Fergus Gammie explains the meaning of ‘transport’ from his role as the Transport Agency’s new chief executive. By RICHARD SILCOCK.
QUIETLY SPOKEN but confident perhaps best describes Fergus Gammie, the new chief executive of the Transport Agency.
He took over the role in March this year, having moved back here from Australia. Since then he says has been reacquainting himself with the transport sector, meeting with key organisations and listening to staff at NZTA offices around the country.
He grew up in the Wairarapa, attended Rathkeale College and went on to Victoria University in Wellington, graduating with a BA. He also attended Henley Management College, completing a certificate in management.
His first job was with the Education Department’s School Transport Unit and he says, “transport has been a part of my life ever since”. He later moved to the Urban Transport Council in Wellington and did a stint as a consultant with a private consultancy.
“I have worked in the transport sector all my working life and I am passionate about it. Since the early 1900s transport has made an enormous contribution to this country’s economy, to the social fabric of our society and the way people work and live.”
Looking back to when he was CE of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and then COO at Auckland Transport (between 2006 and 2010), it was a time, he says, that was crucial for Auckland.
“Both organisations were focused on communicating the message that a wider diversity of transport modes was key to solving the city’s transport issues.
“At the time there was a fair amount of scepticism around that thinking as the answer to Auckland’s needs was seen as being geared to road transport, but nowadays most people recognise and accept that all modes of transport need to be integrated and working together in tandem across the city.
“It’s fantastic that these initiatives have materialised, or are moving to implementation – we now have electric trains running to an underground station in Auckland’s CBD and a project to build an inner city rail link.”
Fergus moved to Sydney in 2011 as deputy director, Transport Infrastructure and Services at Transport for NSW when it was being established and the NSW government was restructuring Transport to become more fully integrated and customer focused. He led a team of 1300, managed an operating budget of A$3 billion and projects totalling A$11 billion, ie, the new busway for Sydney’s northern beaches and the ‘OPAL’ smart card ticketing system that allows integrated travel on all forms of public transport.
Asked about the significant differences between how things are done here as distinct from across the ditch, Fergus says contracting using the PPP model is historically more widely practised across Australia for major road and rail developments, but has only been used for some bigger current projects here ie, Transmission Gully.
“They are much further ahead as far as this type of contracting goes, however NZTA has developed some really good models, for example, the NOC maintenance contracts and construction alliances, which have been very successful.
“For PPP to work successfully there needs to be an economy of scale, surety and a long-term investment by all involved parties for up to 20 to 30 years.
“As an agency, with a staff of around 1400 and an expenditure budget of near $4 billion, NZTA has been very successful in getting roads built and introducing those procurement models.
“It also has an excellent long-term and stable relationship with contractors and suppliers and we value these relationships.
“From my recent conversations with some of the larger contracting companies I believe there is a good element of understanding and trust on both sides and that is a priority for me to continue. All our highway operations are essentially in partnership with contractors and this is critical for enabling innovation, good value and successful outcomes.
“I am also aware that some of the smaller operators end up subcontracting to the bigger organisations so we need to ensure they have a place in our smaller projects.
“Roads are always going to be important for New Zealand. Currently and in collaboration with our contractors and partners we are working on some big projects, for example, Waterview, the Western Ring Route, the East/West arterial in Auckland, the four-laning of SH1 Puhoi to Warkworth, the Waikato Expressway, and Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway in Wellington.
“These represent around $2.2 billion in development expenditure. Our capital improvement/maintenance programme over the coming year will be around $1.6 billion and will include retrofitting the Lyttelton Tunnel and Stage 2 of the Christchurch Southern corridor.”
Fergus says the agency is also working closely with KiwiRail on integrating the road/rail networks and with local authorities on public transport and cycleways.
In answer to what challenges lie ahead for the agency, he says transport is very broad in today’s terms.
“It’s not just about planning and building roads and infrastructure, or managing that infrastructure – it’s also about providing a safe transport system through regulatory services, understanding and focusing on customers’ needs and expectations, and meeting the rapid technological challenges and broader outcomes that better integrated transport systems bring.
“Moving more of our regulatory services online and introducing systems like the Wellington Smart Motorway are good examples of using technology.
“Electric and autonomous vehicles are also set to become more prevalent in the future and this may change the way roads are used and we, and indeed the whole industry, need to be ready to embrace these technological changes.
“While there is no doubt that another of the big challenges is the rapid growth of Auckland, and we need to be on top of that as it is vital for the future economy of the country, we also need to ensure the regions have the roading accessibility that they require.
“It’s also about us contributing to government’s broader agenda for making New Zealand a better and more prosperous place to live. As a government delivery agency responsible for the provision of transport networks across the country, we need to ensure we are fulfilling our part in that agenda.”
Safety is a critical foundation for the transport industry, he adds.
“NZTA has taken a proactive response to the H&S Act with a zero harm approach and we are working with the industry collaboratively to ensure precautions are taken in their approach to work.
“It is these things I am passionate about and what really motivate me. When you work in transport you are privileged because it can make a real difference to people’s lives.”
Married with three children, Fergus Gammie and his wife have again embraced Wellington. He is an ardent supporter of the Hurricanes (there’s a jersey on his office wall) and the All Blacks, and says he enjoys a round of golf for relaxation as the score is not important!