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All the Right Moves

Ground Transportation Tips and Tactics

By Alex Newman

You’ve got a convention to plan—meetings and workshops to schedule, speakers and caterers to line up and a gala to organize. But don’t forget your ground transportation. It may not be the sexiest part of your event, but it’s certainly a key to success.

So much—such as where to hold the gala—depends on traffic and transportation. “You have a particular place in mind, but if it’s going to take 90 minutes to transport people from their hotels because of Friday night rush hour, you’re likely going to have to change venues,” says Anita Carlyle, managing partner at MCC Destination Management in Toronto.

And then there are the incumbent construction, road closures—and Raptors games. When MCC was contracted a year ago to move 1,800 people from downtown, nobody knew the Raptors would go to the finals the same night. It meant routes and maps had to be changed the week before and then, when it was learned last minute that one of the hotel pick-up points was hosting a major fashion event, it had to be changed again.

Bylaws, too, can be a challenge. For example, some streets are prohibited pick-up zones, while others can exact a huge premium. For one event, MCC had to pay an $18,000 extra charge, which included the permit, extra staff, lane closure approval and pylons and fencing materials. “These prices vary depending on time of day, number of vehicles and location,” Carlyle says.

With convention attendees ranging anywhere from 100 to 3,000-plus, transportation companies depend on one or more reliable suppliers to meet the need. Those suppliers have responsibilities as well, such as providing sufficient liability, fully trained drivers and safe vehicles that have up-to-date technology, Wi-Fi and GPS monitoring.

As Mauro Morgani, ground transportation specialist at Luxury Coach in Concord, Ont., points out, “all commercial vehicle operators are required to carry a minimum $8-million third-party liability coverage.” Most, though, have increased to $10 million and, for companies with larger fleets, up to $20 million, he adds. Catastrophic loss is rare, Morgani says, but meeting planners need to be aware of the potential exposure if the transportation company is not adequately insured.

Since conventions are increasingly being held in resort areas outside metropolitan areas, getting people there from the airport usually involves shuttling to a nearby location then grouping into buses or livery for the destination, says Carlyle. But she’s finding that attendees, especially younger ones, often opt for rideshare services instead. Older attendees, though, still like to take the bus, seeing it as a networking opportunity, she says.

Ride sharing and Uber have definitely cut into business, Carlyle says. “Some conferences drop the transportation program altogether. They figure if everyone is getting there on their own, it’s an expense they can easily cut.”

That’s not always a wise move, though, especially if you have travellers unfamiliar with the local terrain. Recently, MCC had a group from a small Nunavut town who weren’t comfortable walking even two blocks in a big city.

And there are occasions when it’s just better to use public transit. The Vancouver Airport SkyTrain, for example, gets you downtown faster than any other mode of transport—25 minutes—and is cheap ($8.75) and easy to use. Travellers just follow the signs from arrivals to the YVR-Airport Canada Line station above the covered parking lot.

Even so, you still need someone to plan and organize it all.

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Langdon Hall, Cambridge, ON