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Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Testing toll road Print E-mail

ImageEarly warning of testing toll road.

Queuing for cash machines adds a delightful diversion for drivers, writes Tony Watkins.

"You can meet people and chat while you are waiting to get to one of the two cash machines."




ImageAs you drive north from Auckland very large, very expensive blue signs tell you that the end of freedom is nigh, and that if you are going to be away on holiday for more than three days you could be in deep trouble. These should be ignored.

The critical sign is the flashing orange temporary wreck of a sign parked at the side of the road telling you that both the cash machines are busy, so that you know to add about twenty minutes to your journey if you want to use the toll road.
The next blue sign announces that you need to turn off at Silverdale to get a free ride. This is just a trick to make the free journey seem longer. You can in fact turn off at Orewa, but knowing you cannot do a U-turn if the sign you have just gone past should turn out to be accurate is disquieting. Only drivers with nerves of steel would proceed after being warned. However freedom never was a soft option for the faint hearted.
Coming south the welcome back to Auckland, if you have been away less than three days, is easier, because you can see the options. The road ahead looks boring but the little lay-by carved out of the mangroves is well worth a visit.

There are only about six parking spaces so you will need to stop with all the other cars on top of the dotted yellow lines or perhaps part way up one of the verges. Do not grumble. Six is more parking spaces than were ever provided on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Our toll road has achieved what all the sustainability experts and academic research have failed to do. It is getting Aucklanders out of their cars and making them walk. In this sense it makes a major contribution to the planet by dealing a body blow to climate change.
Once on their feet everyone joins a queue, which is very British, and without testerone inducing turbo-charging road-rage is left behind. You can meet people and chat while you are waiting to get to one of the two cash machines. On a sunny day it is also fun to take a break from driving. In wet weather it might be better to be dry and free, but the planners have got something right by opening the road in the summer.
At last you find yourself looking at a screen. It is a sort of video game with cars racing along a toll road. This virtual reality experience is a rather good substitute for the real thing, so after a few minutes of enjoyment most people just wander off, a little dazed, and drive over the hill.
For those who persevere a friendly man is standing by to explain that as well as providing entertainment the machine also issues tickets. It begins by asking for your car registration. This is a trick for visitors from overseas who cannot remember, and they need to walk back to their vehicles to take a look. They then move to the back of the queue which keeps the queue moving.
However the smug local people soon realise that you can be too smug too soon. If your number plate has a Y in it you go looking towards the end of the alphabet to find that Y is missing. With the bright sunlight shining on the screen to make it unreadable it is impossible to see where the Y has gone to. With luck other people in the queue participating in this team-building sport will help you work out that this is a  typewriter keyboard not an alphabet. 

The machine then asks if you are driving a grey Fiat, but by this time you have been away from it for so long you can hardly remember. The idea is apparently to demonstrate how good surveillance is at Waihopai, just in case you were wondering. Fortunately it does not ask if yours is the car parked on the dotted yellow line. With this quiz question behind you it is now possible to press “next”. Nothing happens. You need to know to keep on pressing next. All part of the tenacity training programme. 

Then you come to the hard part. Getting the machine to accept your money. Fortunately the helpful assistant is there to explain that if you give the machine a thump it will swallow your $2. He gives it a demonstration thump and suddenly you realise that everything will be smoother, quicker and more violent once the peasants get a little experience.

The machine simply returns notes, giving you an opportunity to turn them around and try them from different directions. After four or five attempts the machine eventually accepts your note. You end up with a receipt telling you that you have paid for your next five trips, but no means of knowing when you have used them up.

The old fashioned idea of clipping a ticket until you had used your last clip was much too user-friendly. It seems the only way you can check is to wait until a notice arrives from Palmerston North to say that you have incurred a fine. Perhaps the information pops up at an airport when you try to leave the country. It is too early to know what the experts have in mind. After all this you really do not need to use the toll road as well so you generously give your ticket to the next person in the queue to save them time before you drive off over the hill. The ticket does not say that it is “not transferable”.

Surely a system as sophisticated as this cutting-edge technology will have no difficulty working out that you gave it to the man in the red ute. 


Tony Watkins of Glendowie drives a grey Fiat and recommends a therapeutic swim at Waiwera for anyone with an aversion to tunnels.


First published in the New Zealand Herald on 3 February 2009








An Auckland Star advertisement from the Fifties

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