By HELEN TUNNAH
An America's Cup turf war has broken out on Auckland's waterfront with much waving of arms and Gallic cursing as the humble scooter comes under siege.
Ports of Auckland has decided a few metres of space outside the Louis Vuitton media centre is no place for scooters, even though the Vespas, Aprilias and Piaggios have brought a popular touch of European flair to the Viaduct.
Scooters and pushbikes are beloved by both sailing crew and overseas reporters in Auckland, who use them instead of cars and park them outside the media centre where they can watch television coverage of the racing and attend press conferences.
They are already one of the waterfront's tourist attractions, popular with children who have taken to crawling all over them, especially the flash BMW scooter with a cover.
But this week the towies turned up and the scooters were hauled away, despite the pleas of at least one scooter rider from a European team and Louis Vuitton staff.
They had to go because the space had been promised to superyacht owners to park their much larger cars.
The scooter owners got their bikes back, after paying a towing fee of $170, but late yesterday talks were still under way between Ports of Auckland and Louis Vuitton to reach a compromise which would allocate scooters the equivalent of two car park spaces.
Auckland mayor John Banks has now waded into the row, telling the Weekend Herald he would sort it out so New Zealand's European friends would again feel welcome.
"This will stop.
"We like little scooters, and we like the people that ride little scooters. They add a lot of colour to the Viaduct Basin and they're bringing here a lot of money and a lot of goodwill.
"We are running an international yachting regatta which right now is being watched around the globe by tens of millions of people.
"We want to treat the participants as family. You don't treat your family in the way that these people have been treated."
Mr Banks said there had been a breakdown in communication between the two sides, and the fault did not lie with just one party.
However he said the aggressive and overzealous nature of the towing policy had made things worse.
While the contribution of towing fees to the $640 million generated by the America's Cup for the New Zealand economy is not known, what is clear is that Louis Vuitton spends millions of dollars hosting the challenger series.
Louis Vuitton's spokesman Bruno Trouble said just 10 metres was wanted for scooters to be parked by the media centre, the same space as two car parks.
He met a Ports of Auckland official yesterday and was optimistic a compromise could be reached.
"Hopefully we will find a solution," he said.
A Ports of Auckland spokeswoman said meetings were being held to resolve the differences.
Racing schedule, results and standings
By HELEN TUNNAH