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Oh dear…

Well that was an interesting day. On the one hand, I’ve never seen Auckland’s city centre so busy, vibrant and exciting. But on the other hand, well

Auckland’s transport system ground to a halt tonight, stopping thousands of rugby fans getting to the opening game of the Rugby World Cup on time.

As an estimated crowd of more than 100,000 people took to the streets to celebrate, authorities were forced to close parts of the city to traffic.

And in the middle of the chaos people were bashed, pedestrians were hit by a bus and children were separated from their parents.

Some rugby fans, disgusted with the poor performance of Auckland’s trains, want compensation for rugby tickets they say they couldn’t use.

I’m going to discuss things in more detail tomorrow, but a few impressions:

  1. There were clearly an enormously greater number of people in town than expected. That was perhaps somewhat due to the good weather, but probably should have been expected. It certainly didn’t feel as though there was good crowd control.
  2. Queen Street clearly should have been closed to cars from midday, or at the very least the mid afternoon. I could tell at around 3pm that there were going to be far too many people on Queen Street than the footpaths could contain. People did eventually spread onto the roads – although in a very uncontrolled and somewhat dangerous way.
  3. Something clearly went horribly wrong with the train system. People couldn’t get into Britomart, the trains kept stopping, just a disaster.
  4. Routes should have been set aside for buses that were clear of cars and (hopefully) of pedestrians to ensure that the buses could operate normally. At the very least there should have been Backup plans – after all a whole team of Auckland Transport has been planning this for years.

Oddly, while it was largely a pretty fun day – although I got quite tired at the end – overall my impression was one of a kind of happy chaos. There was a vastly inadequate number of people managing what was going on, there were promises of closing Queen Street – but it never happened.

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction over the next few days.

42 comments to Oh dear…

  • The Trickster

    I had fun in town, but yeah, I barely saw a cop all night so it was lucky the crowd seemed to be behaving themselves.

    As for Queen St, whoever the retard was who decided to keep it open needs to be shot. It was absolutely chocka at 4pm from Wellesley to the water.

  • We were up on Hopetoun bridge watching the fireworks. For some reason eastbound traffic got stuck on the bridge. The pedestrians watching on both sides took over the roadway for a while which was fun.

    The boys in the apartment building even took requests and played music to go along with the fireworks. All good fun, no troubles..

  • obi

    What problems? Len Brown made it to the game…

    “A spokesman for Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the mayor, who was in the stands at Eden Park, was aware of the transport issues and would comment later tonight. Mr Brown decided yesterday to go the game by car in case there were problems with the trains.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10750606

  • Hey it was an awesome night. Went fantastic -a few issues with trains, but many expected that. Its only a 35 minute walk from town to Eden Park so don’t know why people don’t walk.

    We found a great spot Wyndard Corner, was more room there for more also.

    Big cities have issues with transport its no big deal really.

    Well done.

    • obi

      There is something to be said for walking. I was in London for the Millenium when 4 million people were in the center. LU closed all the Tube stations inside the Circle Line. It meant a walk of 2-3km to catch a train back to my friend’s place and then it was standing all the way out to Zone 5, but it avoided any crush at the inner city stations. Both with people trying to get on to platforms and arrivals getting out on to the streets.

      London travelers avoided emergency stop gadget pranks. What is it about Aucklanders that makes us want to stop crowded trains?

  • AC

    Ha! Great headline for the post :)
    Sounds like a painful evening for a considerable number of people trying to use the trains. A great shame and a huge learning curve hopefully.
    More inner city streets should’ve been closed to cars.
    Council should encourage people to walk, it’s not that far and would’ve been pleasant on a nice evening.

  • George D

    The fact that thousands of people missed their game is terrible. Chaos endured by others is pretty bad. But the fact that the lack of organisation meant that a bus ploughed into people, injuring 3 seriously, is appalling.

  • passenger

    Just for the record I note we caught western line train from Fruitvale to Kingsland and train home after game from Morningside to Fruitvale with zero issues. Train home after the game was positively serene. Train inbound was very crowded and in fact few passengers got off at Kingsland, most seemed headed for the waterfront. I am not sure the train system can cope with two large crowd events at once. I left my work in CBD about 2pm to catch train to Fruitvale and britomart already seemed to be struggling to cope with overloaded trains arriving from west and south with fans heading for waterfront. This overloading seemed to be disrupting the no doubt carefully planned timetable for movements on the western line towards Eden Park and the delays probably compounded for the rest of the evening.

  • Swan

    There were a whole lot more people than expected I think. My friends bar was running low on bottled beer at six! But the mood was a in a very good spirit, and that’s what made it successful for most people. Agreed they should set up temporary bus priority for the rest of the tournament.

    Sounds like the trains were subject to stupidity- emergency stops and people walking in Parnell tunnel??! I have seen signs on other rail systems telling people not to push emergency stop buttons in case of a medical problem, just to get off at next stop. An education campaign may be required.

    • dan

      “I have seen signs on other rail systems telling people not to push emergency stop buttons in case of a medical problem”

      On the tube you pull the emergency stop when there is an issue, don’t wait till you get to the station, that way the driver has more time to warn the station staff, and the train carries on normally until it gets to the station.

      Are you saying in auckland the train just stops immediately on the tracks? What if medical staff need to attend? Much better to carry on and stop at the next station so emergency services can get onto the train immediately.

      Either way it’s going to block the line while the incident is investigated…

  • patrick davis

    How many decades of under investment???

  • axio

    One word springs to mind: Atlanta.

  • Yeah, it was apparent from watching the coverage last night that the crowds issue was really poorly managed. As for the train services – what a fiasco. Not good enough at all. The worst part is that this will perpetuate the myth that PT is unreliable and, thus, not worth the investment.

  • Sanctuary

    The bottom line is the public transport option – given it’s current state – was over-sold. The public was told to use it, the public listened, and the decrepit system simply was unable to cope with numbers it should never have been expected to handle in the first place.

    Last night nights rail problems was a planning failure.

    But still, 98% of people got to the game fine.

    In a wider context, I heard the police say the downtown crowd was up to 120,000 strong with 60,000 at Eden Park. almost 200,000 people were mobile last night and I think the authorities were lucky that nothing went seriously wrong and their was a stampede or a riot because they were probably expecting half that. Clearly some people in charge made some good decisions that kept things under control, but at the end of the day luck is not something we should rely on twice. Better pre-planning please.

  • Bob

    Yes was happy chaos. I caught the bus to eden park from the CBD so avoided the madness. There in 15 mins was great. Crazy queues at Britomart. Ridiculous having such a bottleneck in the centre of the city. The sooner the loop comes in the better.

    Also definitely should have closed Queen St earlier. Someone wasn’t thinking for sure. Stupid trying to have a car dominated centre of the city when people want to enjoy the day. Something needs to change. Overall a fun experience. Can’t wait for it to continue!

  • Christopher T

    I think it was wonderful that so many Aucklanders decided to use the trains to attend the opening of the RWC at Eden Park and the attendant celebrations on the waterfront. Aside from anything else they were endorsing the idea that trains are really good pieces of public transport kit – particularly for big events – and they were seeing just how much of their tax has been invested in Auckland’s public transport infrastructure, that is not very much. The problem I suspect is that members of the IRB don’t actually know terribly much about PT so they have a tendency to agree when a government in making its bid for the games points out existing and improving rail infrastructure and indicates that it will be sufficient for purpose. In the meantime the roading engineers running the NZTA were using the games as an excuse to upgrade the motorway from the airport. The chaos that ensued is primarily the result of central government policy to focus transport planning on the construction of roads. It’s also the result of attempts to try and get away with a PT network on the cheap. Even at the best of times you can’t really expect to run a modern urban rail system using antiquated rolling stock and totally inadequate communication protocols and infrastructure which is what we try to do in Auckland; in the case of mega-events it’s impossible.

  • zhangsta

    Maybe it is time to get some additional trains from Wellington to run some of the RWC services. We have now got some surplus trains. 2x 8 car matangi’s with top and tailed DC’s will do the trick (hopefully)

  • Gian

    I was working down at the viaduct/cloud for a production company.
    There was no organization at all. Policemen came asking to us what to do with lost children (to the sound guys?) and there was no one in control of the situation. At the end I think it was a great success, people was having a great time, but I think it’s just because kiwis are chaotic but civilized and everybody was in a great mood.
    I’ve got a nice picture of a Tongan supporter waving his flag on the roof of a moving bus in Queen st. Should have been closed all day.
    Having been to massive festivals and manifestations all over Europe, I was a bit worried I didn’t see much happening to prepare the streets and control the crowds. And very little was done.
    Maybe Anarchy works in Nz?

  • Martin v

    Sounds like those at the game were mostly OK.

    Big problem was anyone on the waterfront trying to get home. Pic from here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10750742 shows a couple of thousand people waiting to get down to the Britomart platform from the Takutai Square entry, some had been waiting more than an hour, then around 10:30 realising that we weren’t going anywhere, I assume because all the southbound trains were being filled up by people transferring directly from Eden Park trains without coming up to street level.

    Very unimpressed by Veiloa and Auckland Transport staff attempt to manage crowds and pass on information. Some of the First Security staff tried their best to cope.

    I left the waterfront at 8:30 with family. Finally left city by bus at 12:30, but this includes 30 mins where we visited Foodtown after we realised that train queue wasn’t moving. Otherwise the rest of the time was spent queueing or trying to find the correct queue.

    • MFD

      “Auckland is absolutely ready on behalf of the country. We are on full party mode already,” Auckland Mayor Len Brown said. “The 1.4 million Aucklanders are absolutely up for this… It’s just going to be gobsmackingly great.”

  • Swan

    There should be more focus on the bus system for the rest of the tournament. It will be far easier to ramp up buses, and put in some priority measures. Run some special services, eg busway to Eden park.

  • Sacha

    Ability to plan for *pedestrian* traffic around venues seems critical. Planning and delivery of crowd control will need to be improved before the final to avoid a repeat performance.

    • Putting your main party destination right next to your major transport hub sounds like a good idea in principle but when you’re dealing with such huge numbers it just doesn’t work.

      Would have been better off encouraging everyone to the Domain and its natural amphitheater and leaving Britomart as the major transport hub.

    • James B

      For the finals I would close off Queen Street up to Aotea Square and have smaller fanzones along the way and in Aotea Square/Albert Park. Maybe theme the music. Have rock in one location, a DJ in another and some hip hop somewhere else to try and reduce the numbers of people moving around.

  • Natalie

    I must say though A++ to Birkenhead Transport, I was very impressed after waiting for nearly an hour for a bus on Jervois Road to have one go straight past completely full and then another or 3 not showing up at all in the following 40 mins, we drove back to the shore and caught a bus from the bottom of Onewa rd. On the way out of the city I saw over 6 Birkenhead buses in varying stages of fullness but still not completely packed and the bus we were on still had seats available. They seemed to have a fair few buses leaving at 1030pm when we caught the bus home, one left, and another arrived and so on, big ups to the nice people who helped us get the kids on and off the bus and let us get on despite the massive crowds waiting to get on. Poor effort from Auckland Transport for not closing the main streets despite the police asking for it to happen. It would have been handy to have screens in QE2 square and possibly some on Queen street also as I think that would have helped a fair bit.
    It was an incredible awesome time though, the streets were quiet with cars and I am pretty impressed that many people listened to the catch public transport call, shame that Auckland Transport wasted however many years and funds to accomplish such a bugger up! I got some pretty cool pics of the crowds and a short video shortly after the fireworks of people moving from QE2 square back up Queen street.
    I was impressed at the majority of people being well behaved, curteous and helpful, and even with 8 children we didnt manage to lose any of them and none of us got hurt or crushed. The Police presence on Queen street and surrounds was a little dismal and I didnt see a large amount of security gaurds either, thankfully most were well behaved even if they were rowdy and taking over the streets lol

    • Scott

      “It would have been handy to have screens in QE2 square”

      That area in fount of the Britomart main entrance was extremely busy and you want to put up a screen to attract more people? What if Britomart became overrun as the ferry terminal did? Aotea square could have held a few thousand people. I think it was a waste not to use Vector too.

      I guess the CBD was chosen over the domain for greater economic benefit as the bars and eateries were doing a roaring trade.

      • George D

        It would have been good if the giant screen option for Aotea had been realised (although I’m glad the extortionate PPP proposed was rejected).

        Aucklanders want to party! And we’re on the way to getting a city that allows us to do so. In the meantime, let’s just shut down streets (a few roadcones will do, although I’m happy to charge you $12 million to shut any street in the city) and open things up on nights like this.

  • Topcat

    In retrospect Queens Wharf was too small to be party central. perhaps more emphasis should have been placed on Aotea. Wasn’t that the idea to start with?

  • The Waiheke ferry terminal was actually quite peaceful and spacious – and the best seat in the house if you had a ferry ticket and thus could get through the gate. Waihekeans, who paid for Pier 2 in their departure taxes over the past 10 years, finally got a pay off for that investment. Pity no ferries ran after 5pm to get more of us into town.

  • Chris R

    TV One has just reported that the crowd was 200,000!

    There was no way that PT could cope with that!

    • I think it could have. We make Christmas in the Park work every year, same with Santa Parades. While certainly even a well run PT system would have been stretched, I think we could have done a heck of a lot better.

  • (cross posting from AKTNZ…)

    The real test of any organisation is how well they respond to events like this. Hopefully RWC and Auckland Transport are up to the challenge.

    One thing that might help is removing the focal point for all transport to the game away from Britomart. From the south, for instance, were there any trains running directly to Kingsland, rather than to Britomart first?

    Ferry users coming to the game should not have to push through crowds of people at “Party Central”. Perhaps inbound ferries could use a different wharf? In retrospect it would have been better to site Party Central a small distance away from the major transport interchange, like at the container wharf.

    Also after the game, all trains stopped only at Grafton or Britomart. There was no indication on how you get to points South or East. And for some reason buses waiting to depart North are located right on Sandringham Rd, blocking pedestrian access. Shouldn’t they be located on the perimeter of the pedestrian zone, with signs clearly pointing pedestrians to buses North, South, East and West?

    • @Cam, Of course this is an enormous part of the problem- people were first using the network to get to Britomart in order to get to the game, so there was a great deal of double handling as it were. Add to that the vastly over attended and under catered for ‘party’ right at Britomart; no wonder it didn’t run perfectly. It also highlights the hopelessness of a terminus based network -really a suboptimal network, or hardly a network at all.

      They got a chance to turn it around with less pressure, but they’ve also lost a great deal of good will. Anyone want a job?: http://www.seek.co.nz/job/20629497?cid=jobmail

  • Newnewt

    @Patrick.R. So the implication is that AT has not had a COO up until now? Interesting…

    • obi

      I thought they were quick to sack him, but it turns out he will be helping run NSW’s transport system: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/state-looks-to-nz-to-bring-transport-up-to-speed-20110809-1ikqm.html

      Although they might be reconsidering if this was on his CV:

      “THE man who will be responsible for Sydney’s ticketing system, for making RailCorp lift its game, for talking figures with a private ferry operator, and for drawing up a new public transport timetable, first has to make sure the Rugby World Cup runs smoothly.”

      Oops!

      Also, can anybody figure out what Len Brown meant when he tried to explain driving to the rugby:

      “The mayor – who campaigned for election on public transport – also offered an explanation for taking a car to Eden Park. “I had no idea what challenges I might face getting through Queens Wharf,” Mr Brown said. The mayor said “adoring fans” all around the viaduct presented problems, expecting him to play a role in hosting events. He said people would have invited him “into all the various parties at Britomart” so public transport was not an option.”

      I don’t understand the reference to Queens Wharf which sticks out in to the harbour and isn’t on any public transport route, let alone one between his office and Eden Park. And is he really saying the reason he can’t take a train or bus is because he is so popular people invite him to too many parties?

      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10750796

  • Stu Donovan

    IMO it was a complete shambles and we’re lucky more people were not seriously injured by vehicles and/or crowd pressure. Here’s my two cents worth:

    1. Public transport – unmitigated disaster. Notwithstanding the issues with the trains, I waited for 45 minutes at 1030pm (i.e. definitely not in the peak time) to get a bus home to Epsom from the city, because they all went past packed. Not only did the system fail, but it failed to recover all evening. In the end I gave up and called Mum, who drove in and picked me up. And we wonder why people rely on cars so much?!?
    2. Traffic management – perhaps the biggest balls-up. Not only should Queen have been closed, but Customs too and perhaps many other streets. The intersections were a disaster, people crossing at their random will; I saw several near-misses. I can only dream about how great the party would have been if peds had more space to move free from cars, as it was there was no space to party because all the footpaths were chocka …
    3. Police presence – very poor. Once you got away from the Waterfront there were very few police on the street. A fight broke out on Symonds Street while I was waiting for the bus, where someone got kicked in the head and knocked unconsciousness (so badly that I thought he was dead). I called the police who took 10 min to arrive – 10 minutes in the central city at 1030pm? We’re just lucky that nothing more serious did not happen …

    Many good ideas here: especially like the idea of a) encouraging people to walk (why not offer people complimentary drinks along the way, turning it into a semi-pub crawl from the city to the game) b) temporary busway between eden park and the city and c) direct trains from south to kingsland (can’t believe this did not happen!).

    The aspect that most concerned me was the lack of responsiveness. There was no contingency plans for closing off streets when it become obvious that crowd numbers were higher than anticipated. Two words spring to my mind “risk management” – the problems could have been anticipated but weren’t, and so festered on creating havoc through the night.

    Never mind, here’s hoping we can do better next time. I agree that in terms of people on the streets it was an absolute success :).

  • I agree. It is about risk management. And it’s about public safety. How the train system we have is operated and managed, and how maintenance and development work is prioritised, needs to be reviewed…

    Decades of neglect and under-funding are the fundamental reason for the fragility of Auckland’s commuter rail system. Central and Regional Government each share some of the responsibility for the delicacy of Auckland Rail which comes under strain at peak time – like any network system.

    But it’s not that simple. Auckland should be able to do better with what it has. The public should be able to rely on the institutions that are responsible for governing and operating Auckland commuter rail to provide services that are safe – irrespective of the delicacy or robustness of the network. It should not be up to the public to carry out a risk assessment everytime they give up their cars and follow advice to take public transport.

    I’ve drawn on my experience and some research to publish a substantial posting about this on my blog…
    auckland-rail-blame-game http://joelcayford.blogspot.com/2011/09/auckland-rail-blame-game.html

  • Ari

    Yup, fail. Buses ran really well though. More people should have walked. It’s only a 40min to Eden Park from the CBD. It should have been communicated to those taking the train. Pity you can’t even understand the announcers accents.

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