Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Council tells homeless to move on

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There's no doubt Auckland's motley crew of vagrant street people can be a pain in the proverbial. Photo / Thinkstock
There's no doubt Auckland's motley crew of vagrant street people can be a pain in the proverbial. Photo / Thinkstock

There's no doubt Auckland's motley crew of vagrant street people can be a pain in the proverbial, especially to adjacent shopkeepers, and to politicians and bureaucrats striving to create the world's most liveable city.

But surely there's a more compassionate and practical solution than that developed by Auckland Transport, which these days controls not only public transport but the roads and footpaths as well.

It employs what in the bird pest industry is labelled the "roost inhibitor" solution. But unlike the professionals, they don't pussyfoot around applying deterrents such as sharp spikes and sticky gel.

The chaps from AT just get in there and rip the whole roost out and hope the pests will move on somewhere else.

It seems mid-winter is their preferred time to strike, when it's wet and cold and miserable. This time last year, you might recall, I wrote about AT's long campaign to expel the wandering tribe of car window washers, who tended to congregate, as the nights drew longer, in the cavernous bus shelter built under TVNZ headquarters at the corner of Victoria and Hobson Sts.

In the initial blitzkrieg, AT ripped out every seat so the itinerants had nowhere to rest during their "work" or to sleep on overnight. The transport utility seemed to have forgotten the bus passengers in its excitement. After I complained, the bureaucrats replaced about a third of the seats, ensuring none of the benches was long enough to be used as a bed. The itinerants got the message and departed. But a month or so later, AT was back to rip out most of the replacement seats anyway. Just in case, it seemed.

Glancing through the local media, it appears AT has re-engaged with the enemy. Over the summer, the vagrants must have wandered to the Mt Albert shops, where they've taken a fancy to street benches, much to the displeasure of business owners.

Never fear, said AT, we have just the answer - and swooped in and ripped out the town centre's three public benches. To discourage the itinerants from migrating to two adjacent bus stops, AT removed the seating there as well.

The local community police officer says it's had some effect, though one shopkeeper says the dispossessed now lurk in doorways or sit on the ground instead.

All of which rather loses sight of the reason for the seating in the first place, which is to make the centre liveable for local residents. As 89-year-old Richie Afford is reported as saying, "If we're going to encourage people to walk and use public transport then there needs to be somewhere to sit. The council shouldn't be removing our amenity. It's tackling the problem from the wrong angle."

Auckland Transport says that all is not lost - "seats with arms at each end are being put into those stops". In pest control speak, that's the "bird spike" solution, inserting obstacles at regular intervals on the flat surface, to prevent the unwanted creature getting comfortable.

But if I was Mr Afford, I wouldn't be holding my breath. The same promises were made a year ago regarding the Victoria St bus stop and were never kept.

Still, the Mt Albert locals should be pleased the bureaucrats haven't delved deeper into the pest eradicator's handbook, and gone for devices such as light and laser repellers which shine intense light into offenders' eyes, or acoustic deterrent devices which emit "species-specific alarm and distress calls".

Either of those, combined with the din of electronic bus indicator boards shouting out misleading advice about buses that never appear, would be enough to drive not only the itinerants, but everyone, away from the town centre.

In the grand plan to create the world's most liveable city, ripping out seats at bus stops does seem a contrary way of encouraging the greater use of public transport, or of dealing with the less fortunate among us.

Auckland Transport can't even get the buses and trains running on time. Leaving them to freelance in the social welfare field is just inviting disaster.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

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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