Editorial: Travel woes huge turnoff for Cup fans

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Auckland City Mayor Len Brown talks about issues plaguing the opening night of the World Cup. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland City Mayor Len Brown talks about issues plaguing the opening night of the World Cup. Photo / Richard Robinson

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says he is confident there will be no repeat of the public transport calamity that caused at least 2000 people to miss the World Cup opening ceremony at Eden Park. He is right, but not in the way he imagines. People will have made up their own minds about how to get to the stadium for future games. Public transport will not be part of their plans. There will be no repeat of Friday night's shambles because there will be nothing like the same pressure on the train system.

Indeed, instead of trying to inspire confidence in public transport, Mr Brown would be better advised to direct people how to use their cars to get to Eden Park. Such advice will be eagerly heeded. Rugby followers have customarily parked their cars as close as possible to the stadium and walked from there. During the World Cup, that stroll will be extended, but not to a difficult degree. There is plenty of car parking available in streets 2km or 3km from the ground, and the mayor should be emphasising that option.

Indeed, it should have been highlighted from the start, rather than an impression that public transport was the only really viable means of reaching Eden Park. This resulted in 60,000 people - more than four times the normal - catching the train on Friday. So fragile is Auckland's passenger rail system that it would have been stretched to breaking point at double the routine patronage. This problem was simply compounded by the lack of extra security to deal with issues of safety caused by overcrowded platforms and the like and the use of emergency stop buttons.

An inability to foresee how extensive promotion could lead to chaos was not restricted to public transport. Exactly the same disease afflicted the opening ceremony celebrations on the waterfront. Organisers knew that Party Central on Queens Wharf could accommodate only 12,000 people, and the fanzone, from the Viaduct Harbour along Quay St to the wharf, was designed for 50,000 to 60,000. They expected twice that number, yet did nothing to play down the message that this was the place to be.

Astoundingly, Rachael Dacy, the Rugby World Cup Auckland Co-ordination Group chairwoman, has continued to defend this concentration of the celebrations. Yet once it had become obvious that the waterfront would be overly congested, alternative entertainment should have been organised at another venue, say Aotea Square or the Domain, and people encouraged to go there. Friday afternoon was far too late to be trying to tell them they should not come to the waterfront because it was full.

Everyone will now be doing their level best to address the opening night issues. But the damage has already been done, and in many ways they will be fighting the last war. They also face an extremely difficult task. Essentially, the World Cup has come five or six years too early for the city's train service. Improved rolling stock will do much to remedy the technical hiccups that hamper the system daily and were surely a factor on Friday. Similarly, an inner-city rail loop would eliminate many of the mass transit problems created by Britomart's shortcomings.

For now, however, the best solution is a return to the option that has served the city's rugby followers for generations. Their faith in public transport has gone. They will have little time for Mr Brown's attempts to restore confidence, or his assurances that there will be more back-up buses. Who can blame them? A trip by car, then a relatively short walk to Eden Park, seems infinitely preferable to risking being stuck in a stalled and overloaded carriage or having to stumble along a dark railway track.

- NZ Herald

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