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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 34, September 1990

By J A T Terry

Even as far back as 1929 the effects of road competition on railway traffic had been of concern and it was thus incumbent upon senior railway staff to do all they could to retain existing business.

At Paeroa, in competition with the railway passenger service, was Evan Thomas and Coy, which ran a thrice daily bus service to Thames and return. The mixed trains left at 7 00am, 9 59am and 2 35pm, while the bus departed 7 30am, 10 00am and 2 30pm.

The ire of the Paeroa stationmaster had been aroused by what he considered were the most unfair tactics of a company bus driver whose position, he contended, was dependent upon the number of passengers he carried. With his bus parked outside the station the driver intercepted intending rail passengers to Thames telling them he could get them to their destination quicker. This was no doubt correct for the mixed trains shunted as required. The scheduled times for the three trains over the 17 miles 57 chains to Thames varied from 1 hour to 1 hour 11 minutes, a schedule which the bus driver would have little difficulty in beating.

In his bus the driver travelled up and down the street opposite the station platform beckoning to intending rail passengers that he wished to speak to them. In some cases he collected the rail ticket and reduced his fare to get custom, presumably obtaining a refund on the unused rail ticket. His touting for business also extended to the station platform.

The stationmaster did his best to stop these practices but, as he explained to his senior officer, there were times when, before he could intervene, the driver had been successful in his enticements.

Several approaches to the manager of the bus company failed to get anywhere. While the manager stated that his driver had no authority to trespass or tout for fares, he raised the point of what in those days was fair competition.

The stationmaster was convinced that the manager did not intend to take any action. Clearly he was at breaking point in his efforts to stop these tactics. In a letter to the District Traffic Manager at Auckland he said of the driver: "He is a particularly impudent individual and I am continually ordering him off the premises and unless some action is taken against him I shall never be free from the present trouble and the leakage of passenger traffic will continue". As he wrote did his mind turn to the troubles of Henry the Second? Would that he were able to call on his knights to rid him of his turbulent offender. The stationmaster considered the driver should be prosecuted. If the allegations could be substantiated the driver had indeed infringed Railways Bylaw number 27 which specifically forbade touting or soliciting custom of any description on railway premises.

The matter was discussed with the Mayor who did not appreciate the unfair method of competition. He suggested that if the Department would define the railway boundary on the road by painting a thick white line and marking off spaces for those vehicles permitted to enter railway property, he would endeavour to have a Borough Bylaw passed to prevent parking on the station side of the road. He was also willing to make a Bylaw preventing touting on the footpath in the vicinity of the station.

However the Railway Department seemed to sort things out themselves. A strip of concrete 3 inches by 4 inches was laid down defining the station boundary and parking notices, as to parking restrictions, were placed at each end of the marked area. This presumably did the trick for there were no further letters on the file concerning the driver although legal action against him for a breach of Railway Bylaws was proposed.

The whole affair had no doubt been most upsetting to the Stationmaster while the Manager of the bus company, despite what he may have said on the matter of trespassing and touting, must have been highly pleased with the initiative shown by his driver.

Although the Stationmaster was aware that road competition was having its effect on rail passenger traffic it is doubtful if either he or the bus driver could have foreseen that 22 years later the Railways would have lost the battle for that traffic on the Thames Branch and passenger services would be withdrawn from 28 March 1951.

But never in his wildest dreams would the Stationmaster have considered that his beloved station would go, yet 60 years on, road traffic would have so taken its toll on railway goods traffic that the station would no longer be required. It will be sold to the Department of Conservation for use as an office and shop on the site of another removed station, that of Waikino on the abandoned Paeroa - Apata section of the East Coast Railway.