Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: All aboard another bureaucratic blunder

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Bureaucrats can sometimes be their own worst enemies.

Take Auckland Transport and advertising. Back in March, AT, wearing its road signage policeman's helmet, jumped up and down about unknown mayoral candidate, Vic Crone, buying space on commercial billboard sites in Parnell and Orewa to promote herself.

The advertisements breached an obscure bylaw banning electoral signage anywhere outside an arbitrary nine week pre-election day period. Crone bounced back with a legal opinion saying the bylaw breached her freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights.

She quipped her sign was no more dangerous than former All Black Dan Carter in his undies.

AT responded with a defence of the bylaw, accompanied by an apparent step back. It said it would review the rule after the election.

As yet, no action has been taken against the candidate.

As a bus user, my immediate shock was not about any restrictions on Crone's freedom of expression - after all, she got more publicity than she could ever have dreamed of as a result of the bylaw furore - but at AT's hypocrisy.

The bylaw had been introduced in 2013 to avoid, I later read, "confusion and unnecessary visual distraction."

Yet at the very time AT was fussing about hypothetical and fleeting "visual distractions" to passing motorists, their bus fleet was slowly being enveloped in wrap-around advertising, obstructing travellers' views out into the world's most liveable city.

If ever there was a case of causing confusion and unnecessary visual distraction, there it was, being inflicted by NZ Bus, AT's major private provider of bus services.

At the time, the AT bureaucrats claimed there was nothing they could do. Three years on, the good news is, they've finally found a way to let the daylight back in.

New bus operating contracts are being introduced and included is a ban on window-blocking bus advertising.

Brendon Main, group manager AT Metro Operation says "there will be no advertising on bus windows with the implementation of our new contracts ... It will be great for our customers."

Shame it took so long.

The bad news is that it's going to take another two years to get the job done. Many of us will have a long wait before we can be guaranteed a clear view out.

Three years on, the good news is, they've finally found a way to let the daylight back in.

First to see the light will be passengers on the southern buses, where the new contracts come into force on October 30. Out west, it's May 2017.

Travellers like myself on the central routes have a year to wait, while those in the east will have to wait until November 2017. North Shore travellers are last in the queue, with no change until March 2018.

It is ironic that Auckland Transport has been so slack about banning signage that has blighted the travel experience of untold thousands of its customers over several years, particularly on wet winter nights when it's difficult to actually see where one is going, yet has pursued a mayoral candidate for breaching some obscure electoral signage bylaw of questionable legality, for an offence that upset no one.

There was more good news on the public transport front at yesterday's AT's monthly board meeting in a report celebrating the success of "HOP penetration on public transport."

We're told, 86 per cent of journeys are now paid for by use of the electronic swipe card.

This is worth celebrating, even if the journey there was long and tortuous.

It was way back in 2009 that AT's predecessor, ARTA, signed a deal with international services giant Thales to deliver Auckland a $98 million integrated public transport ticketing system.

Following that came the fiasco with the Snapper card, when losing tenderer, Wellington-based Infratil, somehow convinced AT that its card would work seamlessly with the Thales system and we keep them in the game.

It didn't, and much confusion and shouting and legal threats and delays ensued.

Still that's all behind us now, with just over 965,000 AT HOP cards having been sold, compared with the original target for the same period of 338,000.

With Auckland's total population only 1.57 million, I wonder where all these cards have gone, but I guess that's the least of AT's worries.

The more cards sold means more "stored value" back in the HOP trust account. As of June 2016, the balance was $11.8 million.

- 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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