Auckland Transport is axing 84 positions and creating 112 new ones in an attempt to change an internal culture it says is based on "avoidance and oppositional behaviour". The changes include disbanding the dedicated walking and cycling unit.

The move comes a year after the appointment of a new chief executive, Shane Ellison, and follows a major internal review by the council-controlled organisation.

AT spends more than half of Auckland Council's rates income and often comes under fire for the way it manages roading projects, bus lanes, cycle ways and even, most recently, e-scooters.

Ellison told the Herald that AT has known all year that it needs to transform the way it works. In May it adopted a new regional long-term plan (RLTP), having earlier been criticised for producing a draft that did not recognise there was a new government with new transport priorities.


The new RLTP stresses safety, rapidly increases the spending on public transport and makes a stronger commitment to walking and cycling, known as active transport.

The budget is growing fast.

"Three years ago," Ellison said, "we were spending $436 million a year. This year it's $744 million. Next year will be $900 million and in five or six years we'll be at $1.2 billion.

"We now have fundamentally different expectations."

The result is "Project Enable", parts of which were already in place, although the staff restructuring plans were "only a proposal" at this time. Better capacity to manage capital expenditure is a critical part of the plan.

Staff have been advised over the last two days and will have two weeks to respond. Ellison said final decisions on the plan should be made by December 10, but not all staff would know how they were affected before Christmas.

He expected many of the staff whose jobs were going would be able to find their way to other roles in the organisation.

Ellison declined to discuss individual roles, but the Herald has been advised the changes include disbanding the Walking, Cycling and Road Safety unit and disestablishing the position of its manager, currently held by Kathryn King.


King is well-known to cycling advocates in Auckland as an enthusiastic spokesperson for AT's cycling programme. Certainly none of her seniors have a public profile associated with cycling.

The lobby group Bike Auckland has called on Auckland Transport to "explain how disestablishing its walking and cycling team will enhance its focus on walking and cycling and help remedy historic underinvestment in these modes".

Ellison told the Herald that active transport had become a priority for the whole organisation and a steering group, led by a member of the executive, would help ensure it stayed that way. But this would not be the only responsibility of that executive.

Bike Auckland pointed to the need for leadership and asked, "Who will continue to champion active transport within the organisation?"

A new senior executive role has, however, been created to cover safety. An expert from the Australian state of Victoria, which leads this part of the world in road safety, has been recruited and will start work later this month.

Ellison said a key driver of Project Enable was a "culture and effectiveness survey" AT conducted among its staff in July. It was designed to discover "underlying behaviours" and had an 80 per cent response rate.

Staff were blunt. They told AT the "prevailing approach inside the organisation was avoidance and oppositional behaviour". Typically, Ellison said, staff felt their own unit was doing well, "but the rest of the organisation was not working well together".

One of the best-known examples of AT dysfunction is the West Lynn shopping village, where a cycleway became hopelessly compromised by poor consultation, demands about car parking, under-road infrastructure repairs, safety issues, bus issues, landscaping and a very poorly developed sense of how to create an appealing suburban village.

In the community and inside AT, it seemed like every group was fighting every other group, with local citizens forced to watch on in horror.

"We learned an awful lot from West Lynn," Ellison said.

The Herald asked him what they had learned.

"That walking, cycling and placemaking are inherently linked," he said.

But didn't the active transport unit keep telling them that?

He said they would be working more closely with the council's Auckland Design Office and independent consultants. AT will not be attempting to do so much of its own urban design.

"We also learned we shouldn't try to make everyone happy," said Ellison, "but we need more clarity about what consultation is and we need to get better at reaching more people."

Did he think AT is poor at championing its projects? "Yes, we need to be better at that."

He added that "this is very much about how we work together, how we break down silos".

The Herald asked Ellison about the relationship between culture and leadership in the organisation. If there was a poor culture, was that principally a problem in the senior management?

"Culture and leadership go together," he said. But he added that Project Enable was not about identifying leaders who had been promoting the wrong culture.

In the last 15 months, he calculated, the senior executive had shed five members and by year's end it would have gained seven new ones.

Was he satisfied they were keeping the good people and addressing the problem of those who created the poor culture?

"We haven't looked at it in that way. But I can tell you we're undertaking 360 degree feedback. We're getting coaching ourselves."

He did not know how many tier two and three level jobs would go.

As another example of AT's dysfunction, Ellison pointed to the City Rail Link. It used to be managed by AT, but is now run by a company called CRL Ltd, jointly owned by the council and the Government.

When CRLL was established, the AT staff who used to run the project transferred to CRLL.

"We don't have a team to engage with them," said Ellison. "Even though obviously there are transport issues around the CRL we have to deal with."

Ellison said AT also had a need for experts in many areas, including specifications, managing clients and contracts, and they did not even have a finalised Transport Design Manual. AT is a council-controlled organisation with more than 1500 staff.