Auckland Rail Seeks Help from Zimbabwe

Even at the best of times public transport in New Zealand doesn’t measure up to the service offered to communters in other developed countries. Now Veolia Rail has turned to the developing world for help. This amusing and incisive article appeared in today’s NZ Herald, it was written by Peter Lyons.

Source: NZ Herald, 9 Sept 2008

Oh the horrors of Auckland Rail Travel

A delegation of Government rail officials arrived in Auckland recently from Zimbabwe. They are here to advise Veolia rail on improving customer services in Auckland.

President Mugabe’s Government receives few complaints about rail services in Harare.

A philosopher once said, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” This certainly applies to Auckland rail commuters. Their mornings begin with a journey into the unknown.

Seasoned rail users have figured the peculiarities of the rail timetables in Auckland. The printed times are an average. This average is based on a weekly calculation. Ten minutes late today is balanced by 10 minutes early tomorrow, or later in the week.

Veterans on the Western line watch novices clambering across the tracks in front of oncoming trains running 10 minutes early. The next hurdle involves milling round the carriage doors which can take up to a minute to open. This is Veolia’s version of a slow tease. Their marketing department realises that anticipation heightens desire.

The trains that run earlier than scheduled are empty for obvious reasons. Their passengers are waiting in vain back down the line. The trains that run late are packed

“Train Surfing”

Commuters who are required to stand can experience the fast-growing sport of train surfing. This gladiatorial contest favours the fuller figured over the frail.

It’s an egalitarian sport. A 100kg shelf stacker from Pak’N Save can easily crush a wafer-thin executive from Westpac. The size of pay packet counts for little.

The lack of hand holds for those under two metres provides endless amusement for those fortunates who have a seat. The unwise or unwary end up in a crumpled heap at the back of the cabin.

Peak time is a case study in the business practices of the former Soviet Union. The ticket collectors end up wedged in a mass of humanity unable to move.

The company should issue them with rubber suits and buckets of jello to give them any hope of collecting fares.

The staff are courteous and affable. This is in contrast to Auckland’s sometimes homicidal bus drivers. It is one of the ironies of modern corporate life that the least paid bear the brunt of consumer displeasure at shoddy service.

Inept and inadequate management seldom venture to the front line. Hopefully one of these poorly paid employees, in keeping with the fairytale of modern capitalism, may end up running the system. Maybe then the trains will run on time and carriage doors will open promptly. Proper hand holds could be installed to protect the small from the big. Ticket payment could be automated and turnstiles installed at stations like in many Third World countries.

The marketing guy from Veolia was on the telly the other night. He was attempting to explain the near-death experience of a customer who got stuck in a carriage door. He should have spun the line that their complete service package ranges from minor irritation to near-death experiences.

“New Delhi is Superior”

Among the most bemused by Auckland’s rail system are migrants. Recently, while waiting for the 7.15, which arrived at 7.35, I encountered an Indian lady still waiting for the 6.30 service.

She informed me of the superiority of the New Delhi transit system. As she was talking the 8am sped by. Some arbitrary power had converted it to an express service. Ten minutes later a disembodied voice came over the station intercom to inform us of this fact. There was no apology.

School kids kicked off trains

Parents can be assured that if their child sets out for school at 6.30 they will arrive by morning interval. A recent practice has been to offload school students in favour of full fare-paying adults.

Skyrocketing petrol prices have caught Veolia planners by surprise despite the occasional mention in the media. Heaven knows the impact of this practice of bumping students off on the poor little tikes’ self-esteem. They huddle in masses from the cold winter chill as the train leaves the station without them. It’s quite heart-wrenching for us teachers on board.

Veolia has taken on the role of educating our youth that limited resources mean there are always winners and losers in life. We used to have an exam system that did likewise.

The rail service is a blessing for workplace malingerers like middle-aged school teachers who over indulge at Wednesday night pub quizzes. A lengthy sleep-in can be excused by reference to rail fail.

Slackers can arrive at work at the same time as conscientious colleagues who didn’t realise the timetable rivals Harry Potter as a work of fiction. It’s difficult to understand why Aucklanders persist in using their cars when such delights await them on the tracks.

Car addicts sit silently at morning breaks as rail enthusiasts relate harrowing experiences on the journey to work.

For more on the state of Auckland’s rail service see here: It’s crush hour on city trains