With the start of the season fast approaching, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are moving forward with a pay-as-you-go transportation plan to get people to Investors Group Field this season.
The CFL club announced Thursday those taking Winnipeg Transit to Investors Group Field events will have to pay the regular transit fare. The Bombers will cover the ride home, meaning a round trip will cost fans $2.55 to watch their local football team live.
The club is also asking patrons to chip in on the park-and-ride program, charging $5 per person for those wanting to use the service.
Last year, both transit and the park-and- ride program were free for ticket holders. This time, though, the club was forced to come up with a way to help control transportation costs after the city rescinded a transit proposal that would have seen the club receive a discounted rate. That proposal saw the city offer the Bombers transit subsidies worth approximately $650,000 this year.
Winnipeg Transit recommended the subsidy in April, after five months of negotiations aimed at reducing the burden for the non-profit football club. The Bombers are expected to make a $4.5-million principal-and-interest payment this year on $85 million worth of loans that helped build Investors Group Field, its year-old home at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.
In a May 27 statement from the city, acting chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi said the Bombers no longer need the transit subsidy due to the club's "robust financial situation" -- a reference to a $2.9-million profit reported by the club for the 2013 season.
Unhappy with the about-face, the Bombers huddled and came up with a new game plan, passing some of the costs down to the fans.
"This new plan will help offset some of the transportation costs by about one-third," said Bomber president and CEO Wade Miller.
Miller estimates the transportation cost for 2014 could be as much as $1.25 million. A third of that is just more than $412,000.
In 2013, the city charged the football club $1.1 million, or about $11 per person, to transport fans to and from events at Investors Group Field. The city intended to increase that to $1.25 million, or about $12.50 per person, this year.
Last year, an average of 10,000 people took buses to events at Investors Group Field.
Miller expects a few pockets of discontent over the new transportation plan -- expect delays at Winnipeg Transit stops while Blue and Gold-clad fans fumble with their change stepping onto the bus -- but his overall sense is Bombers supporters understand the reality facing the club on game days.
"At our Fan Fest over the weekend, people told me, 'We're OK with paying our own way, Wade, you do what you need to do and we're comfortable with paying our own way to get down to the stadium,' " Miller said, adding he doesn't anticipate a rework of the plan should problems arise mid-season.
"The plan is the same as last year, that's the important thing. We wanted to make sure we didn't interrupt the service level because at the end of the year all the bugs got worked out. It was a successful plan that the Bombers and Winnipeg Transit put together."
Besides shelling out for a ride, the biggest change will be for the park-and-ride users.
Approximately 130 school buses will in operation for the park and ride program, up significantly from the 50-75 buses used last year on game days.
The park-and-ride will include the same eight routes as last year. Buses leave 90 minutes before kickoff, and the last bus leaves 30 minutes before.
The service is free for the first preseason game versus Toronto Monday. The $5 charge kicks in for the June 26 regular-season opener against those same Argos.
-- with files from Bartley Kives