Transport chief pledges to get Auckland moving

By Mathew Dearnaley

Fergus Gammie is feeling the pressure for more action to get - and keep - Auckland moving.

Mr Gammie is the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's new chief executive after his predecessor, Alan Thompson, was named Secretary for Transport.

Mr Gammie, who was the authority's chief planner, can now implement his blueprint for Auckland's transport.

Although he joined the authority after eight months with the regional council, he is no dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat, having spent seven years with international transport consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

"We have been in establishment phase and I believe we have done that pretty successfully," he said of the authority's first two years.

Much effort has gone into plans to develop the rail network and other public transport services needed to wean more Aucklanders from "single-occupancy car use".

The authority has also established a framework to rank local roading projects for recommendations to Government funding agency Land Transport NZ on funding bids by city and district councils.

But Mr Gammie, 46, says it is time to move the authority to full development mode to give Aucklanders better choices for getting around their region easily and reliably.

"Certainly the feedback from our stakeholders is that we need to move on and deliver; we are really aware the people of Auckland deserve and want a reliable, high-quality transport system."

That was not to say the authority had not started fulfilling promises.

"Over the last year we have sorted out how rail is to be delivered, and the Government has made a decision about that."

The Government elected to retain a large degree of control over Auckland's rail network by giving state agency Ontrack responsibility for a $600 million upgrade of tracks, signals and platforms.

But one success the authority can claim for itself is the Northern Express bus service in which buses run every 10 minutes between Auckland and Albany and are credited with taking 400 cars off roads at peak times.

Mr Gammie acknowledged there was still some stigma attached to public transport, but said the fact that 39 per cent of Northern Express passengers were converts from commuting by car showed how that could be overcome by offering frequent and reliable services.

A survey finding that 71 per cent of Auckland public transport users have access to private vehicles adds pressure to maintain and improve service standards to ensure those customers are retained.

He said that meant working closely with bus, rail and ferry operators and continually reviewing subsidised services to ensure the best use of scarce funds.

A review of North Shore bus services will start soon, to maximise gains from the $290 million Northern Busway once Transit NZ and the North Shore City Council complete it next year.

Another big challenge will be developing integrated fares between rival transport operators, to ensure passengers can use a single ticket for the same price over any set distance, regardless of the mode of travel.

Although Mr Gammie expects it will take another three years to develop an electronic "smart card", he believes a paper ticket can be produced in half that time to remove financial barriers to using public transport in areas served by more than one operator.

The authority's 10-year public transport network plan has its priority the development of rail and busway corridors into a "rapid transit network" before adding feeder services.

Although that favours investing in rail in the first five years, leaving most spending on new bus services for later, Mr Gammie says the authority will do what it can to feed more passengers by bus into new rail interchanges at Henderson, Manurewa and Panmure.

Auckland faces a $700 million public transport spending gap, despite a regional council commitment of $1.6 billion over 10 years.

However Mr Gammie remains optimistic the Government will help Auckland to maintain the momentum this year once it completes a review of the region's transport strategy.

"We believe the Government has shown its commitment to working with Auckland to address this."

Although the Government has promised $120 million for duplicated railway tracks through New Lynn, Auckland is still waiting for a decision on rail electrification.


Fergus Gammie

Job: Chief executive, Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

Big achievement: Buses every 10 minutes between Auckland and the North Shore, reducing traffic congestion on the Northern Motorway.

Big challenge: Developing a single ticket system for all travel on buses, trains and ferries.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 24 Apr 2014 17:04:47 Processing Time: 1381ms