When a metropolitan area hosts an event of national or international significance, the spectators should not leave thinking about transportation challenges.
That was the key message of “Olympic Games, World Cups, and Mega Events,” an Oct. 2 session at the APTA Annual Meeting that brought together representatives of public transit agencies in London, host of the 2012 Olympic Games; Charlotte, NC, site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention; and New Jersey, where the 2014 Super Bowl will be played.
Howard Collins, chief operating officer, London Underground, stated the theme: “If we do our job right, we shouldn’t hear about transit.” He explained that the city had seven years to prepare for the Olympics—the largest event in the history of the United Kingdom—and work with aging assets, insufficient public transit infrastructure, and existing high ridership levels.
The Olympic schedule provided for 80-90 percent of all spectators using public transportation, according to Collins. To accommodate these new riders, the London Underground encouraged its daily commuters to change their travel plans during the games—and up to 40 percent of them did.
Every employee took part in the Olympic effort, he noted: office staff went into the field as Customer Service Assistance and Travel Ambassador volunteers to help visitors. As a result, he said, “for the first time, everyone in the system got to know each other by name. That’s what collaboration is all about.”
Collins defined the legacy of the Olympic service as follows: “With the proper campaign, you can help people change so they can deal with a difficult situation. We improved our reputation—and that’s worth millions.”
Carolyn Flowers, chief executive officer, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), noted that Charlotte is a small city with a population of 700,000, so its resources are different than those of London. In addition, she said. “a political convention is very different from the Olympics because it’s an event that is controlled by the Secret Service.”
She explained that CATS staff realized early on that the agency would have to move its downtown transit hub during the convention because the main facility was within the security zone around the convention site. This meant establishing a temporary hub a few blocks away—but making sure that this facility replicated the amenities that CATS riders had come to expect.
In one way, CATS operated similarly to the London Underground: every employee had to sign up for two shifts as an ambassador in the field—including Flowers herself.
James Weinstein, executive director, New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit), reported on how the agency is preparing to host a rare outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. NJ Transit, in partnership with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, recently opened a new rail station near the stadium and has seen increasing ridership for Giants and Jets football games and concerts at the site.
“Each event is a learning experience for our agency,” Weinstein explained. “In preparing for small-scale events, we created a foundation for larger events.”
He noted that the Super Bowl consists of a series of public and private events throughout the region. NJ Transit will work with the Port Authority and MTA New York City Transit to eliminate barriers for Super Bowl guests, possibly including introduction of a single region-wide transit pass.
Rehana Moosajee moderated the session. She is Johannesburg, South Africa’s, transport councilor and member of the city’s Mayoral Committee, who oversaw public transportation efforts prior to her city hosting the soccer World Cup.
Panelists at the Mega Events session. from left: Carolyn Flowers, Rehana Moosajee. Howard Collins, and James Weinstein.