AT CEO resigns – Greater Auckland

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There was some big news last week with Auckland Transport announces that CEO Shane Ellison has resigned.

The Auckland Transport Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Managing Director Shane Ellison.

Mr. Ellison, who joined AT in December 2017, will step down on June 24, 2022.

“Now is the right time for the board to consider new leadership for a new phase at AT,” says Mr. Ellison.

“The organization has many opportunities and challenges ahead as it continues to improve road safety, support fashion change and respond to the climate crisis.

“The past four years have been very rewarding, with significant changes and many challenges, and I look forward to the rest for AT. “

AT Board Chair Adrienne Young-Cooper said Mr. Ellison’s leadership has brought about a significant cultural change within the organization that will continue to be felt well beyond June 2022. It has leads to significant improvements in AT performance.

“Shane’s work to move from moving vehicles to moving people and goods will have lasting impacts both within AT and across the region,” said Young-Cooper.

“I thank Shane, on behalf of our Board of Directors, for his service to Tāmaki Makaurau and wish him the best.”

Recruitment processes for a new CEO are underway, and AT’s Board of Directors anticipates that he will make an appointment prior to Mr. Ellison’s departure in June 2022.

Shane’s time at Auckland Transport started off optimistically, feeling like we were heading in a new direction, as reported Auckland Cycling:

Eden Williams of Generation Zero (with Leroy Beckett, L) hands the petition to Shane Ellison, CEO of AT. Image credit: Bike Auckland

And the new CEO was a good champion, both for active modes:

Aucklanders have told us they want more high-quality cycling and walking infrastructure. It is a priority axis of our Regional Land Transport Plan, supported by 18,000 people. It is also a very important element in dealing with the road safety crisis in Auckland. Aucklanders told us they want a safe transport network and that dedicated and protected facilities for walking and cycling improve road safety for everyone, not just for those who choose to ride. .

and for Healthy streets:

the number of school-aged children who were killed or seriously injured on our roads in 2014 was around 56. By 2017, that number had grown to over 100. So if they don’t feel safe on our streets, how are they going to be active?

I think the most notable change for me under Shane’s leadership has been the increased focus on road safety. Indeed, Shane began his tenure as CEO when the reasons for Auckland’s road safety crisis were investigated by an independent expert, and the Road Safety Business Improvement Review 2018 was published a few months after he took office. Last year, a follow-up study of the organization’s response to that 2018 review showed:

The road safety situation at AT is very different from that of before 2018. A focus on road safety has been put in place with a clear organizational commitment from the Council and from the EC level, a new Safety Department at the ELT level has been established and staffed, and many tasks previously neglected but essential to improving road safety performance are now being carried out. outside. These are substantial accomplishments for the Auckland community.

This particular work has also helped to highlight that AT has some truly wonderful and talented people – but also that there is a thick layer of clay inside the organization that prevents change. The security improvements haven’t come close enough; some responses seemed more effective than substantial.

There are several reasons for this, and one of the saddest is that Shane and AT are often not backed by the mayor and / or council. A well known example of this was with St Heliers where AT proposed modifications to Tamaki Drive to make it safer at the expense of some parking lots. Shane properly prevented staff from attending a public meeting so that staff did not have to endure a crowd that had been blasted by The Herald and who even verbally abused children to want to support change. Mayor Phil Goff’s response was to shamefully throw him under the bus for protecting his staff, seemingly more concerned with regressive opinion pieces in the Herald or future election results than staff or public safety.

This lack of support from mayors has happened again recently when discussing AT’s updated parking strategy, where the mayor expressed his personal bias on parking. The mayor shifted his supposed understanding of the “rights” of drivers to store their private equipment in the public domain to the rights of the people to a functioning and safe transport system. Just when AT was trying to push the parking strategy forward, this public criticism of AT for trying to do the job the board had given it was very unnecessary. It must be incredibly demoralizing for the AT staff when this kind of thing happens.

But the problem with these examples has been AT’s response. Instead of using AT’s independence and its role as ‘technical experts’ to advance evidence-based approaches and treat every point of contact with counselors as an opportunity to educate, AT will usually “review” things. It just encourages the clay agents inside the organization to come back with compromised designs and approaches. This had a cumulative effect, affecting the way staff approach their tasks. It is not uncommon for staff to simply state that they cannot follow best practices because “the drivers would not like the change” or “we do not have political support for it” it seems impossible that AT staff used these words.

It now appears that AT is so afraid of change that it has resulted in poor designs, seemingly endless consultations leading to consultation fatigue, not to mention making projects much more expensive with slow delivery, if projects are delivered at all. We found ourselves in a situation where AT is an organization that wants to be loved but which in trying to appease everyone ends up making no one happy.

We heard that Shane was chosen because he had no ego and could work with people. He has an accessible, calm and pleasant manner. These are qualities that could have been better exploited if he had not entered an organization that was in many ways dysfunctional, and if the mayor had understood the need to be an agent of change himself, to respond to current challenges. of our world.

In addition to the difficulties of dealing with the Council, Shane also had to deal with the distress of the NZTA. This has had a huge impact on Auckland Transport’s operations, delaying both business cases and funding requests.

A change at Auckland Transport that will mark Shane’s tenure has unfortunately been when AT disbanded its walking and cycling team.

The Bike Auckland lobby group called on Auckland Transport to “explain how the removal of its walking and cycling team will strengthen its focus on walking and cycling and help address historic underinvestment in these modes.”

Ellison told the Herald that active transportation has become a priority for the entire organization and that a steering group, led by a member of the executive, would help ensure it stays that way. But that would not be the sole responsibility of this executive.

Bike Auckland stressed the need for leadership and asked, “Who will continue to champion active transportation within the organization? “

Rather than disband the team, cycling needed a seat at the top table.

Bike Auckland’s fears have come true; history shows that almost immediately after this happened, the progress of cycling projects came to a halt. It had a huge impact on a city that was ripe for change.

Shane seems to have a genuine concern for improving the city, with a real focus on children. Paul Winton of the 1Point5 project gave Shane a much higher rating for his understanding of the need to decarbonize transportation, and what is involved, than many other decision makers in the industry.

With six months to go, Shane has a huge opportunity to make good use of all the institutional knowledge he has accumulated over the past few years, and could come out “with a bang” – leaving an organization poised for change. From our point of view, we believe that would involve consciously removing the clay and pushing through difficult but controversial decisions.

This would help boost the morale of staff who have been retained for so long through progressive work, spread hope throughout the organization and give their replacement a good start. It would be a late, but very powerful, legacy to leave.

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