2 Dec 2022

Top transport candidate for AT turns down CEO role

From Checkpoint, 6:07 pm on 2 December 2022

The man chosen as Auckland Transport's new chief executive has pulled the handbrake, before even getting in the driver's seat.

Previous chief executive Shane Ellison resigned in last year and left in June 2022, after four years in the role.

In a statement released online by independent volunteer group Greater Auckland, Auckland Transport said the board identified a preferred international candidate in July.

But with the arrival of a new council and changes to the board later, the candidate did not want the job anymore, the agency said.

Mayor Wayne Brown has been highly critical of the transport agency's performance and called for the entire board to resign - so far only a few have obliged.

Checkpoint understands the candidate was a high-calibre candidate based in the UK and wanted to have a conversation with the mayor before they moved to Auckland, but never got one. 

Greater Auckland transport spokesperson Matt Lowrie told Checkpoint this was a huge setback for Aucklanders who needed certainty about the future of transport.

"The interim people looking after the role are not going to make any big decisions, they're not going to challenge anything to make sure we get good outcomes for transport in Auckland."

He believed the board had picked a candidate wanting to make changes and who cared about climate change.

"That's all the indications that have been coming up prior to that, and this person isn't sure that they're going to get that mandate from the new council and from the new mayor, so why would put themselves in that position of coming in and not being able to achieve anything?"

Lowrie said a number of projects have been stalled as a result of changes in the council and the agency wanting to please all sides.

"What we really need is a strong leader in Auckland Transport who is going to help encourage and get these projects over the line.

"We need to get these projects delivered - they're ready to go, the funding is there from the government to deliver them, and we need to get on with that rather than constant consultation. 

"Some of these projects have been in the works since 2016 and we're still waiting for them to be delivered because Auckland Transport keep trying to go back and redo them all over again."

But he said the mayor was not entirely wrong about saying that the agency was broken. 

"One of the problems the agency has been facing is that they continually are trying to appease everyone, rather than trying to deliver what the right thing is in terms of what the best evidence says to do."

Interim chief executive Mark Lambert's role has been extended until March 2023, or when a new chief executive is appointed.

Auckland Transport's statement also said they would not be making further comments at this time.