My favourite story so far this week has been the Hamilton to Auckland train.. and one of the board members calling it out for the waste of time and money that it is. Patrick Reynolds, on the board of Waka Kotahi-NZTA, called the service ‘the worst of both worlds’. He pointed out it didn’t stop at obvious places it should, that it was too slow, so it really wasn’t an efficient daily return service, and that he thought it would be ‘very hard to attract much ridership’. Which is exactly what I said, except for the fact I’m not on the board of Waka Kotahi.
What’s sad about this, is not that he said it, the fact he said it is awesome, because at least he’s honest, the real tragedy is that he’s now had to apologise.. and he’s been rapped over the knuckles for speaking out. Since when did telling the truth earn you a reprimand? Apparently at NZTA there is only a ‘collective’ voice, and poor old Patrick and his individuality was not singing from the appropriate collective song sheet. Apparently even if you know in your own expert opinion that a service is crap, you’ve got to lie and say it’s fabulous. What a crock. And how inauthentic does that apology now look?
Sir Brian Roche, chair of Waka Kotahi, said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ in Patrick’s remarks, and he’d ‘let the board down’. That’s like your Mum and Dad telling you as a child that you’ve been a bit rude to your brother and you can go apologise, so you mumble ‘sorry’ through gritted teeth to keep your parents happy. Naughty Patrick, smack on the hand, say sorry. Are you kidding me? Even worse, Brian Roche said Patrick had ‘let himself down’. If I was Patrick I’d be letting Brian know the only people they’ve let down is themselves, by pretending this service is something it isn’t.
Waka Kotahi can’t stick their fingers in their ears and go la la la not listening to anyone this train service is awesome, when it very obviously isn’t. Surely the better more honest approach is to say, look, Patrick raises some valid points we agree the service needs work, we’ll look at it. Not this pathetic public telling off and dressing down. All that’s done is highlight how ignorant Waka Kotahi is prepared to be, how arrogant they are in thinking they’re beyond reproach, and that criticism, even if it is internal, is not valid.
So Patrick’s been publicly admonished, he’s had to delete his tweets, he’s no doubt has had a corporate refresher course on social media protocols, and he’s had to issue a grovelling apology. And what are we left with? A phenomenally expensive train service, which Waka Kotahi threw 80 million bucks at, which is too slow, too ineffective, and as Patrick pointed out, ‘blows trough stations it should serve.’ But god forbid they fix it. Better just to give Patrick a good telling off and pretend it never happened, nothing to see here.
If NZTA truly wants to serve the public, it could start by not gagging its own people when they try to speak the truth.