A "RED-LETTER" train ride in Auckland to celebrate this week's start of free off-peak public transport for senior citizens and war pensioners turned into a Labour Party political rally.
New Zealand First may have come up with the vote-winning freebie idea, but that did not earn it a ticket to ride on Prime Minister Helen Clark's bandwagon out of Britomart on Friday, with a carriage of her superannuated faithful, including octogenarian former Cabinet minister Bob Tizard.
Although the invitations were from the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, the jaunt to Newmarket was Labour's show, and red and grey were the colours of the day.
It was left to Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee to pay the only public tribute to NZ First leader Winston Peters for dreaming up a scheme with the potential to improve the lives of half a million New Zealanders and make the prospect of retiring on fixed incomes less daunting to countless others in waiting.
"All credit to this Labour-led Government for taking this step and to the Right Honourable Winston Peters and New Zealand First for promoting the idea," he said, after speeches from the Prime Minister and Transport Minister Annette King both overlooked their junior coalition partner's role in what they hailed as a red-letter day for SuperGold card holders and public transport.
It was also unusual not to see the Green Party at an Auckland transport event of such import, although co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons issued a statement later challenging the Government to not stop at superannuitants, but to slash off-peak fares to $1 for all other passengers in the battle against oil dependency and climate change.
Regardless of who should take the credit for the initiative, its $72 million budget over four years arguably represents a bigger electoral bang for the buck than the Government's package of tax cuts, which will coincide with Wednesday's introduction of the free travel scheme.
Ms King was frank about the importance of the senior vote to Labour, over tea and club sandwiches outside a white marquee on a Newmarket railway platform.
"These people, the older people, don't forget," she said, claiming a close match between runs listed on Grey Power's scoreboard and her party's contributions to the welfare of seniors.
"The problem is young voters who don't know there weren't a lot of things in place before we became the Government - they don't know there wasn't a minimum youth wage - we've got to remind them of these things."
As for Mr Lee, he is unashamedly milking the election season for maximum gains for Auckland public transport.
"Absolutely, this is the best time to ask for those sorts of things," he said of an extra deal that allows seniors to travel free all day after 9am on Auckland's buses, trains and ferries, instead of facing a 3pm cut-off as in all other regions.
Even the Waiheke ferries were added to the free-ride list the last moment, to the astonishment of many along for Friday's ride, who included Labour Party president and regional transport authority board member Mike Williams.
As for the scheme's cost, Helen Clark seemed to indicate money would be no object when asked if it might be over-subscribed by seniors and war pensioners turning out in droves to indulge their wanderlust.
Wouldn't we be thrilled if SuperGold card holders abandoned their cars and all got on the train.
And buses and ferries.