AKT’s Greatest Hits
I’m used to getting an email complaining about a story literally a few minutes after a story was published because a tweet or RSS Reader alerted someone the post is up and they want to take issue.
The curious observation from 4 years of writing this is that it’s usually not the stories where you tread on sacred crows and sweat that it will cause a storm that really get you in trouble.
It’s some innocent story you think only a few will bother reading that ends going viral globally and while it roars around the net for weeks, takes on a life of its own.
Before you know, the inbox is full of angry people shouting at you.
AKT’s policy has been rare in the blog world: to do original reporting and photography and not wait to link to stories mainstream media. It has broken many big stories often a week ahead of mainstream media -and as part of its mission, also brought you the good news stories the bad news-obsessed mainstream media ignore.
It’s obvious breaking the news about the electric trains deal will bring massive traffic.
It’s those unexpected hits that turn into the wild surprises and often run the wrath of authorities or sections of the public!
We like to be liked. Running a site like this with the volume of traffic means you have to develop a thick skin.
To be honest, I never got used to the really vile violent emails you get sometimes – but know it comes with the territory.
Fair enough. I have a soapbox (although it’s one that costs me monthly) and others want their contrary opinion recorded too. That’s why the site encourages debate. It’s the debate off the site via email that is often extraordinary if not bizarre. On the positive front, it’s often been the offline debate between people and authorities never publicly recorded that has helped people solve issues and get action behind the scenes. AKT has had numerous of those wins.
But here are just a few of those most popular widely read craziest public moments over the last 4 years:
Nothing prepared me for the reaction to an innocent post I wrote one Sunday night on a quiet weekend when nothing was happening in the transport world.
It was suppose to be about ways overseas bus companies were changing the seating to accommodate the fact populations were getting fatter.
I thought only the most hardened of PT geeks would get off on a post about the technical challenges of changing bus layouts as I wrote.
In the country that invented obesity along with their fat-saturated fast food, the US Federal Transit Authority proposes raising the assumed average weight per bus passenger from 68 kilos to 80 kilos which will result in fewer people being allowed on each city transit bus.
They say the average American bus rider is now tipping the scale at more than 90 kilos but current federal guidelines on average bus passenger weight are based on surveys in 1960-62 of what Americans weighed then.
The transit authority, which regulates how much weight a bus can carry, also proposes adding an 12 centimetres of floor space per passenger “to acknowledge the expanding girth of the average passenger.”
Before I could finish my breakfast, I found the Herald splashed the story across page three and online declaring I was not only waging war on fatties but was running around taking photos of fat people on Auckland buses.
I wasn’t that stupid. Because I did not have such a photo amongst my own photo library, I had taken a publcly available shot of what I thought was an obvious looking US woman from a US site which had also reported problems with obese people taking up too much room on bus seats.
I had loaded the photo – for those who checked under the bonnet- with the name “fat lady” and the storm of protests about political correctness flooded in.
I had no right to call her fat. I mean does she really look fat to you? And if she does you can’t call her by that three letter word.
And I thought I had covered my ass by starting the original post by apologising just in case a non PT geek was reading it:
There is no way of saying this without invoking some politically correct statute and being hauled before a tribunal for hate crimes.
Here goes. Fat people are starting to create an issue on Auckland buses.
The hundreds of angry emails honestly came as close as you can get to death threats. Websites all over the place linked the story and compared me to the Devil.
Trust me to show a photograph of a woman not a man.
Feminist and lesbian groups said I was a terrible male who was attacking minority interests and had to be stopped and supporters of those groups wrote strong emails denouncing me outdoing each other with the rhetoric. To be honest, I stopped reading them when they passed about 1600.
Several said they would contemplate starting proceeedings to make an official complaint to some hate crime tribunal and also contemplating calling the police to stop me taking photos of fat people on buses.
It was the fact I was apparently getting off on taking photos of fat women that brought the strongest language.
The more I tried to explain I wasn’t and the fat lady shown was American and I had no photos of fat people, the more the nutcase brigade blocked their ears and thought they were had discovered the next Nazi war criminal.
I was waiting for a knock on the door from the men in blue.
It took many weeks for the furore to die down. Fortunately I did manage to refuse the Herald running my photo or I would have lynched as I boarded a bus during those weeks especially as I overheard 2 women complaining how outrage it was when talking on the bus one day!
AKT branched out to cover Auckland beyond rail but a lunchtime stroll in the CBD produced what I thought was just a mild laugh for a photo caption.
The cheeky story in January 2010 was about a clever interactive MetService billboard in Victoria St that was in fact pouring water onto innocent people going past.
Water is pouring down Auckland’s busy Victoria St, wasting precious water and showering people going up and down the busy pavement.
It’s actually raining on pedestrians. It’s all because of this really dumb idea. An interactive ad agency billboard for MetService, that they no doubt thought was so smart it would conquer international awards.
Maybe. But the water pours down from the billboard literally showering people as if a hose has been turned on them. Business people in business attire, who get angry. It forces everyone to avoid the overhead shower and water tricking down the pavement that they cram onto the little dry space left at the edge of the kerb.
The Herald’s Sideswipe column reprinted it (everytime Sideswipe quoted AKT over the years, traffic from an early hour went nuts) .
MetService officials were not at amused by the bad AKT coverage.
The “storm” grew leading to a deluge of public outcry and mocking amusement.
But AKT’s coverage got too much for the MetService and presumably their clever dick ad agency.
The billboard was suddenly gone by lunchtime dismantled.
MetService got very snarky with AKT:
“The intention wasn’t for water to spray onto the footpath and my understanding is that the wind caused problems for what has proven to be a very popular billboard with lots of positive feedback until that point, and so we have removed it.”
One Sunday, I came across disgruntled Sandringham Rd café customers who discovered their cars had been towed away in one speedy military style swoop while they were eating brunch or ordering coffee. The reason was of a towaway zone imposed near Eden Park because of a Sunday afternoon game.
The motorists bitterly complained that when they parked there after 10am that morning there were absolutely no signs on lamp posts warning them not to park there – and I couldn’t see any in the relevant area when I walked past (see photo).
There followed a Monty Pythoseque bureaucratic drama with Auckland City Council officers who insisted signs were up. But I refused to give up.
So then they admitted the signs were up at 7.15am – and mysteriously vanished at lunchtime. At one stage it was suggested that maybe someone in broad daylight, in full view of the cafe patrons and busy Mobil service station opposite Eden Park, had come along and ripped down all the signs. Preposterous.
The Herald’s Sideswipe column quoted AKT (for the first time of several) and the battle got more heated as the story got wide appeal. Parking wardens and towaways strike a deep chord with Aucklanders.
Excellent local politician and Local Board member Christopher Dempsey promnised to get to the bottom of it.
In the end the Council admitted the signs were not there. Sadly, too late for that poor person in a hurry who roared in for a takeaway, spent hours getting his vehicle back at great expense and still got no refund for the tow. The bastards won in the end.
Lesson learnt: When AKT is not around, make sure you take lots of photos as evidence.
I had a series of photos all along the street proving no signs and a mobile video but held off publishing them all in case the Council gave a final ruling the signs were there and I needed to hit them with the full truthful evidence.
AKT has long been a loud advocate for the Shared Space concept and has given extensive photographic coverage to its development around the CBD.
When the first Space at Darby St was finished, I applauded it but then, my camera was back on duty – revealing the new Shared Space was being hijacked and in fact the city’s booming newest carpark.
And as the days rolled on, Auckland Transport parking wardens, usually only too eager to pounce, did nothing and Auckland Transport refusing to respond to the post.
So I kept taking photos twice a day -and actually had dozens up my sleeve to name and shame.
I even arranged for those living in close by apartments to keep an eye out and they kept sending me photos on almost an hourly basis as they thought it outrageous.
Two days before my post of a week of photos was about to go live action arrived and the Shared Space became a Shared Space.
A reader one afternoon contacted me in distress about an ugly incident at New Lynn where the train station and transport bus hub were still being constructed.
He was wandering around and thought he would take a few photos to update AKT which was very kind – and something several kind readers have done from time to time.
He was confronted by a security guard who tried to seize his camer and stop him taking photos from the street of the new transport hub saying the ARC has banned all photos of the construction until it had been unveiled. The construction was largely behind fences but his photos had been from the street. The security thug demanded his name and rang his office to report a major breach of security. The reader freaked.
The reader says the man wearing a security uniform said he was employed by the ARC and the only photos allowed of the new station were those authorised by the ARC and which they put up online.
Within an hour I posted about how outrageous it was that ARTA was banning photos.
Thanks to ARC Chair Mike Lee an immediate investigation was held and the security guards were told to back off.
AS a result of the AKT story, ARTA instructed the New Lynn transport hub security staff “to take a less bureaucratic and more understanding approach to such events in the future.”
To rub in the security guard’s ban on taking photos in the fenced off transport hub construction zone until it was opened, I provided a page of cleverly Photoshopped images of what it could be like if I had managed to sneak my way in.
My Photoshopping was impressive as despite the refusal to let people in to see it, my mocked up photos looked very real when the fences were taken away.
Incidentally, the site has always made it clear that I have taken hundreds of photos in public spaces but if anyone objects to being included in the photos published they only have to ask for them to be removed. Several train managers, because of security concerns, did ask for their photos to be removed on platform shots and for the recored I did.
And I do have to thank the many kind officials and construction staff that have waved me through, turned a blind eye or even posed for the cameras over the years as I have crawled around recording four years of rail and building development in Auckland.
Thanks to reader Joust and his friend who sent me a specially made fluro jacket with the AKT logo. Cool present and wearing it helped me get waved into take hundreds of photos.
Only the security staff from one particular security firm found around train stations in particular have been total pricks in trying to block me.
AKT revealed a strange phenomenon concerning carpark payment options which turned up unannounced at the Wynyard Quarter’s carpark.
New style parking meters demand you put in your vehicle number plate -and it wasn’t made clear why the information was needed.
The AKT post went viral and drew many hundreds of angry emails many calling it Big Brother and saying they were going to bombard Auckland Transport with complaints that their rights were being seriously infringed.
I mean where will this monitoring end? Why spying agencies will get wind that I parked at the new Wynyard Quarter!
The Herald picked up the story from AKT and the more Auckland Transport tried to insist they were not spying on people, the more the furore raged and suspicion grew. I even got a serious email from someone saying he was contacting the United Nations! Good luck with that.
Then one night I raced down on a tip that the meters were being yanked out and sure enough the new carpark meters mysteriously had vanished as fast as they came. It was one of many times I was glad I had photographic evidence what I had said existed, had. There was no longer any physical evidence down at Wynyard.
I published their photos and comments and updates and within hours wondered why the site had crashed.
The post had been picked up on U2 fan sites around the world and for days the site struggled under the weight of traffic.
The coverage was picked up by mainstream media in the days following the U2 concert – a story that included this prophetic line.
An email from an Australian on one of the trains going to U2 said: “Good luck with the RWC, This is a massive FAIL!”
On the U2 night I reported crowds panicking on overcrowded trains that had stopped mid journey and people were pulling the emergency button.
And how prophetic the story was as during the RWC it returned to popularity and was quoted by mainstream media once again including at news conferences of offocials defending the RWC opening night! I chuckled at seeing coverage of one such news conference where the mainstream reporter quoted the AKT report saying a news site had reported it without naming AKT.
In the early days, I was often amused walking through Britomart and seeing the escalator out of action.
As a fit person who loves to walk and bike, it didn’t worry me but I wondered why it seemed to happen so regularly and why it took weeks to get it repaired.
So after one such observation, I threw up a mobile phone picture not thinking it would be a major story- and found it touched a big nerve among commuters.
Forget the complex government transport issues I spend hours pouring over to write posts about. Their big beef was those bloody escalators.
You know the ones. Out of action again. And all officials and staff ever did was peer over the side and shake their head.
Oddly every now and then it kept happening so I thought of it as an ongoing in joke especially as on one occasion the days it was not running turned into a couple of months!
I lost count of the number of times – calling posts like Escalator Crisis No 2365!
And it’s that lightbulb time again (as in how much time does it take to change alightbulb!)
Which turned into even more of literal joke when they took weeks to change the lightbulbs on the actual Britomart platform!
I finally worked out why any story about the broken escalators drew massive traffic was because it was simply symbolic of ongoing issues frustrations and delays catching trains in Auckland. This was a symbol of something commuters could actually point their finger at as an example of how things don’t operate as they should and never seem to get resolved.
But my ongoing reporting of it struck a raw nerve with certain people at Britomart.
I got a very angry reaction when I started publishing photos of people looking as if they had no idea how to solve the problems- and kept bringing up the fact one case took 37 days to fix!
Even recently I was tipped off that pissed off staff might be checking security CCTV footage to find out who was taking the photos.
Good luck with that – I gave up tasking the photos as my inbox was full of them everytime it happened as commuters were sending them to me in volumes. You would have to ban not just Jon C but a third of people who passed through Britomart!
How pathetic. Instead of putting staff on CCTV witch hunt duty, get them to fix the problem! But it was always good to know AKT, as the voice of the fare-paying public, touched a rare nerve when it was needed.
Those who didn’t use trains have sometimes accused me of making up stories.
In fact part of the motive for doing the original aucklandtrains.co.nz blog was because family and friends got sick of my stories about the challenges of catching a train – and suspected I just had a wild attention-seeking fiction-writing imagination.
That told me to stop annoying them with the stories as they were bored by them and to get out my supposed frustration by I keeping a daily diary on an internet thinky called a web-blog.
To be honest, I never expected anyone to read it but it was therapy to record the frustrations rather than bother those around me.
In 2009 one of those stories sounded so ridiculous I did get complaints I was writing fiction.
The post headed “The Day a Train went backwards” was also taken seriously, getting linked all over the net on blogs, on news sites and those”odd wacky story” sites.
It drew thousands of readers, serious news sites wanted an interview and it remained popular for months.
I had written it on the train as it happened with the timeline and posted it from Britomart.
Re-reading it shows how far we have come from such awful episodes. Then again some of the underlying communication issues and elements of the craziness that comes with Auckland having an under developed train system are sadly still with it. Some of those communication issues- a constant theme over the four years- were with us during the RWC.
The post began this way and got more and more unbelievable:
Tonight Auckland’s trains set a new high-speed record. The 5.33pm main rush hour Westbound-train leaving Britomart to go to Swanson took exactly an hour – to get to Britomart.
That included going backwards.
In case you aren’t cool, in fashionable Auckland backwards is the new forwards.
Here’s how this miracle played out.
5.30pm: Announcer at Britomart makes some apology which sends people scurrying from one platform to Platform 5. No-one on the Swanson train waiting at Platform 3 could hear the announcement (Action Point: Install some speakers on the actual platforms as you can never hear the announcements nor can the guards on board).
5.33: Doors close. Train starts. Everyone in the carriage stares at each other sighs and thinks, oh poor bastards on the other Platform. Something must be wrong with the Southern line. Thank goodness we live out West.
5. 35 Guard goes through carriages and sells and clips tickets. He’s the nice old guy who is genuinely the most efficient, fairest and nicest guard on the service. Big Ups to Him. I think he’s the guy who wears a sign around his neck explaining he is deaf. (NB Not being un-PC but it may be relevant as he may not have heard the announcement on the platform and thought the train was OK to go).
5.38: Just a few hops up the train, well before Newmarket, train slows to a crawl and stops.
5.40: Guard clicks on the intercom which is a very primitive device as it snaps and crackles before it starts and everytime before he speaks he makes a blowing noise as if he is blowing off the dust but it may be a testing-1-2-3 thing.
Excuse me ladies and gentlemen. We have a train unexpectantly stopped in front of us. It should be going in a few minutes.”
Of dear. Another of those, it’s a quiet news day, what shall I write moments got me in deep trouble.
A post listing why people said they preferred trains to buses sparked an unexpected very angry response especially via email ffrom people who accused me of being bus-o-phobic.
Sorry people. I really did not mean to offend. The suggestions were actually not mind but what people were telling me.
Those suggestion buses were smelly, seats were too close to other people and you can’t always read in the poor light at night sparked a backlash I didn’t expect from bus passengers.
Typical of the emails was one saying my post was a direct insult on his way of life and his right to choose the mode of public transport.
Oh, OK. Please move on.
These were just a small example of some of the stories AKT has brought up in the last four years.
In terms of traffic to the site, nothing beat the opening night of the rugby world cup with triggered a 4000% increase that night alone on an already massively popular topic and continued for some weeks.
While the media initially was more focused on the actual opening events, I was blogging live from the CBD with photos and coverage and put up my last update for the night just after 3am with the promise of an inquiry.
Some of the AKT stories were quoted by the media in coming weeks and in questions posed by reporters at news conferences.
But of all the developments covered by AKT my favourite pictures remain those of the Onehunga train station opening.
Most infrastructure openings were closed affairs with speeches from the transport minister saying how much he loved public transport and the public only got to see the action through words, photos and videos docvumented by AKT.
Onehunga train station’s opening was as it always should be. The public celebrated.
And over the last 4 years there has been much to celebrate. I’m glad that apert from the crazy stuff, AKT has fully documented those magic moments.
Here is my final post