Marcy Markusa: The gong show to get to the game

Marcy Markusa, host of CBC's Information Radio program, went to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' first game at Investors Group Field on Wednesday night and detailed the experiences she and listeners had in trying to get to the game and back.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans walk past transit buses that were stuck in traffic near Investors Group Field on Wednesday evening. (CBC)

Marcy Markusa, host of CBC's Information Radio program, went to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' first game at Investors Group Field on Wednesday night and detailed the experiences she and listeners had in trying to get to the game and back.

I suppose you could call my husband and me sports tourists.

We've travelled to a lot of different cities for many types and sizes of sporting events both separately and as a couple.

Information Radio's Marcy Markusa took this photograph as she was heading out at 5:45 p.m. for Wednesday evening's Bombers game at Investors Group Field. (Marcy Markusa/CBC)

Our list includes Minneapolis and Boston for baseball, Ottawa for the marathon, Montreal for the Grand Prix, Toronto and Vancouver for Grey Cups, and New York City for NFL football.

I've seen transportation plans work extremely well with proper flow of people, knowledgeable staff directing the crowd, and clearly labelled signage at stops along the way so the sheep don't get off course.

We've taken shuttles and subways, buses and rental cars, and we've walked our way through crowds of thousands of people. But nothing is quite comparable to what happened in Winnipeg on Wednesday night.

With all due respect to the city that I love the most, transportation to the first Bombers game at Investors Group Field was nothing short of a gong show.

I'm sad even writing those words because I had such high hopes that we had done our homework and we were prepared, despite the obstacles, to move fans from all ends of the city to the University of Manitoba in time for kickoff. That didn't happen.

Shuttle, traffic horror stories

Halfway through my burger at the start of the second quarter, a self-identified CBC Radio listener walked by and said to me, "I don't know what Park and Ride you took, Marcy, but we just got here. I've been on the bus for an hour and 20 minutes. We came from Charleswood."

I put down my burger and started asking questions. 

I talked to a fan in the North End Zone, Kelly Becker, who told me that she had waited for the special Bomber bus in at a North Kildonan Park and Ride and watched three full buses drive by her down Henderson Highway.

Becker said that after an hour, she finally gave up and took a regular #11 bus and transferred downtown with the hope of picking up the Bomber bus further down Pembina Highway. She missed the first quarter. 

I heard stories from Garden City where a fan parked at five o'clock and waited an hour for her bus, and from a man from St. Vital who said the crowd at his Park and Ride location must have been 500 people who were all jockeying for position.

There were also people just trying to get around the city on Wednesday night.

Larry Kiska wrote to us at radio893@cbc.ca with this story about trying to get to a Paddle Manitoba event:

"We drove down St. Mary's to Bishop Grandin and saw bumper to bumper traffic heading towards Pembina Hwy. It was backed up all the way to St. Anne's Road. What a TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE. A special shout out to those people who abandoned the traffic on the Perimeter Hwy to drive through the ditches to avoid the traffic. And to the courteous Winnipeggers who decided that it was okay to drive along the gravel shoulder and grass boulevards on the right hand side of the highway to leap frog ahead of those of us who stayed on the road. Morons."

So you might be wondering … how did I get to the game?

Ironically enough, I drove my car.

The parking and shuttle test

After months of hearing that Manitobans would not readily abandon their vehicles for the bus, and that parking would be a nightmare, I thought I would test it out.

I planned to drive and park at a designated lot and then walk over to pick up the transit "shuttle" that would take me down University Crescent to the stadium.

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I left at 5:45 p.m. from Kenaston and Corydon, I drove Corydon to Stafford and Stafford to Pembina.

Driving along Pembina Highway south, I passed a lot of Bomber fans who were waiting at bus stops.

I arrived at 6:10 p.m. at Tavern United on Pembina Highway, which is where I parked. It cost $10 at that lot, which was less than the $20 I expected. 

I walked 13 minutes to the "shuttle" stop, although no one I asked could really tell me where it was located.

I know it was 13 minutes, by the way, because I tweeted my experience (@cbcmarcy) throughout the night.

I checked the online map, which was clearly marked, and ended up on the south side of the Bishop Grandin cloverleaf, where I had expected to get on the "shuttle".    

There were a few buses there, some labelled "stadium," so I went up to one of the open doors and asked, "Is this the shuttle?"

The transit driver said something to the effect of, "Sort of, I've been doing regular bus route and a bit of shuttle too."

I should have known right there that something was amiss. I boarded the bus for free.

The "shuttle" took 20 minutes to take me to the stadium, which I didn't think was too bad since there wasn't a dedicated lane. Door to door, my journey was one hour. At 6:45 p.m. I was walking up the stairs to Investors Group Field.

Confusion heading home

On my way out of the game, I left the stadium expecting a to see a line of shuttle buses preparing to fill with fans. But what I saw was a line of buses marked "not in service." Fans looked confused trying to figure out where to wait for the bus.

My colleague, Sean Kavanagh, said he asked a transit supervisor at the end of the game if one of the "not in service" buses matched his route.

Sean said the supervisor threw his hands up and then walked over to one of the buses and told the driver to take that route.

Sean said the driver said he was finished his shift but the supervisor told him, "Not anymore."

What the heck?

Now I had lost faith long before this point, after talking to fans all night about their challenges getting to the game, so I bailed quickly on my plan to take a bus for any portion of my ride home and I walked back to my car.

In case you're wondering, it took me the same amount of time to walk from the stadium back to my vehicle as it did to "shuttle" into the game.

My drive home was even faster than my drive there — 14 minutes instead of 25.

To conclude, I don't want the the point of my blog to be that driving my car was a breeze, parking was bountiful and cheaper than I thought, and we should all give up on the bus.

I personally buy into the idea that bussing to a Bomber game should be an efficient, effective and smart way to move fans around our city.

But I have to be honest: If we don't get some solid answers about what went wrong and hear some solutions to improve the system, it's going to be hard to convince me to get on the bus for the next game.

If you tell people to take the bus, the bus had better be ready to take them.

End of story.

What do you think?