Wellington Mayor says Restore Passenger Rail protesters tactics have gone 'too far'

Wellington's Mayor is fed up and frustrated with Restore Passenger Rail protesters causing disruption to locals and has questioned their tactics. 

Five protesters were arrested on Monday after they sat down on The Terrace, near Bolton Street, blocking traffic from getting through. 

Members of the public gathered to watch and heckle the protesters, calling them idiots and swearing at them. 

A woman is reported to be heard calling out the window of her car that commuters are "just trying to get to work to feed our kids". 

Another member of the public shouted at the protesters, "I don’t care, just f***ing let us get on with our lives". 

Restore Passenger Rail protesters demonstrating on Monday.
Restore Passenger Rail protesters demonstrating on Monday. Photo credit: Supplied

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau told AM on Tuesday she is all for a "hearty protest" but is frustrated with the way Restore Passenger Rail is going about its demonstration. 

"To be honest, I'm all for a hearty protest and I very much believe in rail and climate action but the actions and tactics of this group have gone too far," she told fill-in AM co-host Laura Tupou.

Whanau said the protest group has lost the support of progressive politicians like herself, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Transport Minister Michael Wood, which shows they need to question their tactics. 

"What frustrates me the most is they continue to target the wrong people," she said. 

"Obviously, the message is for the Government. The Government have indicated, they're not going to make any changes and that is certainly making it worse, but they're impacting Wellington residents and impacting even the least privileged people, people who are trying to get to work and that's just not acceptable." 

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau.
Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau. Photo credit: RNZ

If Whanau feels these protests are happening every week, she would be right. Monday's protest was the sixth within six weeks where demonstrators have blocked or attempted to block traffic. 

Protests were also held on Adelaide Rd, Vivian St and the entrance and off-ramp of the Terrace tunnel. There was also an attempted blocking of traffic on Johnsonville Rd but protesters were stopped before they could start by police.

She believes there needs to be tougher punishments for the protesters. 

"There just doesn't seem to be any, I suppose a lot of sense coming into their thought process, to be honest, and I think we're just going to have to get a bit harder because this has to stop," she told AM.

Whanau said she will meet with the protest group if they "promise" to stop demonstrating but so far, she hasn't had any response from Restore Passenger Rail. 

"We've heard with one particular protest, someone was stopped from going to the hospital, that's not okay. I've pleaded with the protesters, please stop," she said.

"I will meet with them if they promise to stop but of course, they've not replied to that email. But enough is enough."

Transport Minister Michael Wood told AM on Tuesday he's pleased to see the court is sending a firm message to these protesters. 

"One thing I have noted is that the court, who had a number of these people in front of them yesterday, has made that very point to the protesters, that if they start seeing breaches of bail conditions, the court will likely take further action," Wood told AM. 

"There is the ability there for the court to manage that situation so people aren't just recycling out, which is obviously not a tolerable situation. 

"We want to make sure that this action stops, while I can't tell the court what to do, I'm pleased to see that they are sending a firm message."

When questioned if a tougher or new law is needed to deal with these protesters, Wood said he feels the consequences in place are strong enough. 

"We have a very firm law that is in place called endangering transport that some of these people have been charged with, which actually carries a maximum possible sentence of up to 14 years in jail," he said. 

"So there is no lack of strength in the law that is being applied. The courts ultimately have to apply the law in respect of what happens after people appear before the court. 

"That is not something that any politician can't interfere with, no matter what they say, but I am seeing the courts are taking a firmer line, which is good." 

Watch the full interview with Tory Whanau in the video above.