Michael Woods, Ottawa Citizen
When the Ottawa Redblacks play their first-ever home game on Friday, the players won't be the only ones feeling pressure. It is also the first test of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group's strategy to get the 24,000-person sellout crowd people to and from TD Place smoothly.
Overseeing that effort is Hassan Madhoun, who has been OSEG's transportation demand manager since February. Madhoun is responsible for promoting alternative mode of transportation to Lansdowne, and has been working on the plan to get people to the stadium for the past few months.
He spoke with the Citizen this week. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Q. What will be the biggest challenges with trying to get 24,000-plus people to the stadium?
A. Communication is key. The previous transportation plans laid out the services required to accommodate different thresholds of attendance on the site. For a major Redblacks game, the required transportation services are pretty clear. The challenges are getting the word out, letting the public know about the options that are out there and getting people accustomed to the change. It's a new system in Ottawa but it's been done in many, many other venues in the States and elsewhere in North America and Europe, where you've got shuttle service and transit getting lots of folks into a downtown core area with not a lot of parking on site. So the communication aspect is key.
Q. What did you learn from Winnipeg's experience with their new stadium, which had traffic problems? What role did that play in developing a plan for Lansdowne?
A. It's definitely one of the things we want to learn from. The key take-away from that experience is that the transportation planners and the engineers had it right. There were a number of transportation studies that were developed for the Winnipeg stadium, and they clearly laid out different targets. What ended up happening with some of the organizers at that venue is they decided not to follow the transportation plan as laid out. They adopted a lower service level for cycling and transit than outlined in the report, and that's where things kind of broke down. They had more folks showing up on bikes than anticipated. Folks took transit and they weren't really ready for that. So folks ended up showing up halfway through the game. The biggest take-away for us is to over-provide and over-plan. With the city and OC Transpo, we're taking the plans that were laid out over the last three years very seriously.
Q. Are you worried about what happens if you fall short of your targets on Friday (20 per cent taking transit and 36 per cent using park-and-shuttle service)?
A. If we meet our targets or exceed them, it will have meant we did really well in executing our communications plan. But if we're slightly short on those targets, we're going to take that back and look at ways we can improve on the messaging. It is a concern, but based on the polling that we've done a month ago and based on the dry run that we did on Wednesday (season-ticket holder event attended by 5,000 people), I think we'll be fairly close to the targets that we've set out.
Q. Are you concerned that despite your efforts, people will drive to Lansdowne anyway and learn the hard way that it's a bad idea?
A. It is a concern. We've done really well in terms of reaching out to all the season-ticket holders to let them know what their options are. We've basically told them: don't even think about driving to the Glebe. Just go to one of our off-site parking lots if you're driving. It'll be more convenient, you can drop off your car, park it for free and hop on an express bus to TD Place. It's free and direct and I think we're seeing a lot of traction with that. But I think there will be some folks who will not listen, who are just used to parking nearby at past events in the Renegade and Rough Rider days. They may have to learn the hard way with the unreliability of parking on some of those streets in the nearby neighbourhoods. It's a concern, but we're monitoring it with the community as well as city traffic management staff.
Q. Have you heard from people who are worried about how they'll get to the game despite all these options?
A. Last Wednesday was basically our first test of how folks are going to view and perceive the park-and-shuttle service. Reaction to the park and shuttle service from the four key off-site parking lots was very positive. We've been working with a company called SP+ Gameday; they're experts in logistics and transportation around major venues. They do the Olympics, the Super Bowls and a lot of the NFL stadiums. So those guys have seen a lot of similar venues and more challenging situations and managed shuttle services with up to 1,000 buses. We're starting off with 80 buses. After that event they were very surprised, because when folks were shuttled back to their cars, they were getting off the buses and shaking the hands of the supervisors at the off-site parking lots, thanking them. Those guys have never seen anything like this. They've never seen the enthusiasm and feedback our fans were providing. We hope to continue to meet that standard and improve from the 18th onward.