27 Jan 2023

AT concert travel muck-up: It's embarrassing, Richard Hills says

10:18 pm on 27 January 2023
There were already 11,000 people at Mt Smart stadium for Friday night's Elton John concert when it was announced that it had been cancelled due to the weather.

Disappointed fans leaving Mt Smart after the Elton John concert was cancelled. Photo: Mere Martin

Fans are describing Auckland Transport's plans to help them get to and from Elton John's concerts in the supercity this weekend as a fiasco with tonight's concert now cancelled due to the weather.

Two concerts were due at Mt Smart Stadium before tonight's concert was called off in the face of heavy rain that has been affecting the city for several hours.

However, less than 30 minutes before Elton John was due to take the stage at Mt Smart stadium, organisers pulled the pin on his concert.

Auckland Transport tweeted that tonight's show had been cancelled due to the weather, saying its operations team was working to redirect special event buses to get people home from Mt Smart stadium.

Frontier Touring Publicist Maria Robinson said there were around 11,000 people already at the rain soaked venue when the announcement was made with a crowd of 30,000 expected.

Organisers said they were waiting to see what the weather situation was tomorrow, before deciding if the Saturday night concert could go ahead.

Ahead of the cancellation announcement, there had been a storm over AT's advice that "driving is recommended" - complete with parking instructions despite it being the agency with a core aim of promoting public transport.

The move has been heavily criticised by councillors for what appears to be a severe lack of organisation.

Added to the difficulties facing concertgoers has been a key train station closure and no train services in the city at all on Saturday for Elton John's second show following a decision by KiwiRail to shut the lines for maintenance.

The chair of Auckland Council's environment committee Richard Hills at Beach Haven beach.

Richard Hills Photo: Alexia Russell

Auckland councillor Richard Hills said it was very frustrating and embarrassing for Aucklanders as well as those from outside the city visiting for the concert.

"Everything from communication to planning to pushing out the barrow to get as much public transport as possible feels like a big swing and a big miss."

He said Auckland Transport was not incompetent.

In the last 10 years it had improved and he had championed its efforts, however, lately it had seemed as though AT had too much on and was getting overwhelmed. It ran the risk of turning people off public transport due to their loss of confidence in it.

The line closures were frustrating and the work being done should have been done years ago.

For the Elton John concert a Facebook post yesterday had advised fans to drive when in fact 80 buses were available to carry fans on a continual basis from the CBD to Mt Smart Stadium.

"People are very confused on what actually is available."

It had taken until this afternoon for the social media post to be corrected and explain the full list of options, which include a train and shuttle buses plus the 80 buses going constantly from the central city.

"There is no excuse for it. It's completely frustrating and embarrassing."

Hills also believed KiwiRail should have cooperated and done its maintenance at 3am rather than during the time when trains were needed for Saturday night's concert.

"People are going to have - on top of the rain - a pretty horrendous night trying to figure out how to get to and from the stadium."

With the FIFA Women's World Cup due later this year he was keen to sit down with all the relevant organisations to try and ensure there was no repeat of this weekend's shambles.

'We got it wrong' - AT

Auckland Transport group manager of metro services Darek Koper said it was disappointing people were unable to use the trains this weekend. The trains were "the backbone" of special events but with KiwiRail lines closed for both line and overall maintenance the option was unavailable.

For tonight's concert some trains were running to Ōtahuhu and from there, shuttle buses were available to carry concertgoers who also had the option of using buses which were running every 10 minutes from the CBD.

There were different arrangements for the concerts today and Saturday, he said.

Asked if he was embarrassed about AT's main recommendation that Elton John fans should drive to the concerts, he said he was.

The key message around the special event transport, including the train and replacement buses, was missing from the original travel advice.

"We got it wrong... It works against what my role is and what we do as an organisation but unfortunately it was a mistake, it was an error in providing incomplete information for which we apologise."

Negotiations had taken place with KiwiRail but they were unable to defer their maintenance, he said.

Koper agreed bus capacity would fall short of the numbers of people who could have travelled by train. About 70 could fit on a bus while a train could carry around 300 people.

Asked about how much confidence people could have in Auckland Transport he said the organisation was doing its best, however KiwiRail also had a role to play to make assets available at times such as the Elton John concerts.

"Unfortunately we have a limited resources. We are currently dealing with an extreme bus driver shortage which limits our bus options as an alternative, therefore, we have quite a challenging situation today."

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