Conference report back: Velo-city Rio de Janiero 12-15 June 2018

This report was included in my monthly Chair’s report on the Waitemata Local Board July business meeting agenda.

Report back from  Velo-city conference: Access to Life

I was fortunate to attend and present at the annual Velo-city Summit 2018, a premier international conference on cycling and urban mobility.

Velo-city conferences bring together those involved in policy, promotion and the provision of cycling facilities and programs. Engineers, planners, architects, social marketers, academic researchers, environmentalists, business, and industry representatives join forces with government at all levels ranging from municipal politicians, policy makers and educators in knowledge sharing in order to build effective trans-national partnerships to deliver benefits worldwide.

 Velo-city 2018 Rio focused on the main theme Access to Life, linked to the overall goal of cycling inclusion. Building on topics of previous Velo-city conferences such as Health, Infrastructure, Technology, Governance and Data, Velo-city in Rio explored the fusion of these discourses through cycling inclusion.

I found Velo-city to be energising, informative and inspiring. I have previously attended Velo-city 2014 in Adelaide. At that time, it seemed as if Auckland had reached a tipping point, but still had a long way to go to catch up with cities that had embraced cycling as a legitimate mode of transport.  Four years later I was able to present the Auckland story (surprising many people with the progress that has been made) and found it encouraging to have it confirmed that Auckland is on the right path to a sustainable, smart city.

As highlighted at the conference the benefits for all of investing in cycling are overwhelming. Attending the conference reinforced for me that we’re now at a stage in Auckland where we know why we need to do it, we’ve heard from plenty of overseas experts how we need to do it, we have the funding confirmed, community support and the political will – we just have to get on with it!

My top take outs from the conference:

Access to life The bicycle can literally mean access to life for communities around the world. We heard from Mozambique where a bike can save 3 hours of walking to access water (photo right: Rui Mesquita, CEO of Mozambikes).  In Chicago a bike is a vehicle for community transformation and provides benefits such as reducing violence and the creation of jobs (opening plenary speaker: Oplatunji Oboi Reed from Equicity, Chicago). In Brazil bikes are empowering black women and creating the conditions for gender equality (Livia Suárez Founder of La Frida Bike Café, Preta vem de bike and Casa La Frida – photo right- and Jamila Santana, Artistic Coordinator of La Frida Bike ). Access to life can also be achieved for children by making cities child friendly “A city envisioned through the eyes of children is likely to be a bike city not one for cars” (Eliana Riggio, International Child Friendly Cities Secretariat at the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, in Florence)

It is so much more than just the bicycle The focus of debate that I often hear in Auckland is whether people personally want to cycle that is often framed misleadingly as an attack on those wishing to drive.  The conference reinforced for me that cycling is part of a far bigger response to the challenges of our time.  When a city provides its citizens with viable access to cycling as mobility it creates an environment for everyone that is healthier, more sustainable, less polluting and acts as a generator of happiness.

Just to give one example that was highlighted at the Global Policy panel discussion session.  The obesity crisis is a bigger problem world wide than malnutrition. To add healthy activity to daily lives walking and cycling must be must be a “hidden” physical activity.

A city for everyone   A common theme from speakers across the conference was the need to prioritise inclusion in transport planning so that the city works for everyone. Rubbish infrastructure such as poor-quality footpaths is a huge barrier.  For example Rafaella Basile from Cidade Ativa gave an overview of problems pedestrians face in Brazil – lack of infrastructure, insufficient width, surface quality or lack of maintenance. She stressed that insufficient pedestrian infrastructure harms the most vulnerable part of society.

Getting the infrastructure right can promote social inclusion, accessibility and equity.

In Auckland the barriers to children walking and cycling to school has been recently highlighted by the AA.  Their surveys found that Auckland parents and some schools actively discourage children from walking and cycling to school due to a lack of safety infrastructure.

Mixing up mobility The transport sector likes to refer to “intermodal” to describe getting around by difference conveyances.  It would be great to come up with a new term as I don’t think a session at the conference on “intermodality” really explains itself to most people (at least not in the Auckland context anyway). However, what it aims to achieve when mixed up with cycling is worth signing up for.   As Pascal Smet the Minister of mobility in Brussels highlighted it is about moving away from a city for cars to a city for people “We need to talk about objectives, not about the means” 

From a number of speakers we heard the many ways in which the integration of high quality public transport, transport orientated design, bike parking, bike share and quality cycle highways can increase the range of riders can travel and the number of people cycling.

The presentation on Brussels had some great before and after photos (eg the car park transformation above) very similar to projects we are working on in Auckland such as repurposing the Eastern Viaduct car park into a new plaza and removal of the Dominion Road flyover.

 Build it and they will come, but we’ve got to get on with it There were many technical experts at the conference particularly from the Dutch Cycling Embassy and the Danish Cycling Embassy.  They can boast impressive infrastructure resulting in a high proportion of people cycling for transport.  As is well known the key to achieving this is a network of high quality safe, separated cyclepath.

However the presenters took care to note that cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen were not always great places to cycle.  They just got started a lot earlier to re-prioritise road space. Photo right: Mirjam Borsboom from the Dutch Cycling Embassy showing a “before” example.  The Netherlands started on the path to embracing cycling in the 70’s after the “Stop child murder” campaign.

Mirjam was also generous to say that the Dutch had things to learn from other places such as on her visit to Auckland with the Embassy last year.

The importance of a Vision Zero framework – starting with slower speeds

Road fatalities are the first cause of death for 5-9 years olds worldwide killing a total of 1.3 million people annually. In a presentation on Vision Zero we heard that Mexico City are adopting an approach of putting the safety of children first. (Clara Vadillo Quesada, from “Vision Zero for youth” in Mexico City) Clara presented examples of tactical urbanism using paint to improve the safety of school zones (quick, cheap, effective methods that we sometimes struggle to do in Auckland).

In Auckland and New Zealand we are on the verge of adopting Vision Zero to address our road safety crisis of increasing deaths and serious injuries (In the past three years, Auckland deaths and serious injuries have increased at almost triple the rate of the rest of NZ and around five times the growth of travel).  I was interested to hear more about Sweden’s ‘Moving beyond Vision Zero campaign that was launched in 2017. As presented by  Lars Strömgren, ECF Vice-President (photo right) Sweden, aims to encourage traffic planners and transport decision makers around the world to improve upon the 20-year-old campaign “Vision Zero” by factoring in the health benefits of active transport. A new goal should lead to traffic that saves lives and improves quality of life in addition to reducing traffic fatalities and injuries by promoting active mobility in the form of cycling and walking (ie not implementing vision zero to make safety improvements on roads that make it less attractive to walk and cycle)

 What was also emphasised by other speakers is that where there is no separated infrastructure the best safety tool is to reduce speeds to 30km on residential streets. Work is underway on Speed Management Plans for Auckland that will bring in long overdue speed reductions.

Cycling as “new” technology  The technology plenary session discussion at the conference was excellent for providing insight about what is happening right now at the front line and how cycling can be considered “new” technology.

Tim Papandreou, former Chief Innovation Officer with the City of San Francisco, Transportation Agency with experience working on Waymo (Google’s autonomous vehicle project) spoke to the sunsetting of traditional transport as technology changes (where don’t need drivers operating systems in the same way people have been removed from operating machinery) and how the bicycle fits into the platform of tech and a menu of transport choices.

Ninna Hedeager Olsen, Senior of Technical and Environmental Affairs at the City of Copenhagen (photo left) took a no nonsense approach to technology. Her city is adopting leading Intelligent Transport Solutions for mobility, especially some of the unique innovations for cyclists’ traffic management. “Technology should make lives better for people, not be a goal in itself, and although low-tech, the bike is very effective in Copenhagen”

Kevin Mayne, Development Director at ECF, stressed the importance of cycling advocates and policy makers engaging with the emerging policy challenges and not leaving it all to the automotive sector to dictate. He sees cycling as part of “new” tech with the opportunities coming from bike sharing and ebikes to play a role in Mobility as a service (MAAS).  However, the first question to ask is “where is the walking”?

I took away from the discussion the need for Auckland to identify the problem we are trying to solve and to create and dictate the space that technology is invited into.  As Tim cautioned “AV technology has no moral compass” so AV tech will just go where it is allowed to go.

Blast them with data Tim also took part in the interesting Big Data session with Philippe Crist, Strategic Advisor for Innovation and Foresight, International Transport Forum at the OECD facilitated by Kevin Mayne.

Philippe strongly emphasised the need to start with “Why do you need the data?” in order to make good decisions about what data is requested from companies. Cycling gets overlooked because not “big transport” and traditionally detected. An issue that AV tech looking to solve however he warned against accepting a solution of “tagging” riders (or walkers). He also provided a warning about the in built data bias because of the different economic profile of owners of Apple or Android smartphones which can distort analysis.  Cycling at all levels has to get into the Big Data space and engage, in order to create data that works for our needs. As Philippe said “Don’t wait to be invited into the room, we have to create our own room where the technology people talk to us”.

Tim also spoke of the need for a city to establish first “What data is wanted for” to avoid a power struggle for data particularly where there are privacy concerns. However, the good news is that data science is changing fast so there are ways of extracting data without revealing personal information.

Tim provided some very practical and relevant advice about how best to use data to sell an idea. When advising decision makers, he starts with the story-telling rather than the data because we’re all emotional and that is what we respond to.  However, he puts this firmly in the context of the decision makers’ own agreed strategic framework backed up with data. Tim showed me the direct result of this approach on a tour of San Francisco at the end of my trip (see below). Safety inventions like kerb build outs are now going ahead without push back because San Francisco has adopted Vision Zero and they have the crash stats to identify dangerous intersections where intervention is required (eg photo right of a temporary safety measure).

Cashing in on the economic benefits:  We heard more on the overwhelming evidence that investment in cycling reaps economic benefits (eg Shopping by bike session).  Cycle tourism is more lucrative in Europe than the cruise ship industry (and less polluting).  650,000 jobs are as a result of the cycling industry (more than mining and quarrying).  From one study a 1 Euro investment has resulted in 35 Euros of benefit (Economic Benefits ECF research). I plan on following up with ATEED (Auckland’s economic development organisation) to find out what work they’re doing to promote cycle tourism.

In Vienna the largest shopping street has been transformed for walking and cycling. The opposition evaporated once opened due to the big lift in economic activity (photo right Robert Pressl, Project coordinator, CIVITAS).  ).  This was described as a “Lighthouse” project.  I think Karangahape enhancement project will come to be viewed in exactly the same way once finally completed.

Auckland’s story “I’ll just take the bike”

I presented as part of a session Cities for people? Rethinking Urban Planning  together with Mirjam Borshboom from the Dutch Cycling Embassy and Firoza Suresh from the Smart Commute Foundation, India . The session explored the necessity to refocus our planning away from a planning model based on individual motorized transport towards people-centre low-carbon sustainable mobility systems.

My presentation outlined how in Auckland we’re making the thought “I’ll just take the bike” a reality for Aucklanders and considered how far we are actually rethinking our urban planning.

A number of people approached me after the presentation to say how surprised and impressed they were to see the progress made in Auckland. I was proud to represent Auckland at the conference.

Summing up the conference

The conference was spread over four days with too many presentations to  attempt to sum up (check out the ECF website for the full write up about the conference). In addition to the key themes I found it really inspiring to hear from people working in really challenging places to bring about better conditions for people to ride bikes. For example Nikita Lalwani, the Bicycle Mayor of Baroda in Gujarat, India (appointed in May 2017 by BYCS, a Dutch NGO) who promotes cycling in a city with huge congestion but no cycle facilities. She does it because commuting by bike is still healthier and more convenient for her.

I enjoyed hearing about the compost business powered by a cargo bike and creating jobs (photo right). This is exactly what we need to be looking at in Auckland. The conference was an amazing opportunity to meet people from around the world doing really interesting things to create the conditions to encourage cycling such as Sile Ginnane from Liberty Bell in Dublin using a citizen-led low cost auditing system to gather qualitative data about the cycling and walking environment.

The conference was not without its controversies.   Participants from developing countries received a discounted registration that was still well beyond the means of average Brazillians.  The sessions were by a diverse range of speakers that wasn’t reflected in the make up of participants.

The cycling parade is a highlight of every Velo-city (photo right) but it wasn’t so great for the locals who had to put up with central streets being shut down for our convenience and enjoyment.

From a visitor perspective it was amazing to experience Rio and the spectacular waterfront ride.   On my trip I also enjoyed waterfront rides in Montevideo, Palma, Seattle and San Francisco.  It highlighted the huge potential to transform Auckland’s waterfront along Tamaki Drive into an even better mecca for tourists and locals.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend the conference (made possible by the generous airfare gift from a friend) and to have met so many amazing people.  I was able to explore new ideas and come home equipped with the questions to ask to ensure we deliver best practice.

Joke told by one of the speakers:  How do you recognize a cycle path in Germany?  There is a car parked in it.

(sound familiar Auckland?  Photo credit: Bike Auckland)

Presentation summaries

There are excellent write- ups of many of the speakers on the European Cycling Federation website.  I acknowledgement the assistance of referring to these summaries in writing up my report.

Attendance costs

  • Conference registration $NZ870.00 – covered by Auckland Transport (the abstract for my presentation was originally submitted by Auckland Transport)
  • Accommodation (3 of 5 nights) $NZ432 – covered by Auckland Council
  • Airfare – a birthday gift from a friend
  • All other expenses – transfers, accommodation (2 nights), meals etc – personal cost

Velocity Conference Side Event: The Big Picture: A Safe System for Cycling in Cities

At Velo-city I met Anna Bray Sharpin, a Kiwi based in Washington DC who works for World Resources Institute. She invited me to present my Auckland case study at a conference side event. Participants were from 12 developing countries with the potential to incorporate cycling as part of transport solutions.

Melinda Hanson from NACTO (National Association of Transportation Officials) gave an excellent presentation on Strategies for Scaling up Cycling.  Her 10 points summarizing the politics of “How” are really relevant to Auckland right now.

1. Show it works

2. Measure & promote

  • Bike counts
  • Economic benefits – speak to what politicians need to hear
  • Use new technology to track metrics eg origins and destinations

3.Reach out – move away from images of people on bikes wearing helmets to humanize cyclists

4.Support allies – eg bike advocates

5. Emphasise safety with a focus on speed reduction

6. Make cycling mainstream

7. Leverage the private sector – eg dockless bike share

8.Think about cycling as a big infrastructure project. Will be more eligible for multi funding

9. Be bold (Auckland’s Te ara I whiti/Lightpath was used as the example in Melinda’s presentation – photo above)

10. Don’t back down – example of Seville (StreetFilms: How Sevilla got its cycle network) that demonstrates the importance of a  bold vision (18km network built within 18 months for 32m Euros to achieve 8% mode share). Know there will be push back but trust the process and the outcome.

Checking it out up close – cycling tour of San Francisco

On route back from my trip I stopped off in San Francisco and was treated by Tim Papandreau  to a tour of cycling infrastructure that is transforming the city and significantly increasing cycling numbers.

 

Time for change at the AECT

In 2009 I naively stood as an independent in the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust election. I thought the election would be about electing the best possible candidates to be Trustees.  I presumed there would be media coverage of the election issues, discussion of candidate policies and a fair chance of success if my skills and experience stacked up against what the other candidates had to offer.

Unfortunately (or fortunately- because if I had known I would never have bothered) I  had absolutely no idea that there was no chance that I would be elected because everything was stacked against me. I wrote about my experience here.

The incumbent C&R trustees had a very simple strategy:

  • pay the dividend of $320 just before election day
  • send out a letter to a database of 50,000 and put up hoardings claiming credit for the dividend payment

Then sit back and rely on no media coverage of the election and low voter turnout (less than 17% in 2009) to return them once again to a role that pays between $63,000 and $90,000 in fees. So of course they have taken exactly the same strategy for the 2012 election.

However things aren’t quite working out as planned – the dodgy practices of the AECT election are finally being exposed. Matt McCarten summed it up today here in the Herald on Sunday.

I’m supporting the YOUR POWER TEAM candidates. They have a range of well thought through policies that includes paying the dividend. They will bring long overdue fresh thinking to the role of trustees.

I want to see change at the AECT. I don’t think it is healthy for democracy for the incumbents to go unchallenged any longer.

Your Power Team pledges to maintain dividend and reform the AECT

Your Power Team Media Release

The annual dividend of more than $300 paid by the Auckland Energy Consumers Trust (AECT) to electricity consumers within the former Auckland Electric Power Board area will be maintained and grown and the Trust will be reformed to reduce its directors’ fees and consultancy expenses under policies announced by the YOUR POWER TEAM, which is a new group contesting the postal vote election to be held in October.

The YOUR POWER TEAM  ticket is  former Auckland City Councillor Glenda Fryer, electricity industry engineer Chris Olson, renewable energy expert Richard Leckinger, financial manager and company director Tim McMains and former Auckland Royal Commissioner David Shand. Spokesperson, former Auckland Royal Commissioner David Shand, said that the Team recognises the importance to Auckland consumers of the dividend.  “In times of high and still rising electricity prices and unaffordable rates for some sections of the community the annual dividend is particularly welcome” said Mr Shand. He continued: “This dividend, from the Trust’s 75 percent ownership of the lines company Vector, reflects the sound financial performance of  Vector for its shareholders rather than the management of the AECT itself.

The current group controlling the five-member Trust, the Citizens and Ratepayers Association, now rebranded as Community and Residents but better known as C&R, will try to persuade voters that the dividend is due to their good management.  In reality it is due to the good management of Vector.  Trust members have added little value except to pocket large trustee fees and waste money on consultants.  Over the past three years the C&R trustees have paid themselves over $1 million in fees.” Mr Shand added that the Your Power Team would publish full details of the Trust’s administration expenses, including fees and consultancy expenses, in the Trust’s annual report and on its website.  No such details are currently provided.  The Trust’s annual report will also be more informative than the one page report tabled each year by the current trustees. Recognizing the tough times being faced by many Aucklanders, the YOUR POWER TEAM will heavily reduce the huge sum of around $1.5million spent annually on trustees’  remuneration and consultancy expenses. Mr Shand said the Team comprised five experienced people with different skills who would bring a wide range of experience to the Trust’s operations.

For more information, contact David Shand on 027 535 7619, pelorusshand@aol.com

Your Power Team on Facebook

Voter apathy and media blackout gifts Citizens & Ratepayers the AECT

In the end it was far too easy for the status quo to prevail. Citizens & Ratepayers simply targeted 25,000 plus supporters with a personal letter asking for a vote for all 5 candidates on their ticket. The rank and file fell into line and compiled to ensure all five Trustees are now from one political party. The lack of media interest in the election and the incredibly low turnout (less that 17%) meant that it was an impossible task for an independent, or even the other tickets, to get anywhere close.  The AECT media release announcing the election result can be read here.

The AECT website optimistically states that “Your five trustees all come from different backgrounds and each one brings a different perspective to the decisions the Trust makes.” Unfortunately the election results means that only a small number of the Trust’s 300,000 beneficiaries, who are spread across the diverse communities of Auckland, Manukau and Papakura, can claim to be represented by the elected Trustees.

It is hugely disappointing election process and outcome that leaves the unsustainable direction of the Vector unchallenged for another three years. It also allows Vector to continue on a reckless “business as usual” path without adequately responding to the current environmental challenges or tackling an unhealthy corporate culture which is leading the company to inevitable crisis. 

It will be interesting to see what the media and electricity consumers make in future of power cuts, under investment in energy infrastructure, rising energy bills, excessive Trustee fees, unsustainable dividend payments, a lack of community engagement by the Trust or any of the range of issues facing Vector and the AECT.

The AECT election has exposed how voter apathy, a paucity of information and well placed resources can distort the democratic process.  There are many lessons to be learnt as we fast approach the first super city elections if we want fresh thinking, a sustainable future and inspiring community leadership to be part of Auckland’s governance.

Energising Vector’s culture and strategy through smarter governance

The AECT election has been largely ignored by the media which means very few voters are aware of the issues facing the largest publicly owned trust in New Zealand and the governance of New Zealand’s leading energy infrastructure company.

Brian Rudman is the only commentator to provide anything thought provoking about the issues, making the suggestion in the NZ Herald that voter apathy (currently only 15.73% have voted with only one day left) justified the eventual owners of the Trust, the councils of Auckland, Manukau and Papakura making a serious bid to bring forward the eventual transfer. As he pointed out the community could do a lot more with the $98 million dividend than have it spread out in $320 lots to 273,000 plus households in the Trust area.

The 16 candidates have been unchallenged on their views on a range of other issues such as undergrounding, the strategic direction of Vector, the roles of the Trustees, trustee fees, the regulatory relationship, the sale of Vector, energy pricing, energy efficiency.  Perhaps if the Trust had done more to advertise the election and the role of the Trustees, eligible voters would have demanded more information to inform their vote.

As a consequence of the minimal election coverage the governance of Vector has also escaped scrutiny. The Trust as majority shareholder of Vector needs to be satisfied that the right governance structure is in place.  Only John Collinge and his ticket of Just Power – No Politics has highlighted concerns about the current governance.

One area that raises concerns about the current Trustees oversight of Vector, on behalf of energy consumers, is the lack of a clear company strategy that is understood by all employees and a negative management culture that has stifled performance and innovation.  The Trust needs to know that Vector is delivering on its core functions as an infrastructure company. This calls for a number of tough questions by the Trustees. How well is Vector performing in terms of what customers want – the delivery of reliable and safe energy? Is there a crisis loaming due to under investment and lack of maintenance in key areas? Is there a priority on doing the job right rather than increasing dividends (out of debt) at the risk of reliability and safety? Why is business as usual at Vector about handling a higher volume of power – has this has become the de facto strategy? What is the future direction that will maximise new initiatives and opportunities?

The company strategy should be clear and simple, providing the foundation for a healthy, productive and innovative business with highly engaged staff with a clear sense of purpose and healthy morale. Unfortunately there are indications that the culture at Vector has allowed a breakdown in the trust and respect at all levels of the organisation from the executive and Board down. The Trust needs to consider whether the positive flow of respect and strategic alignment at Vector has gone wrong and whether this means the company is not working as well as it could.  The Trust has the ability to influence the strategic direction of Vector and the management culture through the appointment of directors to the Board including two of the Trustees.

The current Vector management needs to stop hiding behind being a monopoly private sector company to acknowledge its place in the community providing an essential service. This will only happen once the Trustees are willing to step up into their role and demand much more from the governance of the company.

AECT Election: The Power is With the Community

Press Release: Grey Lynn 2030

28 October 2009

With only 2 days remaining in the AECT election a disappointing 14.65% of eligible voters have so far returned postal ballots to decide the 5 trustees of the Trust. At the same time in the 2003 election the turnout was only slightly better at 17.5%. Independent Candidate Pippa Coom, a lawyer who previously worked at Vector, visited nearly the whole Trust area over the course of her campaign and found a high level of ignorance about the Trust and very little awareness about the election.

“The election has given me the opportunity to attend community meetings all over Manukau City. It has convinced me that you can’t beat face to face communication with the beneficiaries of the Trust. I have been overwhelmed by the warm reception I have received and if elected will be heading straight back to South Auckland to start a conversation about what the community could best do with the $98m dividend”

“I feel very fortunate to have been made redundant from Vector at the beginning of the year. Without that push I would not have thrown myself into working for the transition town movement through Grey Lynn 2030 nor with the support of Grey Lynn 2030 pursued the idea to run as an independent candidate with aim of putting community into the Trust and setting a sustainable direction for Vector.” said Ms Coom

Suzanne Kendrick, steering committee member has really seen Grey Lynn 2030 grow from strength to strength in the first year of the group. “In only one year we have achieved so much through practical action in our community. We now have about 800 supporters on our contact list. The Grey Lynn Farmers Market is one of our biggest success stories. From one of our monthly meetings volunteers got together to make it happen and after 8 weeks of being open, the market is hugely popular for locals and is already running at a profit. We have other groups focusing on stream restoration, minimising waste, community gardens, traffic calming – all through a shared positive vision to make our community sustainable.” said Ms Kendrick

“If Pippa gets elected – and if the feedback I am receiving is anything to go by it is looking very likely that she will become a new trustee – it will be fantastic way to celebrate Grey Lynn 2030’s first anniversary. It will really show what can be achieved in the community when a group of people decide to make an idea a reality – after all it all comes back to us as a community, we have to appreciate how much power is in the hands of the community if people get into action” said Ms Kendrick.

“Soft” conditions signal a hard landing for Vector in the new economy

 There are a number of statements and omissions that stand out from Vector’s recent operations performance summary and the claims made at the Annual meeting on Friday that highlight concerns Vector is not responding to current environmental challenges nor positioned to maximise value from the “new” economy.

 Vector’s traditional business approach has been to focus on increasing electricity and gas volumes and the number of new connections. It is convenient therefore to claim that current “soft” economic conditions are the big challenge ahead for the company while ignoring the impact of climate change, consumer demand for distributed renewable energy (which will lead to more potential customers using less traditional grid power and more home or street produced power traded via a smart grid) and the push to encourage energy efficiencies. These factors are now a constant for Vector to respond to regardless of a warmer than average August or the non-emergence of economic green shoots.

Vector is still silent about energy efficiency opportunities such as solar hot water. Nova Energy meanwhile has gone to market with a pay-on-your-bill in monthly instalments offer to consumers in the Auckland region. Vector, the largest lines company in New Zealand, operates two ripple control systems in both North Shore City and Central Auckland. Ripple control systems turn off householder’s hot water cylinders at peak times to lower or ‘shave’ peak loads. Joining the dots it should be Vector leading the charge in this area. Hot water control has always been a core part of the business but should now be positioned as a clear commitment to energy efficiency as part of the new business.

What the Trust, as the majority shareholder, needs to hear from Vector is how the company intends to actively invest and/or support market solutions that play a role in solutions for climate change for example solar, smart grid solutions, distributed renewable energy. At the moment Vector appears to be feigning a commercial interest to appease the regulator rather than acting through geniune commitment.

 The Trust should also be interested to hear how Vector is growing other areas of the company as well as adequately investing in the core business. The ambition is there to develop a high-speed fibre network but to date the performance of Vector Communications Limited has been disappointing and the subsidiary has failed to leverage off access to an extensive the electricity infrastructure.

 The claims by the Chairman that substantial costs savings have been made from efficiencies in this current financial year are not necessarily grounds for congratulations. Shareholders have enjoyed a healthy dividend this year ($98m) but this needs to be balanced with reassurance that Vector is making necessary capital expenditure to ensure reliable and safe supply. These cost savings have also been achieved by cutting back in the very areas of the business where investment is most needed. For example over the last year Vector has quietly disbanded its team working on renewable energy and restructured the Vector communications business into the commercial team thereby taking away its market prominence.

It is essential that the next operations performance summary provides a much more convincing account of how Vector is not just waiting for cold weather to improve performance but is leading the way in responding to and adding value from emerging  environmental opportunities.

Still waiting for your voting documents?

By the end of day 3 of postal voting for the AECT election  only 6.78% of eligible voters have returned their voting documents (at the same stage in the 2006 election it was slightly better but still only 9.70%) . Unfortunately a majority of electricity consumers do not know that they are beneficiaries of the Trust or that there is an election going on.  Another problem is that in some places the papers have not arrived yet even though they were sent out last Thursday.  If you received the $320 dividend from the Trust in September or have moved into Auckland City, Manukau City or Papakura since then and your name is on the power bill you can vote for YOUR Trust.
 
To chase up voting documents please call Independent Election Services Ltd, on 09 307 7211 or 0800 922 822 and ask for a special voting paper.

Going underground – another reason to vote

Vector holds on to some of its profit to reinvest in the business and to pay for the undergrounding of power lines.   

The Trust has an agreement with Vector that commits it to spend over $10m a year replacing power lines and power poles with underground cables.

All AECT trustees were instrumental in bringing about the undergrounding programme, and this is a good example of why you should vote in the upcoming elections, and vote well. 

So far, more than 124km of power lines have disappeared underground, and I think that’s great however the Trust needs to speed  up the project because it adds value to the network and  at current rates it is likely to take 40 years to complete.

On the campaign trail with my bicycle

The many lively markets that can be found in the AECT voting district are a great place to meet people and raise awareness about the election.

My first market visit was the Ostend Market on Waiheke last weekend (Sunday 11 October). This weekend I spent Saturday campaigning at the Otara Flea market, Howick Village Market and the Remuera Spring Market Day.

On Sunday I visited Avondale Market, Grey Lynn Farmers Market (my local market), Clevedon Village Farmers Market and the Clevedon Village Craft Market.

My photogenic Velorbis bicycle came along with me.