Peter Lyons: Production suffers thanks to shoddy rail service

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So last week I decided to try it again. I ventured down to the local station and gingerly crossed the line at 8.10 fearful of being struck by the 6.20 service. Photo / Steven McNicholl
So last week I decided to try it again. I ventured down to the local station and gingerly crossed the line at 8.10 fearful of being struck by the 6.20 service. Photo / Steven McNicholl

One of New Zealand's most enduring works of fiction is the Auckland rail timetable. I ventured back on to the trains last week after being banned several years ago for refusing to pay my fare because of the inadequate service.

I have walked the 7km to work over the past few years. I should have the physique of Adonis but the Kingsland Bakery has cruelly prevented such an outcome.

I am not normally a stroppy customer but at the time I was frustrated by the continuous delays and shoddy rail service. I had missed several staff meetings and the pearls of wisdom that emanate during such occasions.

At the time I politely informed the conductor that I was unwilling to pay the fare because the service was not that which was advertised. I quoted the Fair Trading Act and the Consumer Guarantees Act for good measure. I was firmly escorted from the train.

What struck me was how compliant Kiwis are to accepting shoddy service. For all our fortitude on the rugby field we meekly accept being rorted on a regular basis. Better not to make a fuss.

So last week I decided to try it again. I ventured down to the local station and gingerly crossed the line at 8.10 fearful of being struck by the 6.20 service.

I made it to the station just as a disembowelled voice came across the loudspeaker to announce that the service was delayed because of track faults.

Others waiting at the station seemed to take this news with stoic resignation. Auckland's rail timetable still seems based on a yearly average. I fumed and did a mental calculation about heading to the nearest bus stop.

My other thought was that the reason rail commuters continue to suffer such shoddy service is because no one of any real influence catches the trains on a regular basis. Rail commuters represent the long-suffering 99 per cent.

Then the economist in me kicked in. The train was 20 minutes late. Conservatively there were 150 working people aboard so this constitutes 50 hours of lost production . I was almost in tears.

When a train finally did arrive it was full to the hand rails. The doors eventually opened. This seems to be Veolia's version of a slow tease. Commuters are so relieved that some form of transport has arrived they are meant to be titivated by this strange dance of the seven veils just to emphasis how lucky they are.

The conductors on Auckland's rail service are often migrants from developing countries. They are unfailingly polite if somewhat nervous.

They come from countries where the rail service runs on time and in all likelihood, a job in the service is regarded with a degree of esteem.

In the Auckland context they are the unfortunate interface between an inept provider and a frustrated public. Veolia provides them with a crash course in the extreme aspects of customer service in New Zealand. They can then move on to the relative tranquillity of working in a Novopay call centre.

The conductor last week offered to sell me a $10 concession ticket. I informed him that I found it very difficult to muster that level of commitment to Auckland's rail service.

He laughed and offered me a free timetable so at least I would know when not to be at the station.

Auckland economics teacher Peter Lyons walks to work.

- NZ Herald

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