not ruling anything out until the issues have been thoroughly discussed and islanders and people have their voice heard on these issues.”

 

The End of Explore

Explore announced that it is terminating its commuter service between Auckland and Waiheke. People in Waiheke are sorry to lose the benefits of competition. However, the other side of competition is that, while consumers generally win, some producers sometimes lose.

We met with Councillor Mike Lee to discuss the perception in the community that the Explore service was hobbled by AT. The organization refutes that charge. We also discussed our ongoing frustration with AT’s lack of action on the Matiatia parking crisis. We followed up our meeting with this letter:

There is a widespread view in the community of Waiheke that the demise of the Explore service was a direct result of a failure by AT to provide a level playing field. We note that Explore, while having expressed some concerns about AT’s apparent inertia in some areas, stated that the main reason for the failure of their service was insufficient commuter patronage to ensure commercial viability.

Thank you for providing a copy of the detailed explanations from AT. While we accept that there was no impropriety or a deliberate attempt to tilt the playing field, it is obvious that AT was constrained by legacy contractual arrangements and wharf design and maintenance issues. It is clear to us that a degree of institutional inertia was also a significant contributing factor . We believe that it is important to review, de novo, AT’s role in managing the wharves – built and maintained with ferry users taxes – to ensure that any future entrants do not face the same frustrations that are said to have contributed to Explore’s demise.

In our view, the over-riding principle is that pier slots should be allocated competitively and transparently. Any earlier contracts that prevent that from happening should be renegotiated as a matter of priority. Any future new entrants should not be merely tolerated and made to jump through hoops; they should be actively supported as a matter of public policy. The Ferry Users Group is available to assist with the development of such a framework, should Council agree to adopt it.

The second issue that we raised with you is the ongoing failure of AT to provide adequate parking facilities in Matiatia.

The promises made by AT in April 2015 to implement some minor changes to create 11 new car parking spaces have not resulted in any changes, one year later. That is why Explore’s claims of inertia on AT’s part resonate with us. In a letter received in August 2015, an AT senior manager said: “AT has no plans to significantly increase parking supply at Matiatia”. It could not be more clear. The current parking situation in Matiatia is in crisis and will continue to deteriorate, until Council as a whole assumes responsibility for providing for the needs of the Waiheke community

The Ferry Users of Waiheke are not asking for free parking. We just want Council to use its ample land holdings in the Matiatia area to provide a well-designed and operated parking service with adequate capacity. If AT is unwilling to provide such a service, we urge Council to consider the option of leasing the public land to private sector parking service operators.

We need a realistic increase in parking capacity, be it in the form of suitably serviced and located park-and-ride facilities, improved facilities for free parking (as in Owhanake)  and increased capacity in the other paid Matiatia car parks – or a combination of these solutions. The Ferry Users Group continues to be available to work with AT and/or other Council organisations towards the earliest possible achievement of these improvements.

We thanked Councillor Lee for listening to us. We will keep our members informed of developments.

* * *

UPDATE, 9/5/2016

Councillor Lee has since endorsed and passed on our concerns to the leadership of AT and we have thanked him for that action.

 

Politicians Running Ports

Auckland Mayor Len Brown found himself in a spot of bother when he was caught between the competing interests of the Auckland port company, that needs to expand to meet growing demand, and parts of his political constituency, that would rather have the port closed. The Mayor did what some politicians tend to do in these cases: he set up a committee.

The committee was duly formed and given the rather hopeful name of “Consensus Working Group”, the hope being that some form of consensus would emerge to save politicians the trouble of actually exercising leadership. The committee was duly equipped with a chair who is a professional management consultant with degrees in psychology and sociology and a PhD in environmental management. The committee was supported by council planners as well as a consortium of external consultants led by EY.

The writer was invited to attend the first meeting of the committee, but was unable to, as he was in Europe at the time. Our apology met with this reply from a Council Planner: “unfortunately for your case, stakeholders must be present at the initial plenary meeting in order to be involved in this process”. We decided at that point that we would be happy not to be involved in that process.

It now looks like we have missed out on some first-rate comical entertainment. Six months of deliberations have given rise to an interim report that lists 12 possible alternative locations for a major port, including Muriwai. Had we bothered to spend a few hours sitting in these stakeholders’ confabs, we would have supported the Muriwai proposal wholeheartedly. The transit time for ships carrying import containers would be reduced, as their approach to the port would be assisted by powerful surf waves.

Councillor Mike Lee told Radio New Zealand some of the sites should never have made the list of areas to be considered and some of the suggestions were batty. We totally agree. Some of the suggestions are as batty as his earlier decisions. Back in 2005, Ports of Auckland was majority-owned by the Auckland Regional Council. The elected chairman of that body at the time, Mike Lee, justified a decision to buy out the private shareholders by saying, “The Ports of Auckland will be a prized legacy for future generations and the wealth generated will be vital for funding Auckland’s infrastructure for years to come.”

This is what actually happened: the cost of buying out the 20% then owned by other shareholders was $170 million; that transaction effectively valued the whole company at $850 million; but the book value of the company shown in the Auckland Council transition documents in 2010 was just $394 million. Even after allowing for inflation and differences in valuation methods, $456 million is an awful lot of money to disappear in just five years.

The worst part of Mr Lee’s legacy, however, was to remove share market accountability and hand over total control of the port to local body politicians and planners. The expensive consultants employed by Council are doing very well out of this process, but their gain is the city’s and the country’s loss. The port company, somehow, has managed to continue to run an efficient operation, no thanks to their political ‘owners’.

The obvious solution is to incentivise the port to optimise and rationalise its operation in cooperation with other ports, unencumbered by petty parochialisms. The alternatives amount to grandiose schemes to relocate the port, totally ignoring the reality that in New Zealand, these days, we just don’t do massive infrastructure. It is simply not possible to undertake major public works without upsetting the habitat of some snails, kauri saplings or taniwhas. Besides, all the money Auckland has (and doesn’t have) has already been committed to the rail loop.

Vesting the total ownership of the ports on the Auckland Council was a particularly bad idea. The Council is deeply dysfunctional, run by a swollen bureaucracy whose primary aim seems to be to provide more highly paid jobs for more officials A veritable den of spivvery.

(This article by the Importers Institute was first published in The Exporter Magazine)