Saturday, July 31, 2021

BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE OLYMPICS: Transportation, frustration, and elation!

Let me start this out by saying that all of you who are watching the Olympics on television are seeing a lot more of the Games than any of us who are here. You get to see a huge variety of sports and get all the back stories that we don't get. And many of you have asked me if I am going to get to this sport or that sport. Well folks, we are lucky to get to more than 1 or 2 sports a day. On a really good day I have been able to hit 3 events.

And here is why...

At most Olympics the media relies on press buses to get us from one location to another. These buses are referred to as "TM Buses" (Transport Media) and they are the key to our internal travel.  Typically, those buses run about every 30 min and usually for 24 hours a day. In London, we were also given Oyster Cards so that we could use public transportation if it worked better for us.

Here in Tokyo, with the pandemic still in full swing, we are not allowed to use public transportation, since they do not want us mixing with the public. This is true until we have been here for at least 14 days. Today is day 11 for me, but I am not sure I want to use the public transportation in the days ahead and risk getting lost.

The problem is that the buses here do not run every 30 minutes. For much of the day, the bus from my hotel runs every 2 hours. This is crazy. As I explained to the people at the transportation help desk, two hours at the Olympics is like 12 hours in "regular times". And all the buses that run from hotels takes us to the Main Transportation Mall (MTM) where we then connect to another bus which takes us to the venues. And those buses might run every 30 minutes and can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on the venue we are traveling to.  Trust me, this adds a ton of stress to an already stressful environment.

At most Olympics, the MTM is located at the Main Press Center (MPC), but here it is not, We have to take yet another bus to get to the MPC. This adds another layer of complexity, since it is at the MPC where I do my Covid tests, get tickets from the USOPC office, and can eat.

At every Olympics past, the bus schedule is like that of the subways here in Tokyo. When they say that a bus will be at your hotel at 8:17, it will be there and leaving at 8:17am. Surprisingly, that is not the case here. My bus this morning arrived on time for the first time during these Games. I have had times where I have waited 45 min for a bus. On that day, I ended up shooting only one event.

Sometimes the bus is packed (with no social distancing)...

...and other times the bus is completely empty. 

I like the empty ones because I can go farther back away from the driver and take my mask off. Many of the buses have a protective plastic shield to protect the driver from all of us. Wearing a mask all day (especially when I am shooting) is not easy. The skin on my face actually gets irritated.

The second day after I arrived at the Olympics, I learned that they were giving out 14 taxi coupons to the media, which are good for up to $100 in taxi fare. The taxi tickets are only good for one type of Taxi service, approved by the IOC, and those taxis are amazing. These tickets are like gold here! I have currently used 4 of my 14 and trying to keep the others for dire emergencies (like when the bus does not show up, or I need to get somewhere fast). 

The taxi drivers are also protected from us with big plastic shields.

Some of them are better than the limos at home, with luxury seats, WiFi and even big screen TVs.

The good news is that ever since the Summer Olympics in Rio, all the TM press buses are outfitted with Wi-Fi. This is a great thing. Most of the blog posts that you are reading were written on (and sometimes posted from) the bus. I am writing this post while traveling from my hotel to the Ariake Area to photograph BMX freestyle. But since the competition ends around 12:30, I can not rely on the bus timing and one bus transfer to get me to the water polo venue on time, and can not miss the game (since I am contractually bound to be there), so I will use one more of those valuable taxi tickets.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great blog..bad transportation in a city that should be doing a much better job for the press and the media. Keep the great photography coming..We love it !!!!!