Significant funding cuts and job losses at Auckland’s transport agency may see a list of projects like bus stations and cycleways deprioritised.
The Auckland Transport board will tomorrow consider a rejigged capital spending programme for the next year, which will see the agency likely putting off new projects to cope with a 10 percent cut to funding.
The budget voted in by Auckland’s councillors earlier this month provides Auckland Transport with just over a billion for capital spending, a $128 million reduction to the amount previously provided in the regional land transport plan.
This year’s extreme and costly storm events have also prompted a reworking of where that money will go.
The current plan prioritises projects AT has already committed to finishing, such as the City Rail Link and the Eastern Busway, with less cash on the table for non-committed projects.
This mean plans like a bus station in Rosedale, the urban cycleway network and improvements to the Northwest bus passage could be put on the back-burner.
Public concern about stopping these projects was top of the list of key risks the organisation was considering.
Its stated mitigation of this risk was to refer to Mayor Wayne Brown’s letter of expectation to the transport agency, which asked it to focus on the basics and complete projects already underway.
So while there may be widespread public concern, Auckland Transport is pointing to the 180,000 vote-strong democratic mandate that the mayor himself has often leant upon in his tenure.
Another fear is that even conservative assumptions of funding are not even realised. In this case, if committed projects continue, the agency signalled that money would need to be diverted from areas like the renewals budget.
The first scenario the agency will propose to its board would see an additional $125 million in flood and storm recovery added to the budget, while other projects see significantly less investment than was initially proposed in the regional land transport plan for 2024.
The biggest loss would be to cycling infrastructure, which would lose $83 million of funding, followed by $38 million shaved off midtown bus improvements and $22 million less spend on improvements to bus services in the northwest.
Other services look to win out, with the first stage of decarbonising the ferry fleet given an extra $50 million.
A $31 million cut will also see a raft of unspecified smaller projects and programmes planned for the not-too-distant future taking longer.
Auckland Transport chief executive Dean Kimpton resisted the idea that this scenario singled out any particular kind of service, saying cuts were being proposed across the board.
“We’re having a look at everything, and everything is on the table – without compromising safety … it’s a difficult challenging space, I won’t shy away from it.”
Kimpton said there’s a lot of tension within the budget, which has required the agency to make tough decisions.
“There are no easy choices,” he said.
The biggest changes can be seen in the chart below, wherein storm recovery costs come under the category of asset management:
One of the challenges a transport agency like Auckland Transport faces is being bound to the cyclical nature of government – while big spends like the City Rail Link or Auckland’s proposed light rail can take years and years to come to fruition, the organisation is beholden to the budgeting whims of a governing arm that changes up every three years.
Agency financial head Mark Laing queried Auckland Council chief financial officer Peter Gudsell on whether AT could award multiyear construction contracts that create budget commitments in 2025 and 2026.
Gudsell replied that the council would be “unable to provide assurance or an under-write for any budget/funding shortfalls that may occur in those years, outside of the long-term plan process”.
Gudsell said a report to the governing body would be needed if Auckland Transport wanted additional funding to cover cost escalations or a drop in funding from central government.
Along with a reduced capital spending programme, Auckland Transport will also be dealing with around 150 job losses which Kimpton said would also be “across the board”.
That represents around an 8 percent reduction in troops for the transport providers.
The Auckland Transport board will consider its proposed capital programme for the 2023 to 2024 year from tomorrow morning.
The changes currently proposed are as follows: