Benefits of a smile offensive

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    So said the cheerful resting actor in his high-viz Auckland Transport vest in the now redundant bus-stop at the top end of Oneroa.

    The reason I knew he was an out-of-work thespian is because I’d already seen the casting call for this particular role: “Hi Bruce Hopkins from ActionActors here,” it had started off in a message sent to performers in and around the Auckland region in mid-September. “We are starting to get a lot of work through from Auckland Transport in relation to all the development happening in the transport sector in Auckland, including an upcoming campaign that will take place on Waiheke island over seven days. Our current database of personnel/actors who doing [sic] this type of work really enjoy the work and our pay rate of $28 per hr.” I’m sure they do. They certainly seem happy enough.

    But while AT populates our decommissioned bus shelters with would-be Hamlets and Ophelias, the real tragedy is that this week has marked a genuine low-point in the relationship between Waiheke residents and the companies which we have no choice but to use to ferry us around.

    Because although it’s easy to script a smiling response to an inquiry about where to find the nearest bus stop, it’s not so easy to grin through your explanation to a partner why you’re an hour late back from work, or to a manager why you’ve missed your face-to-face performance review, or your parents about why you’ve come back from school drenched because you missed a bus. And it would surely take an Academy Award-worthy performance to trudge the 700m between your new Belgium Street bus stop and your home near the now defunct Wharf or Ostend Road stops in the sort of downpours we’ve experienced this week and still accept AT’s explanation that the walk is “longer (but still reasonable)” in good humour.

    I’ve fielded stories such as these all week as this new bus network cranks into gear: and the bus arriving just as the ferry’s chugging out from the wharf and the full ferry arriving late just as a near-empty bus screams off into the distance seem almost comic. But the pensioner whose car has just failed its WOF discovering they’re now too far away from their bus stop to get out and about easily is no laughing matter at all.

    The incoming local board is certainly going to have to hit the ground running with the promise of what I gather will be potentially weeks of protests against this new bus network. You can take it as read that the skeleton stunt on the front of this week’s Gulf News is just the beginning . Reprieves for routes along Jellicoe Parade and Wellington Road and successful protests in central Auckland which restored a route along Williamson Ave between Ponsonby and Grey Lynn have given those who want AT to reconsider the now ostracised loop at the back of Ostend cause to continue pushing their concern.

    The incoming board has its hands full with transport issues. There’s the eternal tinkering with the keyhole surgery at Matiatia, the buses, and, now, the new members’ expected pushback against the bare-faced cheek of another Fullers’ fare rise. 

    Perhaps next on ActionActors’ radar ought to be a smile-offensive on behalf of Fullers to enforce the belief we’re getting our money’s worth. When asked this week why the rises were required, it’s worth noting that CEO Mike Horne pointed to “legislative changes in relation to minimum wage and Employment Relations Amendment Act – Rest and Meal breaks”.  

    I can’t help but think though that when the minimum wage is $17.70 per hour and the living wage that Mr Horne is committed to by 2022 is $21.15 – some of his staff may feel aggrieved that those peripatetic performers would be earning far more than them.

    So perhaps a few of the Fullers staff who are used – as my young thespian so joyously put it – to fielding all the complaints with the studied straight face of a Hollywood star might feel they’re already qualified for $28 an hour. 

    As Bruce in his casting call so eloquently wrote: “If you are a professional or experienced actor we invite you to join our database on our new app and start earning some decent extra income.” • James Belfield

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