One of the successes of Auckland public transport in recent times has been the Link service, modern buses looping around the inner suburbs at reasonably frequent intervals.
They are air-conditioned, well sprung, have comfortable seating, for someone as svelte as myself at least, and the lighting is excellent for those wanting to read.
But poor old New Zealand Bus, unaccustomed, it seems, to having contented customers, has been unable to resist going one step too far. It's started pumping piped music to its trapped audience.
My first encounter was a few weeks back when I boarded one of the new Orange Links one evening outside the Civic. We'd hardly taken off when the faint strains of one of the more bouncy of Vivaldi's Four Seasons began drifting through the bus. Initially I looked about, presuming someone was listening to a radio or personal music player. Then it clicked, it was coming from on high, either out of the ether - or more likely, the air-conditioning grilles in the ceiling.
Like all "elevator music", once the novelty of recognition died, it soon descended into bland formulaic mush - superior 18th century baroque mush perhaps, but mush nevertheless. My first thought was that Bob Harvey had got to them. As mayor of the old Waitakere City, Mr Harvey wired the new 24-hour covered causeway across the Henderson train station complex for sound after reading how British councils had driven graffiti vandals away from similar public transport sites with piped classical music. Either the vandals hated the sound so much they fled at the first squeak of a violin, or the cultured tones instantly converted them into upstanding burghers. Whichever, Mayor Bob always claimed it a brilliant success, and certainly the bus seemed vandal-free.
But alternatively, the driver might just have liked that tape better than the one that now afflicts daytime passengers.
Its imitation modern-day "dance music", an irritating, beating drone, too loud to ignore, too indistinct to identify. A bit like the tinkly beat you already hear leaking from cheap headphones, except louder. The truly cursed passenger now has to endure both simultaneously.
With good lighting to read by, free Wi-Fi to surf the net, live screens to broadcast Herald news briefs and personal music players in every cellphone, there is surely access to toys aplenty for every passenger, without NZ Bus feeling the need to join in.
Unfortunately, my appeal to Auckland Transport, which oversees the public transport network, fell on deaf ears. A spokeswoman said, "It is up to the operators to make a call on their own music."
But a visit to the website of the Muzak corporation suggests providing music is not the aim. Muzak proudly promotes the fact that it's been the world master since 1934 in assisting companies to brainwash customers with music.
Muzak says that with its carefully assembled tapes, clients can "increase sales and employee productivity, attract the right customers, impact dwell time and create a competitive advantage".
The company brags that "music is art, but Muzak is science".
The website offers a range of sample tapes for different audiences. I can't be sure NZ Bus is using genuine Muzak tapes, but after wading though many samples, the one labelled "Funkytown" seemed distressingly familiar to the one I've grown to hate.
The keywords associated with this scientifically engineered selection are "fun, bright, energetic, bouncy, groovin' and movin'." The "energy" rating is labelled "high". As I drag myself home of an evening, "groovin' and movin"' is about the last thing on my mind. Then again, that won't upset the Muzak designers. The target audience for the bus to "Funkytown" is aged 25 to 50 and "fun, intelligent, playful, energetic and light-hearted". And while on a good day I can tick the last five boxes, No1 could be a struggle.
What is a surprise is that after nearly 80 years in the musical brainwashing business, Muzak offers no tapes for use on buses. Certainly not the Funkytown tape. That's designed to boost patronage in gyms, high-energy restaurants and bars, and in upbeat clothing, accessory and shoe stores.
I guess we should be relieved NZ Bus didn't go for the "Patriotic Instrumental" package, which is full of "high energy marches ... and selections that will honour our great country".