Games hosts expect transport of delight

Ian Herbert,North
Monday 20 January 2014 05:52
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There will be few more appropriate mobile ring tones in Manchester this week than Theresa Grant's. It is the theme to Mission Impossible, a decent summation of Ms Grant's job as venue manager of the Commonwealth Games Village at Fallowfield.

The site, accustomed to accommodating students near the Rusholme curry mile south of the city centre, had detractors long before the Games fit-out crews moved in four weeks ago. The Australians, used to Sydney's purpose-built Olympic Village, called it rudimentary and 20 beds short of their needs, and threatened to bring their own washing machines.

The Aussie squad, among the first to arrive at Fallowfield last week, are now happier about the place, but a few bad Village experiences can colour the way history judges a Games.

The biggest restaurant space in Britain has been temporarily thrown up to feed the athletes – a barn of a place which will serve 14,000 meals a day. "If you think the restaurant's big try the cold store," says Ms Grant. "They tell me some athletes eat 22 Weetabix a day." It is an operation of military proportions, right down to the IT system which, by registering athletes' bar code passes, will help Ms Grant chart popular eating times and staff up for them. Performance targets include no athlete waiting more than two minutes at the vast salad counter.

In its eagerness to please the competitors Manchester has canvassed experienced athletes for village dos and don'ts. The proposed gift bags were too functional, Manchester was told. So athletes will now find branded towels, metallic key-rings and luxury beauty goods.

And the coffee cart will not roam the village as planned: athletes like it one place, where it can serve as a meeting place.

The Fallowfields site, where many of the 72 competing nations' flags were raised at the weekend, accommodated a Commonwealth Games cycling competition. But that was 68 years ago, with nothing like the 100 buses an hour which, from Thursday, will swing in and out of Fallowfield taking 4,800 athletes to and from venues. They're taking precautions against drivers getting lost by placing navigators on every bus. "Sydney lost a lot of buses," muses Ms Grant.

Transport remains a challenge and, according to Frances Done, Manchester 2002 CEO, is the only imponderable factor for the Games now tickets have sold so well.

Minded of Atlanta's chaotic public transport system during the 1986 Olympics, Manchester has spent £2.2m on public transport for the Games. But the relative proximity of the main competition venues to the city centre will allow reconstructed central Manchester – a 30-minute walk away – to cash in on the extra million people expected during the 10-day event. But if spectators can't be persuaded to leave cars behind there will be an almighty jam.

A proposed six-mile Metrolink past the City of Manchester Stadium would have helped. But delays procuring the £250m Government funding have meant building will not start until late Autumn. That leaves the two solutions being promoted by organisers: a Metrolink ride to the centre of town followed by a walk to the stadium or a bus trip from the giant park-and-ride sites in Heaton Park and Old Trafford.

The walk is longish so the park-and-ride seems the preferred option. So far 33,000 motorists have paid £5 to book on to the service – on the basis of three to a car that's an eighth of the 770,000 booked Games ticket holders. Businesses are being implored to encourage employees to use public transport. The east of Manchester is about to become a no-car zone.

The security effort has been almost as challenging, with Greater Manchester Police wringing late extra cash from the Home Office for an £8m operation involving the military and including custom-built cells in the Games stadium and bomb detection scans for all cars entering the village.

But the most visible force is Crew 2002 – 10,000 volunteers in purple T-shirts already swarming through the streets in search of tasks. The volunteers idea started in Sydney, where a huge force rescued the 2000 Olympics from local apathy. They have been recruited to work as drivers, ushers, stewards, navigators and greeters.

This weekend, at least five of them were greeting the trickle that will eventually be 2,600 journalists passing through the accreditation point, and they were anxious to be more fully employed. "So few are accredited that we're expecting 50 an hour by Wednesday. It'll be chaos," said one.

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