By MATHEW DEARNALEY
Tony Howe's idea of a school-holiday outing with his children did not entail being beached in his wheelchair for almost two hours at a bleak suburban railway station.
But his big day out with partner Tabatha Brackstone and daughters Tammy, 12, and Destiny, 5, washed up on Morningside Station in Auckland as hundreds of rail passengers were transferred to buses for the final leg of a journey to Britomart.
There were no buses or taxis capable of carrying Mr Howe in his electric wheelchair, even though he had ridden by rail from Avondale.
Tranz Rail staff were visibly frustrated by the inability of taxi companies to provide a total mobility vehicle.
The bus transfers were part of a plan to close part of the western rail line outside morning peak hours for much of the school holidays, to prepare for 2.2km of new duplicate track.
Co-operation between Tranz Metro and Stagecoach bus staff was winning the day until Mr Howe and 75 other passengers arrived at Morningside just before noon.
Most passengers' grumbles turned to acceptance once they discovered the reason for the shuttle operation.
"[Mayor] John Banks keeps telling us to catch buses and trains and this is what happens," said one passenger during confusion about which vehicle to board.
But he calmed down when told about the double-tracking.
"It's got to be done," he said, vowing to stay loyal to trains.
Mr Howe, who works for a disability resource centre, said he was enthusiastic about trains and had chosen yesterday to explore his options with his family.
He did not notice a warning in a temporary timetable that there would be bus shuttles and that the fill-in vehicles were "not wheelchair accessible and cannot carry bicycles".
After waiting for more than an hour for a taxi, the family decided to catch the next available train home and to bide their time until the double-tracking project is complete before venturing out by rail again.
"I have lost my enthusiasm," Mr Howe told apologetic train staff, who waived the homeward fares.
"I really appreciate what you have done, but there goes the day."
Tranz Metro spokeswoman Sue Foley said one taxi company told staff a total mobility taxi would arrive within 30 minutes but it failed to turn up.
They had "no joy" in subsequent calls to other companies to find a suitable vehicle.
Western Cabs general manager Alan Darlington, whose company allegedly took the first call, said wheelchair-capable taxis were scarce during school holidays and had to be booked hours or even days ahead.
And the 40 per cent of Stagecoach buses that can carry wheelchairs do not include the large "bendy" variety needed to cope with peak demand from train passengers.
Auckland Regional Council rail project spokesman Shane Ellison said he would approach Stagecoach to see if anything could be done to ensure nobody else was left in the Howe family's predicament.
Herald Feature: Getting Auckland moving
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