Newshub Nation: Auckland Transport CEO Dean Kimpton wants funding certainty to improve services

Auckland Transport's (AT) new CEO Dean Kimpton has a difficult task: he needs to get the number of Aucklanders using public transport back to pre-pandemic levels while cutting costs to fix Auckland Council's debt problem. 

He sat down with Newshub Nation's Simon Shepherd to share how he expects to improve service with less money. 

Customer satisfaction with AT services is low, with just 23 percent of customers rating it between eight and 10 out of 10. 

Kimpton said he is not happy with those figures. 

"Everything we're doing is focused on addressing that," he said. 

He believes progress is already being made, even if customer satisfaction is stalling at 23 percent. 

"Remember, before Christmas there was 15 percent of all services cancelled. As it stands today less than 5 percent, so we're working very hard to get those services back and keep the customers satisfied."

He said that 96 percent of people who were using public transport before the pandemic are using it again, albeit less regularly. 

Current statistics from AT say that their punctuality goals are being met, with May reporting 96.2 percent of services meeting the standard, surpassing their goal of 95 percent. 

But as can be seen in the satisfaction ratings, something is still going wrong. 

Kimpton said that AT's work to address the driver shortage is going a long way to fixing the problem. 

"In January this year, we were 570 bus drivers short, today we are 164 short. 

"We've addressed salaries, we've addressed staffing shortages on busses, on ferries and by the end of July we will have a full complement back."

This has been brought forward from September. 

Another gripe customers have is with a lack of clear communication about when services are cancelled or delayed, with 85 percent of customers unhappy with the lack of notice they are receiving.

In May, trip reliability was 93.4 percent: AT's reliability target is 98 percent. 

Kimpton said that AT's work to increase driver numbers will begin to remedy this soon, but admits "We've got significant issues across all the networks".

He wants certainty of funding in order to properly deliver these services. 

"This year we dropped them 20 percent because we had to address the budget cuts, if we don't get certainty of funding we may have to reduce it next year."

"We can't run a business like this," he said. 

Nevertheless, Kimpton wants AT's goal of a return to pre-pandemic levels of customers to be achieved by this year or early next year. 

This is equivalent to around 100 million passenger movements per year. 

With budget cuts of $32.5 million, Kimpton said that this will be achieved "with a lot of hard work from a very good team to make sure we're as operationally efficient as we can be".

Part of the cuts have included jobs. 

"Unfortunately we've had to let go of 142 staff."

Other cuts have been projects around the city. 

One of the areas hit hardest is cycling and road corridor improvements, which is down by 63 percent in the revised budget. 

Kimpton said "We've got a deep concern about maintaining the existing networks, no question, and that's one of the issues we put before council and the government. 

"You cannot continue to grow your asset base and put new assets into the system without supporting the renewals and maintenance funding."

He said that this is the core issue that needs to be addressed.

"How do we fund what will go from a $26 billion asset base to a $40 billion asset base that needs to be maintained?" he said. 

He said that this long-term thinking is required. 

Lots of options are on the table, ranging from fuel excise duties to congestion charges, but no decisions have been reached yet. 

"I want us to solve how we are going to fund our transport system, and if part of that is congestion charging, then yes we will use it," he said.

"For sure we have reduced cycling, but we've also reduced our renewals and maintenance and we're also reducing other capital works."

He said that this is not just a big trade-off for cycling, citing the new cycleway approved on Great North Road and he said that projects in Glen Innes and Tamaki are still continuing. 

"We think there is a more cost-effective way of delivering a cycle network without these large urban projects," he said.

"If we just think that reducing emissions is going to be through cycling and walking, we're never going to get there.

"It's thinking about what does emissions reduction mean for every investment decision we make?

"If you want to reduce emissions and vehicle use, you're going to be enhancing public transport," he continued.

"I can say confidently that if we are going to get anywhere near our emissions reduction targets, you've got to take passenger trips from 100 million a year this year to 200 million over the next 10 years."

Watch the full video for more. 

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