Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Who dropped the ball? Point the finger at everyone

Train operator Veolia can hardly be blamed for being overwhelmed by the numbers. Photo / Alan Gibson
Train operator Veolia can hardly be blamed for being overwhelmed by the numbers. Photo / Alan Gibson

When Auckland councillors met on Wednesday after Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully's seizure of key parts of the waterfront, Mayor Len Brown invoked the classic World War II poster encouraging Londoners to "keep calm and carry on".

What was missing, though, was any rousing Churchillian rhetoric about fighting on the beaches and in the fields and on the wharves.

Instead, the mayor came across as the battered wife, trying to keep the family together at any cost.

The minister hadn't really coshed him without warning from behind. That was a "significant exaggeration" by the media. Indeed, when he made a please explain call after the event, Mr McCully told him "he was trying to be helpful".

Mr Brown appealed to councillors to pull together in "strong patriotic pride". It was not an issue of "them against us", we were all loyal Kiwis and "more important than our love for this city is our love for this country".

All of which might have been more convincing if Prime Minister John Key hadn't been answering questions in Parliament soon afterwards, justifying the minister's humiliation of the mayor and Auckland.

The mayor's wish for a united family front suited the party planners of Friday's disaster - the council-controlled organisation Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development and its sister organisation Auckland Transport - down to the ground.

Both chief executives fronted up with ritual apologies for Friday's shortcomings, but failed to address the main failure. That was to grossly underestimate the size of the crowd that went to downtown Auckland, expecting reliable public transport and a good, safe night out.

Councillor Cameron Brewer homed in on this point and got the astounding answer from Ateed chief executive Michael Redman that his organisation had done no calculations or forecasting of expected crowd size.

Ateed's focus had been on venue capacity, calculating how many bodies would fit within the parts of Quay St and Queens Wharf and further afield that were to be set aside as "Party Central". Ateed, he said, had proposed an "event footprint" which would "comfortably hold 50,000 to 60,000 in a relaxed atmosphere".

Its contingency plan had additional "venue space" at the ready to cope with another 20,000 to 30,000. These numbers were peer reviewed by outside experts, and approved by an umbrella group that included representatives of Mr McCully's ministry.

Over two or more years of planning, no one asked the obvious: if we invite everyone in Auckland and the wider world to join us on the Auckland waterfront for the party of the century, how many are likely to turn up?

Ateed says it was starting to get a bit worried a few days before the cup opening, but that didn't stop it continuing with an advertising campaign encouraging people to the waterfront festivities.

About 200,000 turned up on the night, and another 60,000 were across town to Eden Park.

Mr Redman says Ateed was "victims of their own success".

Those caught up in the general melee might have other ways of describing the outcome.

Auckland Transport's public transport system, which relied on Ateed's forecasts, buckled under the unexpected extra passenger load. Most of the spotlight has been on the failures of the train system, operated by French-owned Veolia Transport Auckland. While Veolia can hardly be blamed for succumbing to the weight of numbers, it cannot escape criticism for its failure to handle the situation professionally.

A month ago, after customer complaints during the Bledisloe Cup "trial run" of the Eden Park rail service, Veolia agreed to, among other things, improve security arrangements and onboard communications for passengers.

If heads are to roll, a sacrificial French one might therefore be among the first. But if that were to happen, Mr Brown might find some of his Auckland family in the gun as well.

Highlighting these shortcomings in no way supports Mr McCully's hairy-chested accusation that Auckland Council had "dropped the ball" and he had to assume control.

He and his officials have been involved in every step of the planning. He and the Prime Minister kept encouraging the world to come to Party Central. Indeed the Prime Minister coined the term.

The truth is, everyone dropped the ball.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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