Transurban Limited, the owner of the M2 Motorway in Sydney, states its values as Honesty, Integrity, Humanity, and Accountability. What will the company do when Accountability clashes with the other three? To be ‘accountable’ should not translate into ‘we will screw you at any time, so long as we can get away with it’. Here are my observations, including correspondence from Transurban. Sadly, the managers at Transurban would not answer my question. Their recommendations are off the wall. Their actions are completely contrary to their corporate values. So why publish values at all? Do you mean to tell me that the board and its consultants and managers went to the Hunter Valley to debate the values to which the company ought to subscribe? Was there a heated argument about which 4 of the 60,000 words from the Oxford Dictionary would best represent the purpose of the company? Was there any opposition to the suggestion that ‘Honesty’ ought to lead the charge? And if ‘Honesty’ were to be poo-pooed off the list, could we safely assume that the Board was approving dishonesty? When a company espouses platitudes, does it assign a budget to the attainment of the promise made by these values? I ask this because I would like to know how ‘Humanity’ comes into play, for an organisation whose main activity is to construct slabs of concrete. Is there a red folder in which a staff member or shareholder can see the policies that outline what, in the name of Smeaton, does ‘Humanity’ mean in terms of running the business?
Here is my first letter to Mr Craig Greene, the head of the Hills M2:
Dear Mr Greene
May I please protest at the ways in which the M2 roadworks are impacting on the service that your company delivers.
I understand that roadworks are necessary. However, it seems to me that 90% of the time that I use the M2, there are roadworks in progress. This forces me to travel at 40 km per hour. Yet you still charge me full toll fees. This cannot be right. I spend thousands in tolls each year.
May I please ask you to review my e-tag charges and match this up to the dozens of times that these coincide with road closures and detours, and refund the tolls. The whole purpose of the M2 is to provide a benefit over Epping Road. Pray tell, what is the benefit of crawling at 40 km per hour? At one time, the detours were so confusing, I ended up in Windsor and had to double back and pay more tolls!
I believe that you ought to place an early sign to advise motorists of these roadworks, well before the entry point so that we can decide to use Epping Road instead. I urge you not to place an all encompassing sign on the M2, but one before the M2, on each and every day, so that we can make an informed decision. And please do not place a sign that says, ‘Roadworks from January to April’. This wide sweep will not work, because we motorists cannot remember every sign and every instruction. We need to be told of your roadworks prior to entering the M2 so that we can detour, rather than be trapped. It just is not fair. And it seems unethical to charge for a roadway that promises time-saving, when there are none!
Tonight 11 January 2010, I entered the M2 at Ryde, heading towards the Hills, and it was roadworks ALL THE WAY to the Pennant Hills exit, and all this time, there was only one truck to the side of the road. Why are you slowing us all down, charging hefty tolls, and making us crawl kilometre after kilometre, with the threats of RTA cameras. How excruciating.
I would appreciate your response. If you need additional information, I would welcome your call.
Mr Greene responded thus:
Thank you for taking the time to write to us about your recent experience with travel delays during essential maintenance works on the Motorway. I can appreciate that roadworks can be frustrating and often require what seem to be extensive work zones, however it remains our absolute priority that we protect people undertaking essential works on the motorway.
The works schedules are advertised on the M2 website and are aimed to minimise traffic impacts during day time peak travel. For information about M2 road works to plan your travel ahead of time, please visit the Work Alert page on our website. If you would like to register for email alerts about upcoming works, please respond by return email.
We acknowledge your comments about additional signage to advise motorists about planned works that may cause delays and can confirm that we do use variable message signs to alert motorists of upcoming works. Ultimately the decision to use the motorway is then one for motorists themselves to make.
We are working hard to deliver improvements to our customers. You may be aware that on 13 October 2009 the NSW Government announced that it had reached an ‘In Principle’ Agreement on the scope and funding for a proposed upgrade of the M2 Motorway.
For further information about the Hills M2 Upgrade please visit www.hillsm2upgrade.com.au where you can also register for email updates about the project progress.
I was completely dissatisfied with this reply. I could not believe that this was any response whatsoever. For this reason, I thought to check that this, indeed, was the official position of Transurban. So I sent a note to the CEO, Mr Chris Lynch. This was the response, from Mr Darren Moy, General Manager, NSW Assets:
Dear Mr Nader
Thank you for your recent letter to Chris Lynch regarding maintenance works on the M2. He has asked me to respond on his behalf.
Both Mr Lynch and myself concur with the advice you received from the Head of Hills M2 Motorway dated 14 January.
It is a core responsibility of motorway management to ensure essential maintenance works are undertaken in the interests of safe and efficient travel on M2 for all Motorists. Works programs are developed in such a way that minimises impact on the greatest number of motorists. This includes programming work outside peak hours and compressing work periods to reduce the overall number of days on which it occurs.
It is essential to ensure safe working sites are in place when this work is done, both for workers and passing motorists.
It is my understanding that on 11 January, maintenance was being carried out in the tunnel, which perhaps explains why you saw only one truck.
Hills M2 has responded comprehensively regarding signage and other means of maintenance works notification to motorists such as the website.
Ultimately use of the motorway is a matter of free choice. Transurban considers that the M2 does offer motorists time savings and value for money. The proposed widening of the motorway will further improve customer experience and I trust regular users will welcome this development.
Yours sincerely. Darren Moy. General Manager NSW Assets.
Here are my observations about this absurd response.
Transurban has refused to face the question. The company must tell its users about the roadworks, BEFORE a user enters the motorway. Mr Moy says that the use of the motorway ‘is a matter of choice’. NO! I am given no choice! I am lured onto the motorway, with a promise of a motorway, expecting a motorway, only to be then, later, after the entry, told that I have to slow down to 40 km per hour AND to prepare to stop. That is not a matter of choice, because once I am on the motorway, I am trapped. I cannot turn back. I cannot get off without paying the toll.
One simple sign, if it were erected just before the entry point, would enable motorists to decide to use the M2 or to use Epping Road. This argument would apply to each and every toll road in the country. One young engineer, Mr J Bennett, said that another option would be to have an audio message into which motorists could tune, via their car radio, so that they can know about the condition of the M2 (and all major roads) several kilometres before they have to make the decision about which road to use. The radio broadcast would be short, sharp, and constant, so that motorists can know what is going on.
Allow me to slow this down and respond to Mr Moy’s letter, line by line.
TRANSURBAN: Both Mr Lynch and myself concur with the advice you received from the Head of Hills M2 Motorway dated 14 January.
JONAR: This confirms that at least three senior people at Transurban have missed the point, and are refusing to answer the question, and are disregarding their duty to operate within the Values of their company.
TRANSURBAN: It is a core responsibility of motorway management to ensure essential maintenance works are undertaken in the interests of safe and efficient travel on M2 for all Motorists.
JONAR: The sentence above is as useless and as pointless as any statement can get. Why are they telling the bleeding obvious. Of course it is their responsibility to undertake maintenance. Did my letter protest about the maintenance? No. Did I say that they ought let the road degrade and stuff public safety? No. So this point might well have been something just as useless, along the lines of, ‘We at McDonald’s must ensure that our deep fryers are in working order, and are kept clean.’ What’s that’s got to do with anything?
TRANSURBAN: Works programs are developed in such a way that minimises impact on the greatest number of motorists.
JONAR: Was I urging you to schedule your work so as to inconvenience every user? Who in their right mind would not try to minimise the impact? Work has to be done. Of course maintenance must be undertaken — at the best possible time, taking into account a multitude of factors. I am not dictating when you should schedule your work. However, given that you have raised this point, has it occurred to you that a person with an excruciating toothache does not care how many other people do not have one? If you have to conduct a works program, and your only option is to either impact 30,000 people or 20,000 people, what benevolence are you boasting about to the 20,000 whom you have inconvenienced? I was merely suggesting that you fore-warn the 20,000 people so that they can make an informed decision. I was not asking you to cease work or to put your workers at risk. I was saying that the 20,000 drivers ought to be told that the long stretch of road is not what it seems to be. Drivers are told that they are about to enter a motorway. This word ‘motorway’ means something. It means a long uninterrupted road. So if your works schedule is going to contravene the meaning of the word ‘motorway’, tell people before you trap them and take their money, so that they can indeed have a ‘free choice’.
TRANSURBAN: This includes programming work outside peak hours and compressing work periods to reduce the overall number of days on which it occurs.
JONAR: I guess that only an emergency or catastrophe would necessitate work to be performed during peak hour. This photo from your website shows only too well the hideous nature of the M2. It would be unbearable to conduct work during busy periods. So why are you stating the obvious once again? Besides, I wonder how your company can promise a motorway, when, during peak hour, the M2 resembles a car park. How can you take money for a service that is not delivered to the ‘greatest number of motorists’, and then take money for a service that is again not delivered to the off-peak motorists who are forced to slow down and still pay for the privilege?
TRANSURBAN: It is essential to ensure safe working sites are in place when this work is done, both for workers and passing motorists.
JONAR: My letter to you did not hint at a desire to speed-up and injure people. Safety is paramount. I was not asking you to compromise on safety. I was saying that when your motorway is temporarily NOT a motorway, that you give me a sign. Of all the signs you and the RTA flash at me, how hard would it be to place one that ‘honestly’ states the ‘conditions ahead’. But you must do this before I am trapped inside a motorway that now is guilty of false advertising. It is dishonest to make an offer, and not provide the service. Please ask ten senior managers and ten junior staff to write 100 words on the meaning and application of ‘integrity’ within Transurban? If you all do not define it in the same way, who shall be the arbiter? If you ask me, and in essence you are asking everyone, because you are publicising your values for all to see (and why are you?), then I would say that integrity requires you to do what you know in your heart is the correct thing to do, even if this might mean that you miss out on a toll fare. You see, if you do not like to miss out on a fare, what makes you think that the customer is happy to miss out on the service? Where integrity is ignored, we had better know the definition of ‘theft’.
TRANSURBAN: Hills M2 has responded comprehensively regarding signage and other means of maintenance works notification to motorists such as the website.
JONAR: First, this is incorrect and does not address my question. You can have a million neon signs, and that’s up to you. I was asking for a sign that forewarns a customer that the motorway is temporarily not a motorway, and that the customer would be expected to STOP (which is hardly what a customer expects when entering a toll road). Your fancy Values pie speaks of ‘Corporate reputation’ and ‘relationships’ and ‘excellent’. What a load of noble words. What do they mean?
And now for the clanger: you all gloat about having a website. And you seem to exonerate yourselves by flicking aside my complaint, justifying your actions by saying that you post all your works programs on the web. Mr Greene had said, ‘The works schedules are advertised on the M2 website and are aimed to minimise traffic impacts during day time peak travel.’
Why are day-time users more important than night-time users? If there is this major difference, why don’t you reflect this discrimination in your tolls, and make it cheaper to travel when the service is obviously degraded for the night-time travellers?
Mr Greene then says, ‘For information about M2 road works to plan your travel ahead of time, please visit the Work Alert page on our website.’
Would I be right in assuming that this statement, had it been written twenty years ago, would have said, ‘To plan your travel ahead of time, please review the Notices section of the Sydney Morning Herald.’ You see, it might as well say that now. As a corporate-type driver from the Hills, you can believe that I can easily travel 200 km per day. We Hill-billies are not all farmers you know. My day does not constitute a train-track style of commuting from A to B. Rather, I move about, enjoying the wonders of dozens of major roads and dozens of smaller streets, all changing daily in their ebb and flow of traffic. And you expect me to log onto your website and plan my trip? This would be advisable to those about to climb Mt Kilimanjaro whose highland tracks are opened and closed seasonally.
The M2 is a major fixture. It is not like the road to Gundagai, or some arbitrary war zone bordering India and Pakistan. It is a major arterial. It is not the responsibility of the traveller to check the daily whims of every road. We live in a city. The M2 is a permanent motorway. The whole concept of road-signage addresses the otherwise impossible driving burden. If someone is merely going to the airport, isn’t it insane that a driver has to check the websites for Pennant Hills Road, then the M2, then the Lane Cove Tunnel, then the Harbour Tunnel, then the Eastern Distributor, and then maybe the City of Sydney and dozens of other roads (and back again). Please answer this question in accordance with your Values. By the way, the RTA requires all motorists to check the website to determine when their permeant warning of ‘School Zones’ apply. Now that is for another argument, at another time.
In any case, I did visit your website and noticed that your Road works alert has not changed in over one week. So do I go there every day like a bunny and read it carefully, in case some minor date did change? Is this like a game of spot the different? I know that you suggested that I subscribe to your email alerts, so now is a driver supposed to remember all this during 1000 km of travel, until an email arrives? And now we have to check our inboxes every day before we head off to work each day? What a lot of effort that is! Exhausting really. What’s wrong with one sign?
Incidentally, those who live in North Sydney are about the only people who might understand any a broadcast that says, ‘Heavy traffic South Bound’. Anyone else who has been twisting and turning for two hours can hardly know the time day, let alone the bearing to would the jolly that warns of delays east bound. Most people, and I am willing to bet on this for charity if you would care to take the wager, would not have a clue which way to point if you stand them in a street and ask them to indicate what is meant by westbound. This would require a compass, and I have never met anyone, outside of the Scouts, who has one. Furthermore, your website speaks of ‘Geotech and cut sampling’. Must a carry a packed lunch for day? What do you want me to do with that information? It makes as much sense as when the weather presenter tells us that the barometric pressure is 1024 and rising. Batten down the hatches!
WHEN TIME IS MONEY
I am not sure what your CEO earns. No doubt it’s no great secret for a public company boasting toll revenues in exccess of $770 million. Bellow we see a Transurban management report that shows one-off adjustments whereby a CEO transition is shown to have cost $16.1 million. The 2009 Annual Report outlines the current CEO’s remuneration and incentives exceeding $6 million. Good luck to him. I have no problems with this.
I point out the CEO’s income so that I can work out what his time is worth. This is so that we can plug in the figures into the Transurban calculator that acknowledges that our time is money. Transurban very well knows that people use a motorway and a tollway to save time, because time is valuable. This proves my point completely. We use the M2 so that we can get there sooner. We want to save time. The Hills M2 website shows this calculator as an example of why people ought to use the M2 — to save time. So my dear people, why do you want us to prepare to stop? If you know that we use the M2 to arrive at an advantge, for which we pay handsomely, then why would you still take our money when you do not deliver on this very promise?
TRANSURBAN: Ultimately use of the motorway is a matter of free choice. Transurban considers that the M2 does offer motorists time savings and value for money. The proposed widening of the motorway will further improve customer experience and I trust regular users will welcome this development.
JONAR: I wonder how many people know that this problem will only become worse as the widening program continues for two years! And I wonder how many people know that after this widening, the tolls will be jacked up! They will, dear reader, because the company has struck a deal with the NSW State Government. I shall write to the Premier to see if we can change the contract to rectify this stubborn negligence. Transurban wants to inconvenience drivers, take their money, slow them down, not deliver on the service, not warn anyone about the road-works, and then, at the end, raise the price! Well you can knock me down with a boom gate. And I say yet again, we have no choice to avoid your road-works, if you do not tell us about them in a reasonable way. Fudging the whole thing by saying that the details are on the web is an insult to your own intelligence. Why don’t you do the right thing? You take our money and you justify it on the basis that we are receiving value for money. You are making millions in profit. You are the people who find this great value for money. So just do the decent, ethical, honest, honourable thing.
Dear Transurban executives. Next time you touch your annual report or see your values statement, please ponder if these values are still valid? But in reviewing them, please be sure to do so with Honesty, Integrity, Humanity, and Accountability.