DURING the nightmarish inaugural season at Investors Group Field, one of the few silver linings for the Winnipeg Football Club was the eventual success of the game-day transportation plan.
A year ago this month, getting to and from the new stadium was an unmitigated disaster. Long lines of vehicles stalled on the way to IGF, there weren’t enough buses for passengers, fans arrived well after kickoff and then got stuck on the U of M campus long after the final down.
By July, the situation had improved, thanks to the collective brainstorming of the Bombers, Winnipeg Transit, the Winnipeg Police Service and a number of city officials and consultants.
By the fall, the Bombers actually boasted more than 1,000 fans rode bikes to the games, an average of 10,000 took buses and a total of about a third of the crowd got to and from the 33,500-seat venue by means other than personal vehicles.
In a city as car-reliant as Winnipeg, this was an achievement. Convincing people in the Manitoba capital to walk, ride or take buses is no easy task.
When presented with a proposition — you could get to and from games faster, more comfortably and less expensively if you left your car at home — Winnipeggers proved to be entirely logical.
Now, these fans have been rewarded for their co-operation with the announcement of new user fees only days before the start of the CFL preseason.
On Thursday, the Winnipeg Football Club announced bus rides to the stadium along regular transit routes would no longer be free, but $2.55 — the same fare charged by Winnipeg Transit. Rides home along these routes would remain free. Park-and-ride fares will be $5 when the regular season starts later this month, assuming there is no CFL players’ strike.
This is an insult to fans who went along with everything the club asked them to do last year.
The result will likely mean some won’t take transit and will take cars instead. If this clogs up Pembina Highway, more fans will get fed up with going to Bomber games altogether.
This potential backslide is the result of a communication breakdown between the Bombers and the City of Winnipeg, who share the blame for the ridiculous situation where fans are told on a Thursday about a new plan for a game on a Monday.
How did we get there? Originally, the Bombers signed a moronic transportation deal. Somehow, the football club agreed to cover the entire cost of game-day transit instead of maintaining the 2012 situation, where the city ate a portion of the cost.
Last year, the city charged the Bombers $1.1 million in total and then informed the club it would cost $1.25 million this year. This means the city plans to charge the Bombers $12.50 per round trip to the stadium, as opposed to the $5.10 it charges for a pair of regular transit rides. (Yes, regular transit rides are subsidized.) Bombers president and CEO Wade Miller tried to negotiate a better deal last fall, knowing his team has to start forking over millions worth of stadium-building-loan repayments this year. Miller asked for a deep discount and was instead offered a more modest one in April.
Mayor Sam Katz then yanked that offer off the table in May, claiming the club is doing too well to deserve a deal Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop considered fair.
Katz then successfully spun a portion of the public on the idea the Bombers would have just been receiving another subsidy, when in fact the club is being charged more than double the going transit rate.
Miller, meanwhile, has compounded the situation. After failing to manage a key relationship with one of the club’s stakeholders, the Bombers president now appears to be playing chicken with the city over the transportation plan.
Even if just as many fans continue to take transit to the stadium this season with user fees up front, collecting fares at crowded bus stops will slow down the entire process. This is why transit warned against the idea.
The Selinger government, meanwhile, is dithering on the sidelines, afraid to either criticize Katz for reneging on a deal or provide more cash to the team.
The province offered to split the additional cost with the city, something the province does with all transit costs. But the Katz administration won’t give the Bombers another penny, even if the Selinger government picks up half the tab.
Surely, someone in this city has the leadership skills to put these squabbling children in a room and settle the impasse.
There was a game-day plan that worked last year. Screwing it up over egos would be pretty lame.