Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Officials vow to get it together

Will go back to the drawing board after transit debacle

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Traffic cops, dedicated bus lanes and earlier arrival times are all being considered as potential solutions to the transportation chaos that marred the debut of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new home.

Thousands of fans had trouble reaching Investors Group Field in time for the start of Wednesday's exhibition game against the Toronto Argonauts due to congested roads leading to the new stadium, lengthy transit delays and rush-hour confusion at the two main entrances to the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.

The Winnipeg Football Club acknowledged its failure to provide a satisfactory game-day experience and promised to work with Winnipeg Transit, the Winnipeg Police Service and the U of M to ensure fans can access future events at the $200-million venue more easily.

Officials managed to find a silver lining in the mess -- almost one-third of the 28,628 fans who attended the first paid event at Investors Group Field travelled to the new stadium by means other than a personal motor vehicle.

"Our fans got it right. They did everything we asked of them. They carpooled. They came by bike. They took transit in many different forms, in numbers beyond what we anticipated," Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Garth Buchko said during a Thursday news conference. "Still, there were issues with transit service, parking, concessions and congestion."

The Investors Group Field event-day plan, developed over two years, envisioned 5,200 fans taking transit to the stadium. But on Wednesday, Winnipeg Transit estimated about 8,500 fans rode the bus to the venue, causing bus service to be overwhelmed.

Following the game, Winnipeg Transit ordered an additional 24 buses to supplement the 75 already chartered to transport fans home from the game, Transit director Dave Wardrop said.

"It's a good-news story the City of Winnipeg adopted the transit alternative so readily. We need to take advantage of that before we lose it," said Wardrop, calling it "unfortunate" so many people who rarely take transit encountered overcrowded buses and delays up to one hour on the way to the game.

He said Transit is considering a variety of alternatives, including temporary transit-priority lanes and more buses, for future events at Investors Group Field.

The football club, which foots the entire tab for the free transit service, is considering hiring Winnipeg police officers to direct traffic outside the stadium. It also plans to ensure university students and staff do not get mixed up with stadium-bound traffic on event days -- and is working on other means to ensure passenger vehicles can access parking lots more easily.

"We need to get this right for our fans and to do so, we will need the assistance of all out partners and stakeholders," said Buchko.

For example, the U of M may be asked to allow fans on the campus earlier on game days. Fans who arrived at the stadium more than one hour before kickoff on Wednesday did not experience significant delays, he said.

"If we can get people on to the campus earlier, for parking, I think that would help everyone (and) spread the traffic influx over time," Buchko said.

The university, meanwhile, wants Winnipeg Transit to ensure it continues to offer regular service to students and staff during games, said U of M communications director John Danakas.

Both he and Buchko said no serious discussions are taking place about using more of the former Southwood Golf Course land north of the stadium for either parking or transit service. Eventually, that land is expected to house some form of transit spur line or bus corridor.

The next big event at Investors Group Field is the June 22 Taylor Swift concert. About 31,000 tickets have been sold for the Saturday concert, said football club chief operating officer Jim Bell.

Then comes the Bombers' home opener on June 27, a Thursday, at 8 p.m.

Bell said the club will learn from the problems at the Wednesday night pre-season game in an effort to ensure the next weekday game is less of a problem.

"We had planned this for two years in a collaborative effort with everybody involved," he said.

"Sometimes, the best-laid plans don't work out 100 per cent."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 A4

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