Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Keep Bomber buses rolling on game day

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The Blue Bombers are deserving of tax-funded assistance for its transportation plans to games or events at Investors Group Field, but it should also be willing to hike ticket prices a modicum to spread the cost around. That would protect its business plan, give recognition that substantial use of public transit benefits the community broadly and makes for smooth, workable access for everyone to and around the new stadium when upwards of 30,000 fans converge at the University of Manitoba location.

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For city council, led by Mayor Sam Katz, to reject outright the idea of subsidizing the extraordinary needs and costs of moving concert-goers or football fans by bus -- regularly scheduled, chartered and the event-oriented park-and-ride service -- is not a reasonable response and blithely ignores the trickle-down good of a professional football team for the city.

It diminishes the city's oft-stated support for pushing people to make transit a habit for the sake of the environment and to ease up on infrastructure costs.

Wade Miller, general manager, says the Blue Bombers are proceeding with plans to contract with a charter operator as part of its strategy to keep game attendees riding the bus, at a cheaper cost than was offered by Winnipeg Transit's non-subsidized rate. Winnipeg Transit, he said, hired anywhere from 50 to 100 chartered buses to move people in and out of events and games; the charter service would augment the regular transit service.

The equivalent free-ride service to games and events at Investors Group Field would cost $1.25 million. The city has rejected one scenario discussed between Transit and the football club that would have seen a public subsidy of $650,000 -- Mr. Miller said the province had agreed to split that cost with the city. Tacking another buck onto ticket prices, or $10 for season-ticket holders, would raise some $300,000, depending on sales.

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It would be justified as a user-fee for riders and as a recognition those who arrive by car directly benefit from the fact robust mass-transit use relieves pressure on routes in and out of the university and makes parking on site more available.

The football club has responsibility, in the stadium's development agreement, to move a third of people going to events of more than 15,000 attendance by bus. Understandably, the club is looking to cut an expense that last year ran to $1.1 million and will rise this year and in subsequent seasons. But the club's expectation of higher revenues in 2014 -- it estimates some $2 million additional from the CFL's new broadcast agreement -- even in the face of dramatically higher expenses now that it must start repayment of its public and private construction loans, mean it can shoulder some cost of transportation, especially if defrayed by a transportation fee tacked on to tickets.

But it should not be a cost the club alone must bear. Good transportation planning keeps attendance at events an enjoyable experience. The luxury of being able to jump onto a city bus, or to leave the vehicle at a park-and-ride hub to avoid the cost and hassle of finding (or not) parking on site, introduces new riders to the convenience of mass transit and reduces pollution and wear and tear on the roads.

The city and the province, having fronted considerable public funds and tax breaks in the stadium's construction, share an interest in the success of the club and the new field. Both governments ought to be supporting the way the public has embraced riding buses on event days and actively encouraging expanded use of mass transit. That could easily fall away, along with some precious goodwill among the stadium's funding partners, if the Blue Bombers are left to cobble together an 11th-hour plan by negotiating with Winnipeg Transit and a private charter business. The province, the city and the club can make a workable, reasonable deal to keep the buses efficiently rolling to Investors Group Field.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 A10

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