Phil Twyford states Ministry of Transport can provide on his policies, despite shocker evaluation

Three top officials leaving in Ministry of Transport restructure
* Joanne Harrison’s $725,000 ‘web of deception’ revealed in new documents

A Performance Improvement Framework review carried out by the State Services Commission makes clear the ministry needs to work on clarifying its purpose, collaborating more, and developing a medium-term strategy.

Phil Twyford: "My sense is that in terms of the policy environment there are a lot of smart people and a lot of ...


Phil Twyford: “My sense is that in terms of the policy environment there are a lot of smart people and a lot of curiosity about new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

Of 28 attributes and tasks MoT were rated “well-placed” for just five: transport and technology, safety, investment, asset management, and financial management. None were rated as “strong” but several were rated as “weak” – including transport for the regionals and multi-modal transport. The majority sat in “needs development”.

Overall the ministry was in need of a “reboot” the reviewers said. The report was commissioned and largely carried out prior to the new Government coming to office.

Twyford said that while the Ministry had experience difficulty it was adapting well to a new focus from his Government that was much more aggressive about getting urban dwellers out of cars and into trains or buses.

Sign up for our newsletter

“Everyone knows that the Ministry has been through a rough patch, but I think that under [new boss] Peter Merci’s leadership they are really on an upward trajectory,” Twyford said.

Ad Feedback

Much of the report focused on MoT keeping up with “disruptive” changes in the transport area – things like self-driving cars and Uber.

The reviewers noted that while MoT had excellent “responsiveness” it had spread itself somewhat thin, with a “breadth rather than depth and sector specialisation in its skill base”. 

Twyford said the Joanne Harrison case had been very hard on the staff internally.


Twyford said the Joanne Harrison case had been very hard on the staff internally.

“To step up to the new demands the Ministry has to lift the fitness-for-purpose of many of its internal corporate processes. It cannot and will not perform adequately under the correct corporate systems and processes,” they wrote.

MoT were transforming away from a structure based on transport “modes” – say driving or cycling – into one focused on core mission areas such as “resilience”.

The Ministry operate more as a policy and legislative organisation than a delivery one, with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) building and maintaining infrastructure. Approximately 150 people work there.

“It’s a relatively small ministry but the transport system is a massive and complex part of the economy with numerous different stakeholders,” Twyford said.

“It has to play a leadership role working with all of those other stakeholders.”

Twyford said the fraud case was “pretty tough” on the organisation but had revealed a need for an overhaul of the organisation, which was going well.

“My sense is that in terms of the policy environment there are a lot of smart people and a lot of curiosity about new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

He said the objectives set in the report – before he came to Government – matched his own priorities well: fixing up Auckland, developing transport in the regions, and “multi-modal transport.”

The reviewers noted “multi-modal-transport” – basically a diversion of focus away from simply driving A to B and onto journeys that may involve two or more forms of transport – had been a priority since early 2016 but the Ministry “is yet to develop an understanding of what this means in practice.”

Twyford has asked the Ministry to look at transport as “an enabler of urban development, not just a way to get from A to B and reduce journey times – but to think about the effect on urban form.”

He said rapid transport systems would be an “indispensable and integral part of urban transport networks, to act as a pressure valve for peak hour congestion.”

“The idea for instance is that to make cities work and in fact to get the most out of our freight system to drive mode-shift, so that we get in cities more people choosing to bike walk take the train or bus, and in the freight network we get freight that can be more efficiently moved by rail onto trains, that’s a good thing.”

He said the Ministry was excited by these challenges and he was confident they could deliver the policy he needed.

Twyford floated his interest in increasing central government public transport subsidies to councils so they could reduce the prices of buses and trains in recent days – possibly even making them free.

Unlike his predecessor Simon Bridges, he is less keen on another version of the transport future – one that sees autonomous private vehicles take the load off other transport systems.

“I’m not of the school of thought that thinks that technological change like autonomous cars and pizza-delivery drones are going to rescue the transport system so that we don’t have to build rapid transit systems,” Twyford said.

MoT PiF review by Henry Cooke on Scribd

He did see “mobility-as-a-service” systems where people organised and ordered many forms of transport from their smartphone as “the future” however.

The government’s job was to provide the best “mix” for each person.

“It might be cycling to meet up with a rapid transit busway or a ferry, or walking to work because there is really safe off-road walkways, or it might mean getting a ridesharing service to a rapid transit station.”

He said there was more work to be done in the ridesharing area to make sure all operators had a “level playing field” but innovation was still encouraged.

Twyford was not worried about needing to take the country with him to this future, as he thought more and more people already agreed with his ideas – particularly in Auckland.

“Aucklanders know that the current system isn’t working. They know you can’t just build more lanes on the motorway – they just fill up with cars! So many people travel to cities like Brisbane and Perth and Sydney that have very good public transport systems, so they know that cities as scale can’t thrive without mass transit.”

 – Stuff

Saved|Saved StoriesSaved|Saved Stories

Save|Saved StoriesSave|Saved Stories

Next Politics story: