Fri, September 20, 2013

American helps keep London Games moving

By BOB MACKIN, Special to QMI Agency


Tony Vitrano, whose company operated the Vancouver 2010 bus system for athletes, sponsors and media is embedded in the London 2012 organizing committee to help keep the London Games moving. (BOB MACKIN, QMI AGENCY)

LONDON - For Tony Vitrano, keeping this Olympic city moving has been a lot easier than the last one.

Vitrano is senior vice-president of SR Plus Gameday, a Chicago-headquartered company that has overseen bus and fleet systems at five Olympics since Atlanta 1996. Vitrano leads a group of six embedded in the London 2012 organizing committee to coordinate transportation of athletes, officials, media, sponsors and international sports executives to 35 venues.

“Everyone here is very calm, everybody thinks through, everyone helps each other out,” Vitrano said of the organizing committee. “There probably won't be another city like this with the infrastructure that's already there.”

In Vancouver, Gameday and VANOC often butted heads about budgeting, planning, operations and finally resolving the contract. It went to mediation in late 2010 before VANOC disclosed the original $52.3 million budget had ballooned to $92.6 million.

“We still had a great Games and everything went well on the curb. Just the frustrations with the organizing committee they created a sour taste,” Vitrano said.

In London, the bus system uses more than 1,200 vehicles, mainly doubledecker buses, operated by 2,000 drivers from around the British Isles. There is also a fleet of 5,000 cars provided by sponsor BMW. Vitrano said transportation operations in London are costing the organizing committee and Olympic Delivery Authority more than $300 million.

“Bus-wise it's a similar number to Vancouver, that's because we were able to look at so many different routes,” Vitrano said. “We were able to convince a lot of the broadcasters to do public transport to certain places.”

The London Underground subway handles 3.5 million journeys a day and Games officials expected another 20 million trips with an extra 3 million on the busiest day. The doubledecker buses in the Games fleet were especially useful on July 31 when the Javelin high-speed train was temporarily shut down after a person fell on the tracks. Furthermore, there were major delays on east-west Underground trains.

There have been other “growing pains,” as Vitrano called them.

A Tweet by an American athlete about a four-hour bus ride with a wayward driver from Heathrow Airport gained international attention the week before the Games. Vitrano said that ride was scheduled to be about that long because it also involved the loading, transport and unloading of equipment.

A bus driver was detained and routinely questioned by police after a fatal collision with a cyclist near the Olympic Park on July 31.

“The information I got from the main operations centre was the driver was not negligent,” Vitrano said. “He had a CCTV camera on the bus that recorded much of what happened.”

Drivers of London’s trademark black cabs have been unhappy with being shut out of the Games' lanes. Vitrano said, in hindsight, they should have been hired as fleet drivers, at least.

Vitrano’s next big assignments are the Super Bowl in New Orleans and the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta. He said he is talking with organizers of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, but has yet to have direct talks with the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games committee.