APTA | Passenger Transport
September 22, 2008

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Transit Agencies Meet Their Convention Challenges

Democratic National Convention, Denver, CO: Aug. 25-28, 2008

As anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 people poured into Denver for the Democratic National Convention, the Regional Transportation District was waiting. After working with the Democratic National Convention Committee for close to two years—almost from the moment Denver was announced as the venue, according to RTD spokesperson Daria Serna—the agency had worked out how to accommodate the influx of people without disrupting its regular service. “It was important that we continue our daily service for our commuters; we made that clear,” said Serna.

RTD participated in many meetings over these months, and they multiplied as the convention grew closer to a year out: security officers with the FBI and Secret Service; other groups with operations officials; the city and county of Denver and DNCC; and RTD. RTD not only planned what it would do as an agency, but also worked closely with DNCC to see how it could assist during the event.

The transit agency made some very basic decisions, such as prohibiting any vacations in the week by all essential personnel, which included operators, managers, and supervisors. RTD encouraged riders during the convention period to purchase a five-day pass—and ordered an extra 5,000 of them. It kept regular commuters informed about road closings for security reasons, and provided updated information continuously through its web site, local television and radio stations, and the RTD Telephone Information Center. The agency also rerouted its buses and provided maps as a further aid to avoid detours.

All security officers received basic security and awareness training as well as First Amendment training. Also providing security were Transportation Security Administration surface inspectors, a TSA VIPR team (similar to a SWAT team), and a Federal Protective Service Canine Team.

The DNCC developed its own transportation plan for the delegates that included a shuttle service, but the committee needed RTD’s help to move the estimated 84,000 people on Aug. 28 from downtown sites to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, where Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech. Following the speech, RTD “rescued” many of the delegates and media by providing buses when their private shuttle buses could not make it back for second trips.

Further, RTD’s Access-a-Ride paratransit service carried numerous persons with disabilities when they were left without their scheduled DNC-provided transportation.

RTD General Manager Cal Marsella said: “This is yet again a testament to the highly dedicated and remarkably professional employees we have at RTD and with our contract partners.” He added, “I thank everyone who worked so hard to make the Denver metro area shine brightly in the global spotlight under which we operated.”

Republican National Convention, St. Paul, MN: Sept. 1-4, 2008

When thousands of visitors came to St. Paul in early September to participate in the Republican National Convention, Metro Transit in St. Paul and Minneapolis was prepared. Nine months of advance planning sessions with the host committee and local and federal law enforcement agencies paid off as the system efficiently moved its convention visitors while delivering close to on-time performance for its regular riders.

Anticipating the inconvenience caused by creating a no-traffic zone around the convention site—the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul—the agency had 25 extra buses standing by at the beginning of the convention, and introduced another 10 to service during the week. Transit employees used the RNC Transportation Command Post, based at a Minnesota DOT office in Roseville, to observe traffic congestion and other conditions.

Ironically, the part of Metro Transit’s plan that required the most preparation never went into effect: coordinating the system’s buses and Hiawatha Line light rail trains with the motorcades expected to transport President Bush and Vice President Cheney to the convention—because, in the end, they did not attend.

To ensure availability of key staff, no street supervisors could take vacation time during the convention, and time off for bus operators was also significantly restricted. Bob Gibbons, spokesperson for Metro Transit, noted that extra staff of 12 street supervisors and eight customer service staffers worked to manage the buses and keep provide customer services throughout the week-long rerouting period.

While Metro Transit transported convention delegates to evening events at the Xcel Center, as well as to such non-political activities as shopping in the Mall of America in Bloomington, the agency did not provide daytime convention bus service. Instead, the host committee contracted with a private company to provide 350 coach buses to ferry conventioneers to and from their hotels.

For the most part, protestors outside the convention hall were largely peaceful, but there were a number of incidents of unrest that forced Metro Transit to suspend service in downtown St. Paul for several hours on one afternoon, and to reroute its buses around downtown Minneapolis on another. Said Gibbons: “Safety is job one for Metro Transit. Punctuality is job two.

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