What Went Wrong Last Night
Fail is the kindest way to describe last night’s transport failure.
For a more colourful word describing faith in our system to cope – ask the 2000 people on trains to Eden Park for last night’s opening match between the All Blacks and Tonga who did not make it to the Park and didn’t get to see it live.
The Mayor has ordered an urgent inquiry to be completed by Tuesday 5pm so any solutions can be found in time for next weekend’s matches.
An assurance has been given by the Mayor that there will be some form of compensation for those who had a ticket but did not get there but it’s not clear who will pay or in what form. No one has put their hand up.
So in the absence of any media release on it what can we piece together happened? Here is what we believe at this stage from various sources.
The message for people to use public transport was over sold and for future games there will have to be a more realistic marketing message that not everyone can get to the park by train. This will have to mean more provision for car parking – and or more buses.
People took the message to leave the car and home and use public transport to come into the CBD and to the game. Late night trains were promised so people after partying downtown late thought they could get a train home placing further stress.
According to the authorities, yesterday 60,000 tried to board trains around Auckland – four times the 15,000 who normally use trains on a Friday. Even with the introduction of more 6-car trains, we know the system is sometimes stressed on a normal working day and still cases of overcrowding limits being passed.
It had been anticipated 30,000 would be moved by train. There was so much concentration on people getting to Eden Park, authorities seemed to forget thousands heeded the other message not to drive into the CBD so caught a train as well. Or people left their car at home for work that day and used PT.
The match was on a Friday and should have been shifted to a Saturday because the transport system is stretched enough getting Aucklanders around for their day to day business.
Veolia blames a series of incidents and the fact the train system was under pressure from early on the day as people came into the CBD.
There were no mechanical failures but in the crowded trains, people pushed the emergency button wanting to get out.
Commuters have told AKT how they panicked in a over crowded train and wanted to get out. They decided to press the button and try to walk to the stadium.
There were also incidents of people using fire extinguishers probably to gain attention to the situation and a number of medical incidents in which someone felt unwell because of the congestion in the carriages.
The incident that triggered the collapse of the system from about 5pm concerned someone pressing the emergency button on one train and then people doing that repeatedly. Each time the driver got out to investigate and then had to reset the system. People were wanting to escape the crowded train and worried they would not make it in time.
In the end because of the number of resets, the train was abandoned and people told to get off and await another train.
But by then, three trains were held up behind the abandoned train at various places around the network.
The panic that sets in during a very crowded train trip especially when people feel claustrophobic or can’t breathe properly was documented last November when trains going to the U2 concert at Mount Smart Stadium ran into the same problem – people pressing the emergency chord. This was initially blamed on one idiot but in fact those on the trains at the time told AKT how there was no communication when trains stopped, people felt hemmed in and started to panic and there was a complete lack of on board communication.
In that U2 story last November an Australian told AKT: “Good luck with the RWC “This is a massive FAIL!”
For the past four years, AKT has complained along with its many readers about the poor communication at stations, and on trains when things go wrong.
That was painfully obvious last night throughout the whole system. There is always a reluctance by Veolia to admit at the time a fault has occurred and if you do ask an on board train official or someone at the station, you are fobbed off with an “I don’t know.” Not their fault- most train staff do their best and are helpful but they are obviously told to act dumb – or may genuinely have no idea.
In the hour I spent outside and around Britomart from 5pm there were growing frustrations and panic about getting to the game. There was no information to passengers outside nor any proper queueing management control mechanisms you find everywhere else such as in banks or at airport customs so there was just a heaving rugby scrum getting more and more agitated.
The long queues of people trying to catch “normal” trains at the Westpac building at the back of Britomart Transport Centre got longer and longer and people got more and more despairing at the lack of movement in the line with again no information.
The leaflet handed out during the week from Auckland Transport headed “What’s your game plan for opening night?” included these statements:
If you are planning to to join the party on Auckland’s waterfront plan to get there early so you don’t miss any of the action starting at 4pm. Additional train, bus and ferry services will be provided to get you home.”
The harbour ferry service also had failures on the night. People ended up being stranded on the North Shore unable to catch a ferry back to the CBD because services were suspended.
Services were to have stopped during the firework display but stopped much earlier – at 6pm and resumed only in a limited way later in the night.
The numbers in Quay St were so great, there were constraints on people trying to enter and exit the ferry terminal so a decision was made to halt services.
Again any thought about people using ferries seem to miss the planning. It was obvious some of the best vantage points for the fireworks were on the shore such as Devonport and those on the Shore would use ferries to come to the CBD because it would be impossible to get parking in the CBD or they may get a drink.
The waterfront was pushed as the place to be -especially Queens Wharf.
The public had no idea only 12,000 people would be let in – or there would be restrictions along the waterfront leading to closures. The public understand there would be plenty of vantage points throughout the waterfront so room for everyone.
Queens Wharf had the full sign up after only about half an hout and long queues formed. Other areas closed because of capacity issues.
There were large screens so people could see the entertainment but one I saw did not seem to be going so people would have moved to find one.
Security were standing around the Viaduct area – but I became very worried about the lack of easy safe egress for those who started to feel suffocated by the growing crowds pressing against them.
I don’t suffer claustrophobia but started to get unusually slightly nervous thinking I would be trapped there for hours when I wanted to move around the CBD – but had huge difficulty getting through the thick crowd to try to find some fresh air and space and had to be quite rude about it in the end.
The only time security created any path was to let the waka teams through.
There were an estimated 200,000 people around the CBD and waterfront last night – at the highest end of the RWC planning authorities’ expectations.
It is impossible to guess how many people would be in the city but the planning did not seem to be for the maximum expectations which the authorities seemed to think would be unlikely to be reached.
The decision to close only Quay St was incredibly short sighted.
The numbers downtown were so great, people spilled into Queen St and other streets adjacent to the waterfront. Eventually apparently some closure was made of Queen St but this was too late and should have been anticipated. It is a miracle no pedestrian got killed as they wandered on the roads amid the good spirited party atmosphere. When people wandered on the road others thought they could do so so followed. As it was, there was a nasty bus, car versus pedestrian accident on Fanshawe St.
Talking of road management, at 2.30pm Saturday there was still a flashing sign on Ian McKinnon Drive insisting New North Rd was closed so use alternative route!
So much of this was predictable and has been raised for the past couple of years on AKT. Sadly it means now people will be put off trying public transport because their suspicions it doesn’t work in Auckland are founded.
It’s also sad an otherwise fantastic magical night has been marred by bad publicity.
About 9,000 people used buses to Eden Park and 12,000 returned to the city on buses.
30 people ended up in hospital for minor problems.
4000 or so walked to the game on the Fan Trail.
There was only one arrest -so overall Auckland partied well, safely and in good humour.
A rolling account of the disaster 2000 miss getting to the game