Westfield Newmarket customers are demanding accountability from the mall’s owner after shoppers were left trapped in their cars for hours and one woman was forced to wet herself as the queue to exit the Auckland shopping centre’s carpark ground to a halt.
Many shoppers were forced to wait in their cars for at least three hours yesterday afternoon as the trail of cars snaking around the carpark inched along by a few metres every hour.
Louise Todd told the Herald she came to pick up her 17-year-old daughter at the mall after she had been sitting stationary in the queue for at least an hour.
“I received a call from my daughter just after 4pm, upset and distressed, saying she had been [sitting] in the car in the queue for an hour without moving and that the mood in the air was becoming increasingly angry as drivers were honking horns,” she said.
“After I was dropped off, we went back into the mall and had something to eat for the next hour and a half, but when we came back out, the vehicles behind her car had not moved.”
Another shopper said they were in the queue for nearly three hours.
“I was with my girlfriend, and she has had to pee herself due to the fact we were stuck for so long. Not ideal, but desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said.
“We didn’t think it was safe to leave the vehicle, so we [were] thirsty and hungry, and this is just a complete disaster.”
Another shopper said she was stuck in her car in the Westfield Newmarket for about two and a half hours.
“At the moment, we’re sitting here not sure what to do,” she said at 6.30pm on Saturday.
“I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. It’s absolutely scary being trapped in a mall.”
She told the Herald she and the daughter left the mall after a two-hour visit as they were conscious of the time on their parking ticket.
“Obviously, we didn’t expect to be stuck in the mall. We feel pretty trapped. This is the worst it’s ever been. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a traffic jam this bad.”
Another shopper said there were clear health and safety issues.
“We saw babies and mothers stranded. I witnessed a young girl having an anxiety attack, and there was no food or water offered.”
Newmarket Business Association chief executive Mark Knoff-Thomas today said he had not caught up yet with yesterday’s traffic snarl-up, but knew of a previous incident where the motorway was gridlocked, leading to the on-ramps and off-ramps at Newmarket choking up and shoppers having trouble exiting carparks.
He said it was part of an Auckland-wide issue, with the Sylvia Park shopping centre having similar problems, and said Auckland Transport (AT) needed to provide a reliable, fast, efficient and affordable public transport system for people so they could make better choices around getting out and about to shop, particularly on Saturdays, when up to 70,000 people descend on Newmarket’s fashion, shopping and entertainment precinct.
There is a lot of good work going on in the public transport space, said Knoff-Thomas, but the reality is, a lot of people have had their bridges burned with AT over the last few years, and they have a lot of work to do to regain that trust and provide a service that is reliable.
“No one wants to be stuck in traffic. If you want to go and have a nice day shopping and there are other ways of doing it that are easier or more reliable, it has to be a good thing,” he said.
Newmarket has about 8000 public car parks, a quarter of which are at Westfield Newmarket, said Knoff-Thomas, who added that about 60 per cent of shoppers travel by private car. Buses account for about 20 per cent and trains about 15 per cent, he said.
‘The lack of accountability and the absence of duty of care by staff was despicable’
The response from staff at the mall on the day drew the ire of many of the stranded customers.
Todd said she and a lot of people tried to find answers and information from staff within the mall about what they were supposed to be doing.
“People were coming in with babies who had been stuck in their cars for hours and were doing their best to remain calm and patient but their frustration with mall staff was clear,” she said.
Todd said staff had contacted the people they needed to to adjust the traffic light phasing outside the mall but when this was clearly not working they had no other solution to the problem.
“I enquired as to whether the police and traffic control had been called to aid the rising situation, he replied no and he had no intention of asking them for support.
“I witnessed staff members speak incredibly rudely to members of the public who were simply frustrated and looking to him for answers and reassurance.”
Another customer had a similar experience.
“I asked the desk assistant who was in tears after three-plus hours to talk to someone senior. She had been trying to call the car park manager but he was not answering his phone as it was his day off.”
A senior staff member then said there was nothing practical they could do and the responsibility was with Auckland Transport Operation Centre.
“That they could control the volume of traffic around the mall and further that they did not expect the volume of customers - 22,000 today.
“He called one upset customer a terrible person when he asked logistical questions about management and resources at Westfield,” she said.
“There was no accountability.”
Westfield’s head office reportedly said heavy traffic on Broadway was behind the delays exiting the mall.
Westfield has declined to comment.