Mega Events Can Mean Mega Challenges

The 2012 Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, N.C., drew approximately 35,000 visitors and Charlotte Area Transit System’s Lynx Blue Line experienced its highest multi-day average ridership transportation, an average of 32,708 passengers per day.

Super Bowl XLVI saw a record number of visitors leading up to the game with more than a quarter of a million people visiting the Super Bowl Village in 2012.

The 2013 Presidential Inauguration brought at least 1 million people to the National Mall for the swearing-in ceremony.

Large mega events bring with them unique challenges, including security precautions, certain restrictions, and of course the out-of-town visitors that aren’t familiar with your system. Not to mention your usual riders who don’t want the hassle of changes to their routines.

Not Your Normal Convention

“It’s a national security event with a whole different level of preparation,” said Charlotte Area Transit System Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Flowers when talking about the Democratic National Convention.

There was not only the coordination between the host committee and all levels of public safety, there were also the federal forces involved,including the Secret Service. Flowers said, “We had a standing president so we had a lot of coordination between ourselves, the Mecklenburg Police Department, the FBI and our department.” She added, “Security was the critical driver.”

Directly across the street from the arena, the venue for the DNC, is the Charlotte Transportation Center, the main connecting hub for CATS bus and rail routes, including 70 percent of the bus service. With such close proximity to the event, it was a security concern and an alternative was needed.

“There was a lot of time looking at options to providing daily service as well as providing assistance to the convention,” said Flowers. “The No. 1 priority is that you have to take care of your daily passenger. We had to come up with options for providing that service that would fit the security parameters.”

A lot of time was spent coordinating the temporary facility, rerouting buses and ensuring the passenger amenities. All of the administrative staff that wasn’t working in the dispatch centers was recruited to be ambassadors to ensure customer communication. Flowers said, “The transit ambassadors were key to having information out there ahead of time. We did a lot to prepare the public in advance.”

Ahead of time, CATS went around to major businesses to discuss the impact and outreach events at the transit center to prepare riders. They also put out literature and prepared a pamphlet on doing business on transit during the DNC. Flowers said, “We had a detour map and tried to provide information in advance.”

Over five days with 70 percent of service effected, CATS was accommodating 83,000 riders a day. Flowers added, “All of our rail passengers were impacted because we could not run all the way into uptown.”

With all of the detours and all of the VIPs being moved around, there were plenty of challenges. There were also things like spontaneous protests affecting the agency on a daily basis.

“Transit was able to provide mobility options for people coming to events,” Flowers said. The temporary transit center was set up on the street and they learned a lot because they didn’t expect the weather the way it was — torrential rain. “We learned a bit and made adjustments to provide shelter on the street,” said Flowers. “In the future we’ll look at the way we set up to replicate the amenities, such as food trucks and shelter.”

Presidential Preparation

For the Presidential Inauguration, First Transit General Manager William Copling said of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Circulator, they were planning to discontinue regular revenue route service and implementing a modified shuttle service to transport all of the attendees who were coming on the charter buses to RFK Stadium to attend the event.

“Our expectations were that this movement would involve the transport of thousands of attendees from various states and to include a multitude of potential wheel chairs and mobile scooters,” said Copling. “Personnel from DDOT, National Guard would be stationed at RFK to assist with passenger direction and information about the shuttle service.”

There were a series of meetings one week prior and then again one day prior to the event. “Operators and supervisors were provided an opportunity to ride a training bus to become familiar with the routing to and from the stadium parking lot,” Copling said. “Operators were informed of the modified schedule for the day of the event and were provided with report times and instruction for reliefs during the day.”

During the planning meetings with DDOT, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro Police and the Inauguration event planners, it was determined 42 buses would be used to provide a continuous shuttle service from RFK Stadium to 7th Street and Interstate 295 frontage road where passengers would de-board and walk about 5 blocks to the event.

During the inbound trip, Copling explained the charter buses were directed to predetermined lots where passengers de-boarded and proceeded to one of four staging areas where Red Cross, DDOT and First Transit supervisors assisted with Circulator boarding. The same personnel assisted then with the return trips.

It was estimated there were 8,900 people transported to the event and an estimated 17,500 for the return trip.

Copling stressed, “It is important to ensure that everyone involved participates in the pre-planning and everyone understands and executes the plan as developed.” He added, “This event was nothing less than a success.”

A Super Time in Indianapolis

When hosting a Super Bowl, the city finds out years in advance and about a year, year-and-a-half before the event, a lot of local organizing committee action goes on. Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp. (IndyGo) Vice President of BusinessDevelopment Samantha Cross explained there were various committees and several IndyGo staff members were on the transportation committee.

“Being on the committee was very valuable because they saw us as a resource and then we had that connection where we can almost protect the service a little,” Cross said.

There’s a bid package cities put out when they want to be considered as the host outlining what your city is going to deliver, and transit was an element of that. The bid has certain promises and IndyGo President & CEO Michael Terry said, “You’re not sure of the details until it’s presented by the committee.”

Street closures were an expected challenge with Lucas Oil Stadium being right downtown, but one of the challenges they were worried about was in relation to transit advertising and meeting the requirements of their annual contracts.

Part of the bid involves basically giving all of your inventory over to the NFL when it comes to ad space. However, it wasn’t anything too specific in the bid. There’s also a “free zone” where basically they own the city for all of the advertising.

Bryan Luellen, manager of marketing, explained, “They don’t allow outside advertising, so Pepsi and Lays were NFL sponsors and there were certain competitors that could not be there.”

It eventually did work out OK that IndyGo could go out and sell and maintain its annual contracts for the transit advertising. Cross said, “We didn’t want to lose money because of this exciting time, but it all worked out.”

When it came to detours there was a game plan put in place for developing all the routing in and out of downtown for that period, Jan. 27 to Feb. 5. In addition to the detour preparation, IndyGo offered free rides Feb. 2 through 5, funded by a Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) federal grant.

A book with each route in and out was developed and then that was handed over to the marketing and communications team and the operations and training team. Training even included ensuring the operators followed the requirements of having to tell riders, “Have a super day.” Cross said throughout the city, “Everything was, ‘Have a super day!’”

With regular riders having their days disrupted and people new to the system, Cross said, “We went crazy overboard with signage in the shelters and did a three-week advertising campaign.” They weren’t allowed to say “Super Bowl,” so the marketing phrase became “Know before you go.”

Trevor Ocock, vice president & chief operating officer, said at the key stops, administrative staff was on hand, available for customers. “That really proved to be a good idea because it was just nice to have somebody they could go to for help.”

Buses were packed, operators were happy and everybody worked like crazy, Ocock said. “There were no extra hours added,” Cross stated. “It was creating something to look fantastic and special and easy-to-understand, but really no extra resources.”

One thing they did during the Super Bowl was to have signage with time points in the shelters. Cross said, “We did that and thought, why don’t we do this all the time for our customers? So now we’re doing that.

“It’s almost like when you deep clean your house when company’s coming over and it’s like, we should do that for family all the time, shouldn’t we just live this way?” Cross said.

Luellen added, “We talked about internally, the level of what we produced during the Super Bowl, really kind of elevated our own expectations of each other.”