Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers call audible on game-day plan

New strategy includes extra buses and police

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More transit buses, more parking attendants, more police and a bigger bicycle lockup are part of the amended plan for getting Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans in and out of the University of Manitoba campus for games at Investors Group Field.

The Winnipeg Football Club has unveiled a new event-day plan intended to improve transportation and parking on Bomber game days around the club's $200-million new stadium, whose June 12 exhibition-game opening was marred by traffic congestion and transit delays.

The new plan calls for double the parking-lot attendants and signage on the U of M campus, more police officers to direct traffic and the creation of dedicated bus lanes to prevent transit from mixing with motor-vehicle traffic.

But the biggest-ticket item is a supersized charter order for Winnipeg Transit buses. After planning to transport only 5,200 fans to and from the June 12 game, the Bombers have ordered 150 buses -- more than a quarter of Winnipeg Transit's fleet -- in the hopes of transporting 10,000 to 12,000 fans to and from football games.

"We learned an awful lot coming off the exhibition game," Winnipeg Football Club chief operations officer Jim Bell told reporters Friday. On June 12, Winnipeg Transit estimated 8,500 people rode buses to Investors Group Field.

Last week, the football club called that figure a surprise. But council-approved transportation studies called for almost double the club's prediction of 5,200 stadium-bound transit passengers.

"Transit must provide service for up to 10,000 patrons," consulting firm Stantec concluded in a traffic-impact analysis prepared for the city in 2011.

The big question on the minds of the football club and Winnipeg Transit is whether fans put off by stadium-bound service on June 12 will give buses another chance.

To that end, the Bombers have asked Transit to ensure more buses serve park-and-ride locations and ensure a second bus is present to begin taking on more passengers once the first is full.

Transit will also add more buses to the University Super Express service, or Route 161, that travels between downtown and the U of M.

Dedicated bus lanes will be cordoned off on University Crescent and Bishop Grandin Boulevard to avoid a repeat of the scene from June 12, when buses were queued up for more than a kilometre, forcing frustrated passengers to disembark and walk the remaining distance to the stadium.

Part of the police's job will be to ensure buses have priority access to the university campus, Bell said.

This amended event-day plan was developed during eight days of meetings involving two dozen officials from the football club, Winnipeg Transit, the Winnipeg Police Service, the U of M, True North Sports & Entertainment and other city officials.

Bell said he has yet to tally up the cost of chartering more transit buses, hiring more police and instituting other aspects of the amended plan. He also declined to state what the football club had budgeted for the earlier version of the event-day plan. "I would feel more comfortable not releasing those numbers right now," he said.

The cost is significant because the new stadium was built to provide the non-profit football club with a stable source of revenue. Any increases to the operating cost will affect the club's business plan.

The event-day plan for football games will be different from concert events, especially when it comes to transit service, said Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop.

A limited version of the park-and-ride plan will be in place for tonight's Taylor Swift concert. Finalized park-and-ride details for the Bombers' June 27 CFL regular-season home opener will be unveiled next week, he said.

The football club is asking fans to arrive at 7:15 p.m. for that game so Investors Group Field is full for a televised opening ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Kickoff Thursday is at 8 p.m.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A13

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