Sydney 2000 Olympics: Scheduler’s perspective

On Sunday 10th of September 2000, I arrived in Sydney as part of the Olympic transport scheduling team. I had done all the necessary training to be a driver during the Olympics, however at the last minute I was offered the opportunity to be part of the scheduling team.

ORTA already had a team of about six schedulers, who had been working in Sydney for the past few months. I was to join twenty others from all around Australia to support ORTA for three and a half weeks during the games.

We had been told we would be working at Regents Park depot and would be staying in a motel in Lidcombe. A shuttle bus had been scheduled to take us all from the airport to our accommodation that night.

Upon arrival we were informed that our accommodation had been cancelled and that there was nothing else available. To make matters more embarrassing, the shuttle bus that we had scheduled for ourselves was nowhere to be seen.

After a few hours and a lot of mobile phone calls, we booked ourselves into a hotel near the airport. It was only possible for us to stay there until Wednesday.

We were given two cars to use during our time in Sydney, to travel between the depot and our accommodation. It was soon clear to officials that we could not all fit into the two cars, so we were allocated a small mini-bus, of which I was to do all the driving.

Regents Park depot was a place I will never forget. It was said to be the largest bus depot in the world, and a temporary one at that. Even though the depot wasn’t in full swing when we first arrived, the size of the place was overwhelming. It had its own timetabled shuttle service, Police station, hospital and possibly a fire vehicle as well.

Although security was reasonably light at first, it soon changed. All buses and cars had security stickers on anything that could be opened. The Army and security staff, with the aid of Police, conducted security searches with mirrors and other types of detectors on every person, car, truck and bus that entered the depot. I nearly had my camera confiscated inside the depot whilst taking photos.

After a while, all vehicles were also checked when departing the depot, due to a theft that had occurred. During the last week of the games, we were also told to label our mobile phones and anything of value before entering the depot. The Police at the gate would list anything of value before allowing us to enter the depot, so that it could be taken out again when we left the depot.

The depot was to house 1,000 buses, drivers and depot staff. There was also a large gym on site for the athletes to practice in.

There was a canteen at the depot that was soon labeled by us as the trough. At the beginning, the trough was very ordinary. The toast was only cooked once and then left for the morning. Water was provided to drink, however it hadn’t been cooled and was warm due to the hot weather. Some drivers were reportedly sick due to the depot food and two of the scheduling team were sick also. We did our homework and discovered a pub in the area with very nice food. We only ate at the trough when there wasn’t time to stop working and when we did eat there, we always regretted it. From them on, I always took a lunch break.

One morning, the Army noticed a few extra wires under the bonnet of our car that wasn’t part of the cars normal wiring. They spent an hour pulling the car apart, leaving almost the chassis. They had the seats out, followed by the dashboard and they had also started to take out the carpet. Then the Police did a vehicle check on the car, only to find it was a Police car and the wires would have been for the extra lights and sirens. The car was then put back together and we were on our way to our building.

I was in building six, which was part of the media building in the far corner of the depot. We were in a large room that had been freshly painted. The Army had left Regents Park some time ago and most of the existing buildings were only being used for the three weeks during the games. Our building was slightly better than some others in the depot, as some schedulers had been there for several months planning the games. The windows had thick fly-wire draped over them along with disused road signs, plastic bags and cardboard to block the sunlight. After the games, the whole depot was to be flattened and a new residential estate was to be built.

At first, the large room we were using as an office was filled with chaos. There was paper everywhere and people yelling things like, “There are not enough drivers to cover the shifts!”, across the room. Everyone in the depot had a mobile phone; some people had three mobile phones. As an Olympic sponsor supplied most of the phones, no one had time to adjust the ring tone or volume making it very confusing. The room was full of people from first light until well into the night.

It was soon clear that there had been a lot of planning by some experienced people, however not everything went as smoothly as one would hope. We faced many problems, but in the office the most obvious problems were that the paper we were to print out our shifts and rosters on wasn’t compatible with the printers, phone calls could not be transferred on the office phones and there was no fridge in the kitchen.

On Wednesday 13th of September, a rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony was held. The pressure was on the next morning, as more buses and drivers were required.

The transport system in the previous Olympic games did not meet demand, so the pressure was on to get it right this time. It was up to us and the depot staff to make sure that the Olympic transport system didn’t let Australia down. Everyone that had anything to do with the Olympics was trying to make it the best Olympics the world has ever seen and it was later clear that we had done just that. It seemed to everyone that there wasn’t life after the Olympics; most people had left their jobs to be involved. No one was worried about employment after the games; everyone only focused on the job at hand.

Driver accommodation was the first major problem at the Olympics. I heard terrible news about accommodation problems from Melbourne drivers arriving in Sydney. In some cases, people were given beds that were too short, and there were 6-10 people per room. Some had no power point to charge their mobile phone and no transport to get to the depot from the accommodation. I also heard some worse news about cases where water was running down the wall from the room above, snakes on the way to the toilet and in one case 2 showers to be used by 100 drivers.

Some of the accommodation reserved for the drivers was unable to be used for whatever reason, so accommodation was quickly becoming unavailable. With our own accommodation about to run out, there were not many options left. We were working for over 15 hours every day and did not want to add 2-3 hours traveling time to our day. We were finally given some accommodation in Manly late Wednesday afternoon.

With so many drivers going home due to the bad accommodation and food, the Media bus services had to be cut. This was no easy decision to make as the Media could have gotten upset about their reduced services and informed the world about the situation. This involved rewriting the media timetables, reshifting and rewriting the rosters in almost a day.   Imagine what you could do if you could do all this in a day, though I must tell you that it was no 8-hour day.

I soon learnt how many hours there are in a day. It was common for our team to return to Manly after midnight and then get tea. We all quickly got used to having 4 hours sleep. Although the media were not happy about their reduced services, there was no publicity about it.

I was able to take a couple of days off while I was in Sydney and rather than catch up on sleep, I wanted to see what the Olympics were all about. Because I was accredited, I was entitled to free transport (except the ferry) and was able to get into Homebush.

It was great to get out and see what the rest of Sydney was doing. I only then realised how big the Olympics really was. I have never seen so many people in the same type of clothing (Olympic uniforms). Everyone was so happy and in party mode. Throughout the city, huge TV screens were installed so people could watch the games. Hundreds of people were watching the games; every café and restaurant had the Olympics on TV. A lot of the city streets were blocked off for pedestrian traffic. There were media choppers overhead all the time and the city roared when an Australian athlete was on screen.

Most of the city railway stations didn’t have rubbish bins, to help prevent bomb threats. Security was very high. I caught the train out to Homebush Bay to have a look around. I had seen it when I was doing my Olympic driver training, however I knew it would look a lot different now.

On arrival, every bag was checked as is done at airports. The amount of people everywhere was amazing. There was a huge temporary McDonalds without anyone waiting in a queue. I went to get a drink and about 50 girls shouted out, “Can I help you?”. I wonder where they are all working now. I had a look at the Olympic Superstore and soon discovered that if anything had the Olympic word written on it, you can charge what you like for it.

I wasn’t as lucky as some of the scheduling team; when they went to Homebush they were offered tickets at less than half price. One of our team helped a person in a wheelchair into the swimming, while pretending not able to speak English and claims he saw the swimming for free.

The Olympics was an experience I will never forget. Most drivers and staff were given an Olympic bus model; unfortunately we were never thanked by anyone for our time in Sydney. It was however a great experience, where I learnt a lot and came away with plenty of ideas for work back in Melbourne. There was talk of scheduling the Commonwealth games in Melbourne, the Olympic games in Athens and large functions in Brisbane.

After arriving home, I spent the first three days in bed and then started unpacking. Things weren’t as exciting when I returned to my normal scheduling job, however when working in Sydney, the shifts I was creating only operated for a day. The Olympics seemed to have no budget and would do anything at any cost. I miss wearing jeans and t-shirts to work.

I have implemented many ideas I got from the Olympics and still have many more yet to use. I hope to return to Sydney one day soon, mainly to see what the streets look like without the million buses that were on the road when I was there.