Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The Republican National Convention didn’t start on time because of a hurricane. The problems experienced during what should have been the second day of the convention cannot be blamed on acts of God, but lie squarely on the poor planning of man.
Staging an event on this scale is a once in a lifetime event for many cities. As such, there is little time to make test runs for many of the logistical plans. A huge flaw in the Tampa plan was exposed on Tuesday in the form of its shuttle bus program, whereby delegates and media were transported from their hotels into the uber-secure green zone surrounding the Tampa Times Forum and the Convention Center.
The problems started with the morning runs, which were staggered based on the schedules of each delegation’s needs. No bus was sent to the Florida delegation’s hotel, which was among the farthest away in Palm Harbor. When their bus finally arrived in Tampa, it inexplicably turned away from the arena and circled for an hour, lost.
Part of the Georgia delegation experienced a similar fate, including myself. The noon bus departing from our hotel left on time, but after driving for approximately 15 minutes, we returned to the hotel. “The bus driver needs an address” was the message that drifted through the passengers as an explanation. After we departed a second time, we circled the entirety of Tampa’s airport instead of taking a quick trip through a couple of interchanges that would have been a much more direct route.
Upon arriving at the security perimeter, our bus was flagged for some sort of additional screening. No complaints about that, as it’s an unfortunate reality in our modern world. But after another extensive delay, we were re-routed around the arena and held briefly, just long enough for sunny skies to give way to a torrential downpour. There were volunteers at the ready to provide umbrellas for the walk across a parking lot to the awaiting metal detectors and X-ray machines.
The return trip demonstrated a much larger logistical challenge, with all delegates needing return transportation as the convention ended around 11pm. This larger challenge exposed a much larger failure. Delegates were instructed to load most any bus. Full busses were then held for departure, eventually making their way several miles to a parking lot at Raymond James Stadium (en route our driver managed to again get lost). There, a bottleneck ensued as busses were unable to load or unload and lined up well down the highway.
This part of the process lasted almost 2 hours. Two hours to be moved by bus 4 miles to a destination that wasn’t much closer to our hotel than where we left. Some on our bus asked to be let off as we waited to approach the departure point, as they were parked at the stadium. The bus driver and assigned security personnel refused to allow it.
When finally allowed to disembark, we were first told we needed to choose one of three bus routes, with vague descriptions to choose from that meant little to out of towners. When approaching a volunteer with a list of available busses to choose from and asking for our hotel, we were first met with a blank stare and then questions about their bus route names. We finally borrowed her list and found the name of our hotel ourselves. We then had to board another bus, wait for it to become full, and departed.
Mercifully, our hotel was the first stop for this run. Door to door, it only took 2 hours and 45 minutes to go a total of 8 miles, arriving just before 2am.
As others gathered at a post-convention reception, other horror stories were traded. Three hours and a half seem to be the “winner” for worst time, with multiple other stories of lost drivers abounding.
Instead of delegates discussing the speeches of Ann Romney or Chris Christie, most of the discussion was about busses. Some of us found a bit of humor, as we had been documenting our trials via twitter. Comments from the AJC’s Kyle Wingfield, delegates B.J. Van Gundy and Bryan Miller, and myself were included in an early morning story from Twitchy.com titled “Bus Hell: The RNC built it!”.
Today there will be more speeches. For most of the Georgia delegation, as of the wee hours of this morning, there were not more busses in the forecast. Fool us once…