Buses play key role in biathlon event
FIVE SAD 1 BUSES are being used during the 2014 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships. Whether it be shuttling the athletes from their hotels to the Nordic Heritage Center and back, such as biathletes from Italy pictured here, to transporting spectators from the parking lot to the venue itself, district officials say they are pleased to play an integral role in the biathlon event. The championships conclude Friday.
By Scott Mitchell Johnson
PRESQUE ISLE — Community members may have noticed a number of school buses lately traveling city streets after hours. The buses aren’t transporting students to night school, but rather shuttling biathletes to and from their hotels while in Presque Isle for the 2014 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships.
According to Bob Gagnon, operations supervisor for SAD 1, five of the district’s buses are being used during the event.
“We have four buses that are shuttling the athletes from their hotels to the Nordic Heritage Center and back, while one bus will transport spectators from the parking lot to the venue and back,” he said. “The buses were also used to take team members to their hotels after they landed at the Northern Maine Regional Airport.
“In 2011, during the E.ON IBU World Cup Biathlon, the buses were running in 15-minute increments. They made 204 roundtrips from the hotels to the mountain, which averaged 26,400-plus miles. This year, the organizing committee requested a different schedule as a way to trim costs, so we’ll be making 48 trips daily to and from the mountain, which averages out for 14 days to about 12,096-plus miles,” said Gagnon, noting that the distance from the parking lot to the venue is much closer this year than it was at previous events. “This year there are some windows of up to two hours where the buses are not used; the athletes are on the mountain so we go back and bring them back to the hotel later. There are times at night, such as the opening ceremony, team captains’ meetings, the Red Sox trophy parade and medal night that we’ll have as many as nine SAD 1 buses hauling athletes.”
The wait time for spectators to be bused from the plowed field at Gallagher Farm, located approximately 500 yards east of the entrance of the Nordic Heritage Center, to the venue itself is about 10 minutes.
“A lot of area students will be going to the competitions as a field trip,” said Gagnon. “There will be three lanes of traffic on the mountain. One lane is designated specifically for athlete transportation, one for spectator transportation, and one for student transportation. It’s done that way so there’s no bottleneck situation and there can be an even flow of traffic.”
During the day, retired SAD 1 bus drivers handle the fleet, while at night, Gagnon relies on his overtime staff.
“It all has to do with union contracts,” he said, noting that the effort with the biathlon does not impede local children from being picked up for school in a timely fashion. “We make 29 runs a day for our district, which services approximately 1,200-plus miles in the course of a day. We have nine spares, so our fleet of 38 vehicles is not taxed by any stretch of the imagination.”
The five SAD 1 buses are among the fleets’ newer vehicles.
“We’re not too worried about the additional wear and tear because the buses are newer,” said Gagnon, “and it’s for a relatively short period of time. Plus this time of year the roads aren’t too bad anyway; if this were held in late spring we’d probably encounter some problems with potholes.”
Gagnon said the athletes have been very polite and pleasant.
“The fleet drivers tell me every day that they see the athletes out running and they stop and wave and give the drivers a thumbs-up,” he said. “When they get on the bus they either bow to, high five or shake hands with the driver. It’s nice to see and the drivers love it.”
SAD 1 Superintendent Gehrig Johnson said the district is happy to be such an integral partner with the biathlon.
“This is the third biathlon event that we’ve been involved with transportation-wise, and we’re pleased to do it,” he said. “The transportation piece is integral in making it go, and as a school system, we have one of the largest bus fleets in the state, and we have the largest bus servicing center, as well. I think the county’s fortunate that we’ve got such a large, available transportation fleet right here in Presque Isle, which dovetails perfectly with the biathlon which has a large need.
“It’s worked out well, and there’s no cost to the school district as we obviously don’t have operational funds to be handling something like this especially outside our main mission which is transporting students from home to school and back,” said Johnson. “Financially it’s a wash; we only charge the biathlon organizers what our costs are, so we basically break even, but it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”