A tale of two parties [updated]
Guest post by Julian D.
What a night!
200,000 revellers filled downtown Auckland last Friday. They danced. They cheered. They were filled with life and spirit and the thrill of just being here! This couldn’t be New Zealand, I thought, joining in. Surely a carnival in Brazil, or a World Cup victory party in Spain or Italy.
Have we ever seen such grand displays of joie de vivre in these normally stoic isles? Have we ever seen New Zealanders so thrilled—so openly excited—about being just being here. At this time. At this place. At this event.
These were people out making their own fun. I’m not talking about the folk in the government’s Slug (Cloud) on Queens’s Wharf or drinking down at the Viaduct. No, we were out there waving flags in Queen Street or dancing with random strangers in Quay Street--banging drums; waving whichever flag we found in our hands; dancing in the streets, or on tops of our cars, or on the roofs of bus shelters. It was entirely spontaneous. There was no outside organisation needed, just the freedom to get out and celebrate life.
What a sight!
After three years of depression and a year of hell for many, it sure as hell felt for a moment like this was nothing but the very best of times.
It was also the worst.
Because Friday’s story is a tale of two parties:
It was fun, it was excitement, it was dancing in the streets. And it was also people stuck in trains, closed off behind red gates, and being rescued from ferries that failed to go. On the streets and in the city’s bars it was people organising their own pleasure and negotiating with others of a similar mind. And elsewhere it was the incompetence of government to organise anything—even when they’ve got umpteen years and several hundred million of our dollars to do it with.
Something went wrong on Friday night, and something also went happily, gloriously. thunderously right. What went right was what you and I and every other private person and organisation put together. What went wrong is what always goes wrong: the stuff that governments tried (and failed) to organise.
The trains failed. The ferries failed. The “park-and-rides” and “fan zones” failed. Party central wasn’t big enough. The World Cup stadium wasn’t close enough. All of them failed because of decisions and blunders made by government. Let’s mention just some of them.
AUTHORITIES BACKED A STADIUM in the middle of a residential suburb-- far from the central city, away from its transport hub, miles from motorway connections and car parking facilities. A stadium at Carlaw Park close to the centre of the city and with plenty of room to expand would have had access, parking, and transport options aplenty (as was pointed out at the time here at Not PC). A bedpan at the waterfront wouldn’t (as we saw from how poorly the waterfront handled Friday night’s throngs. Eden Park couldn’t. It never could.
The disaster was predictable as soon as you realise the chosen location of the World Cup stadium—a 60,000-seat stadium surrounded on all sides by private houses—a situation deemed unsuitable worldwide for great stadia--was the decision that generated so many of the problems. But don’t expect the bureaucrats to consider the location of the venue away from the CBD and transport centres as a contributing factor when they write their promised reports.
AUTHORITIES ENCOURAGED FANS AND REVELLERS to take public transport. Encouraged? They made it a matter of national importance that everyone use public transport (everyone except for Mayor Len Brown, of course, who elected to drive to Eden Park so he “could be sure to arrive on time” with all the other car-using big-noters who helped pull the shambles together). At the same time, they discouraged individuals from using private transport by closing roads and imposing severe parking restrictions. This meant that a time-tested method of transport to Eden Park was foregone. Witness the lack of cars around Eden Park on the Friday night and near-empty car parks around Eden Park. (In one instance, a car park for 30 vehicles harboured one car only!). And yet this was not the biggest rugby crowd ever at Eden Park. That honour belonged to the 1956 All Blacks v South Africa game when 61,240 fans crowded into the park. I don’t recall hearing of people having problems getting to that game on time.
And it wasn’t even the biggest crowd at a central city event. We’ve had several hundred thousand enjoying Symphonies Under the Stars at the Domain, with all their friends and family around them, and getting there and home quite peacefully. Or the Santa Parade in downtown.
Mind you, most of them went home in their own cars.
What failed was the authorities and their transport plan. It was a “plan,” if we can use that word, to use a rail network that struggles most days to move a few thousand folks over the whole day to move several tens of thousands of fans –every single one of them desperate to get to the park on time. And yet, any train passenger in Auckland you ask knows that even the smallest incident often brings that network to a standstill. It was inevitable that with the pressure on the network in Friday a few problems would occur, and any one of those problems would cause havoc. Why are they so surprised by what happened? Are they that incompetent? And why did so many Aucklanders believe the bureaucrats when they said they’d have it all sorted?
WE SHOULDN’T EXPECT TO see any of these points mentioned in the official report.
We shouldn’t expect them to mention the empty motorways that meant it took just minutes to drive from one side of the city to another, while it was taking hours to move just one-hundred metres on the main rail line from Newmarket.
We shouldn’t expect them to mention the privately-owned taxis, which whisked people to the game when the publicly-paid-for trains and buses couldn’t. We shouldn’t expect them to talk about the privately-owned downtown bars and bottle stores where you could easily get a drink, while people struggled to get near one in the government’s Slug—or you could easily find a TV screen to see the festivities, while they struggled in The Slug to see anything at all on the large screens that went resolutely blue screen for most of the hours of the game.
We won’t see any intelligent discussion at all, because any report that does eventually emerge (if isn’t suppressed altogether) will just be an exercise designed so bureaucrats can cover their arse, and the scum who were responsible for the shambles can use it as an excuse to pick our pockets again. (In fact, Len Brown already sounds positively excited knowing that he can use this shambles as justification to build a bigger train set in Auckland, even if he himself has no plans at all to use it when it matters.)
Of course they will ignore the most important lesson from Friday. And that is this: it seemed that wherever the government was, so were the problems. Wherever they were not, there were none.
That’s the real moral from Friday’s Tale of Two Parties. A Friday night that (for good reasons and bad) most of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
UPDATE: Owen McShane makes points in the comments worth noting:
This classic “group think” behaviour and decision making reflects the rail worship documented in “The Mythical Conception of Rail in Los Angeles.”
Rail mythology leads people to believe that rail solves all problems. It is a short trip from Len Brown saying of airport rail links “Build them and they will come” to “use rail and rail can respond”. There is no way a rail system can operate efficiently at one set of volume and then respond immediately to a four fold increase in demand. Trains are not silver bullets that can work miracles at the wave of a want. IT would take years to increase the capacity of the current network fourfold.
Any modelling of the convergence of people arriving into Britomart in huge numbers while huge numbers were trying to leave for Eden Park would have revealed that the rail system would fail. But the “mythical concept” is that rail solves all problems, and to admit doubt is a heresy. The Taxis of Auckland carry more public transport trips per year than rail ever will, but they were told they were not needed because rail and buses would cope.
Taxis are cars and hence ‘unblessed’.
Rail systems are inherently fragile and only seemed reliable were cars and buses weren’t.
Visions and Myths are no substitute for sound analysis.
The normal pattern is that the actual analysts and engineers etc. sound all the warning about the weakness of rail but are over ridden by the “myth makers”.. But when their predictions prove correct the engineers get the blame.