Stripping off the veneer

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    When I’m not writing or subediting, I have a not-so-secret life as a cab driver. It’s a useful double act, since the cab-driving can be a source of story leads as well as income.

    But I wasn’t expecting to research the upcoming forum on changes to parking at Mātiatia when I cruised up to the wharf’s cab rank last Saturday.

    I say cruised rather than arrived because I didn’t quite get there. Blocking my way was a stylish metallic-blue late-model SUV with an equally stylish young (to me, anyway) woman at the wheel, staring at and tapping her phone.

    “Are you a cab driver,” I asked in a polite tone – barely suppressing my resentment and rage. 

    “I feel like one,” she replied. 

    “But you aren’t,” I snapped. “This stand is for tours and pre-booked cabs.” I pointed to the sign. “This is my workplace. I’ve got customers coming off the ferry. Please move.”

    She returned to her phone-tapping.

    I backed my van into the small space still available, got behind her and leant on the horn.

    It had the desired result and, after pulling up to the rank, chuckling, I leapt out and shooed away two further interlopers.

    Two genuine cab drivers pulled into the freed-up spaces – but behind them I could see that metallic SUV pulling up at the rank again. 

    My fare had arrived, so I let a wave of self-righteous indignation wash over me and got on with my job.

    If ever there was a case for a better layout for the carpark and taxi stand, there it was. 

    Auckland Transport rightly moved cabs and tours out of the “keyhole” a couple of years back. The vehicle congestion, plus pedestrians wandering through the area as buses drove in and out was a recipe for an accident. Some days buses had to back to get around the choked-up turnaround. A backing bus is never a good thing, as a few shelters and parked vehicles on the island would probably confirm – if they could talk. 

    But the new setup has its drawbacks. Many passengers unfamiliar with the island can’t find the cab rank, which is too far from the wharf, especially when it’s raining. (Under the current setup, there is a rank in the first carpark, with pre-booked fares and tours on the left side of the platform and walk-up fares on the right.) That, in turn, has restricted the number of parks for pick-ups from the ferry. Now if that degree of congestion is already causing non-cabbies to park in cab ranks (since their needs naturally trump all others’), what might it be like when overseas tourists return and the inevitable increase in population leads to more builds, more cars and more pressure on infrastructure? 

    The problem is lack of space. The wharf area was not designed with a large population in mind. The foreshore should never be converted into a carpark. Tourism is the lifeblood of the island, and who wants to arrive at a dreary plain of asphalt? The carpark and foreshore are also situated on top of an urupa, and that thorny issue has to be resolved at some point. Park and ride has been suggested, and it seems the only sensible option.

    In the meantime, I ponder how thin the veneer of civilisation is, and how easily it can be peeled off by the slightest pressure. Competing for carpark space with the added bother of family to pick up or work stress can lead to frayed nerves and, in my case, blood-pressure elevation and bitchiness.

     What would real pressure do? We don’t have to go further than the nearest screen for the answer. The Ukraine is under the appalling pressure of a 20th-century-style war. Monday’s Guardian revealed that the Ukrainian government is investigating it’s own Ukranian forces for alleged war crimes – specifically the non-verified release of video footage which purports to show Russion prisoners of war being shot in the legs. But we also read about acts of heroism under the same pressure, because while it may strip the veneer away from some, in many other cases that pressure reinforces an individual’s innate decency and humanity.

    So what pressures have stripped that veneer from Vladimir Putin? It seems nothing more than the petty resentment and self-pity that fuelled earlier tyrants, along the lines that Russia used to be great but has been trampled on by the West and encircled by Nato. That Crimea and Ukraine used to belong to the USSR, and before that imperial Russia. 

    Those claims are arguable, and there is a huge case for independence. It’s called the Holodomor – the starvation to death of millions in Ukraine under Stalin. There’s a great film about it called Mr Jones. Should Putin succeed in his war, he will never win over the population. 

    Those who defend Putin, many on the basis of social-media misinformation, should look at what he did in Georgia, Aleppo and Chechnya. • Jim Mahoney

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