Four ways to diffuse a powder keg

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    It’s all too easy to switch off the festive magic of the holidays. 

    A bit like when someone turned on the lights at a school disco and you’d realise, glaringly, that all the music, groove and glitterballs in the world couldn’t hide the fact that you were standing in the gym listening to tunes chosen by your geography teacher. 

    I had one of those revelatory moments this week – albeit without the strains of Mr Selby’s Tainted Love. While Oneroa still partied and the beaches thronged with bathers, I had a series of conversations with people worried about what’s going on at Matiatia. New year, same problems: parking, taxis, double-deckers, ferry queues, bus routes… The most worrying description was that  the situation down at our island’s main gateway was “a powder keg” with a very real risk of confrontations spilling over into worse. What is it with Waiheke and our wharfs? Time and again this past year there have been reports of pushing and shoving at Kennedy Point and Matiatia. It seems that when we funnel competing groups through these narrow entry and exit points, we can’t avoid  friction.

    So at the risk of sticking my head above the parapet, here are four ideas which could ease the tensions.

    End the trials – think big.

    Having an annual “traffic trial” for Matiatia isn’t good enough. Even local board deputy chair Bob Upchurch’s comments to the Gulf News this week that we need to start thinking about it much earlier this  year isn’t good enough. The island must bite the bullet and reorganise the way the whole of the western gateway is configured – there’s a perfectly practical proposal gathering dust on council shelves designed by landscape architect Dennis Scott. Heck, the council even gave him a $75k prize for it in 2007 after it won a competition.  

    And, yes, this could mean a multi-storey car park; and, yes, we’d probably lose the parking down on the waterfront, but these interminable “trials” do nothing to bring balance – and in many cases they actually inflame tensions. Visitor and resident numbers are not going to go down, and Matiatia isn’t somehow going to learn how to cope in its present format. Rip it up and start again. 

    A park and ride mentality.

    When Howick Local Board petitioned Auckland Transport for a free park and ride system at Half Moon Bay, they got what they wanted. If a driver leaves their car in the Owhanake car park a few hundred metres up the road from Matiatia and has too much baggage, is incapacitated in some way or is wrangling children, then we charge $3.50 cash each way for the bus to and from the ferry terminal. This would be bad enough if it had always been this way, but it’s a new charge replacing the traditional good will offering of a lift up the road from drivers. A quick call to AT last week to find out whether the charge was to stay actually saw them double down and confirm that not only “all customers should pay a single stage fare” but also they would “remind Waiheke Bus Company to communicate this requirement to bus drivers”. Having a properly functioning, affordable bus service that people enjoy using would go a long way to removing the need for so many car parks around the terminal.

    Permits for taxi drivers.

    A combination of losing their prominent – and more visible – rank in the keyhole and the perennial friction between off-island and regular drivers has angered many of those who ply their trade in and around Matiatia. Drivers talk about interlopers hanging around vineyards and wineries in the afternoon “stealing” fares booked to local companies, or doubledecker drivers touting for business on the wharf while taxis are left to compete over visitors who eventually wind their way through the terminal to the stand hidden away in the bottom carpark. When Queenstown had similar problems last year they introduced a permit scheme and the New Zealand Taxi Federation has called for systematic fare schedules to be displayed on the side of cars. Drivers I’ve spoken to believe this would work on Waiheke, too.

    An end to tone-deaf companies.

    Possibly the most mind-boggling conversation this past week involved the fact that Fullers had somehow thought it was a good idea to try to recruit bus drivers from among the ranks of taxi drivers who felt they’d been turfed out of the keyhole. A rep had actually trawled the cars asking if they wanted to join up and had been given short shrift by those she’d spoken to.

    Fullers has apologised and agreed not to do it again, but their actions have simply inflamed the issues further. Fullers’ full statement makes things clear… “Fullers360 is actively recruiting bus drivers to cater to the increased routes on Waiheke, however this situation was not related to a concerted planned recruitment effort last Friday. This situation was an isolated occurrence and had no deliberate intent.  The Waiheke Bus Company recruitment process is ongoing, and a situation of this nature will not occur again. We have received feedback in relation to this situation over the weekend and are reviewing this against our HR policies and standard operating procedures. We have had direct contact with the taxi company and offered our apologies.” • James Belfield

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