Shoppers were stuck in their cars at the Westfield Newmarket Mall carpark for hours yesterday afternoon as queues snaked around the levels. Photo / Coco Veber-Nichols
The Automobile Association (AA) has hit out at Auckland Transport (AT) after Westfield shoppers were reduced to panic attacks during horrendous three-hour traffic queues yesterday, with the motoring watchdog demanding better traffic management for beleaguered commuters.
The line of cars winding around the Newmarket parking lot inched forward by a few metres per hour yesterday afternoon, forcing many shoppers to spend at least three hours stuck in their cars.
Anger boiled over as some motorists were desperate for food and water, and one shopper was even forced to wet herself in her vehicle as she waited in the traffic jam to exit the car parking building.
Westfield has blamed poor weather and high customer numbers for the debacle, and apologised to affected customers for the “unforeseen delays”.
AA’s Auckland issues spokesman Martin Glynn said “at the very least” traffic lights on nearby feeder roads should have been rephased to help clear the traffic once the severe congestion problems became apparent.
“The scale of Auckland’s congestion problem means decisions on how we use our road space need to be focused on what moves the most people on a particular road at a particular time and day,” Glynn said.
“Auckland’s public transport system is getting better but most people still use their cars to get to malls so the transport network still needs to be able to respond to this sort of problem.
“If the problem is an ongoing one at the weekends and can’t be addressed with changes to traffic light phases, AT may need to rethink what is the most efficient use of space on the surrounding roads at that time.”
With Black Friday, the busy Christmas shopping period and Boxing Day nearing, shoppers are anxious not to be caught up in similar circumstances.
AT faced major backlash when bus lanes were initially placed around the mall, with many people warning backlogs could happen. AT has been approached for comment.
The Herald approached Westfield for comment, asking why the backlog occurred and what they would do in the future to prevent it.
After initially refusing to comment, the company sent a short statement at 5.30pm today apologising to those people who were stuck for hours inside their cars.
“We apologise to any customers who faced issues in the car park yesterday.
“Saturday was a very busy day in our centre as customers visited us in the lead up to Christmas and to enjoy time indoors out of the weather. Traffic on the streets surrounding the centre and weather conditions caused unforeseen delays in the carpark.
“We offered additional complimentary parking to customers and lifted the boom gates to assist with traffic flow.”
Louise Todd told the Herald she arrived to pick up her 17-year-old daughter at the mall after the teen had been sitting stationary in the queue for at least 60 minutes.
“I received a call from my daughter just after 4pm, upset and distressed, saying she had been [sitting] in the car in the queue for an hour without moving and that the mood in the air was becoming increasingly angry as drivers were honking horns,” she said.
“After I was dropped off, we went back into the mall and had something to eat for the next hour and a half, but when we came back out, the vehicles behind her car had not moved.”
Another shopper said they were in the queue for nearly three hours.
“I was with my girlfriend, and she has had to pee herself due to the fact we were stuck for so long. Not ideal, but desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said.
“We didn’t think it was safe to leave the vehicle, so we [were] thirsty and hungry, and this is just a complete disaster.”
Another shopper said she was stuck in her car for two and a half hours.
“At the moment, we’re sitting here not sure what to do,” she said at 6.30pm on Saturday.
“I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. It’s absolutely scary being trapped in a mall.”
She told the Herald she and the daughter left the mall after a two-hour visit as they were conscious of the time on their parking ticket.
“Obviously, we didn’t expect to be stuck in the mall. We feel pretty trapped. This is the worst it’s ever been. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a traffic jam this bad.”
Another shopper said there were clear health and safety issues.
“We saw babies and mothers stranded. I witnessed a young girl having an anxiety attack, and there was no food or water offered.”
Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.