Transport will be one of the greatest logistical challenges - and, unless you secure an in-kind sponsorship deal with a travel company, one of your biggest budget lines - for the World Championships.
Getting people to base
Participants will expect transfer from their point of arrival to their accommodation to be included in the registration fee. The easiest (and in some cases the cheapest) way to do this is to hire or borrow some two or three minibuses.
- The driving licence requirement may be different to the requirement for driving a car, so check that your volunteer drivers’ willingness is matched by their legal ability to drive a bus.
- You should always plan to have a few seats spare in order to carry luggage. Think twice before arranging to pick up 15 people in an 18-seat minibus.
- Transfers take longer than you think: a plane/train may be delayed, everyone might need the toilet, it takes a while to load the luggage, and there might be traffic delays. Try to build in some slack time when drawing up your transfers roster. Apart from anything else, people drive more safely when they’re not under excessive time pressure.
- Your volunteers should be fairly able bodied, as they should be able to offer help loading and offloading luggage.
- If seatbelts are provided in the minibus, ask everyone to use them.
Transport options during the tournament
You have two basic options:
This is the traditional option during the Worlds. Clearly, hiring dedicated transport helps to ensure that everyone gets on and gets to the right place, and it’s obviously easier that your participants are taken directly to their venue. However, be aware of the following:
- Bus drivers don’t always know where they’re going. Even if you’ve provided a full list of destinations and a set of maps a week before the event, you still need to ensure that someone on the bus (an organiser or at least a senior judge) has a map and/or directions just in case there’s a problem.
- Some bus companies also service schools or colleges. Sometimes they’ll try to fit in a ‘school run’ in between debating trips. Insist that they don’t do this; if necessary pay more to stop them. There’s nothing worse than saying your goodbyes to all those helpful students and teachers, then hanging around outside for half an hour waiting for your bus to return!
- Once you’re confident that your timings are OK (see below), make sure you sign a contract with the bus company before the tournament, stating numbers on each bus each day, destinations, times, and prices.
- Buses can be expensive to hire, and in some countries it’s a highly competitive market – profit margins are quite slim, so you shouldn’t expect to get a big discount just because you’re using the company a lot for 10 days. However, the Athens 2009 organisers managed to get many buses free of charge, by asking schools to cover the cost with the companies that they usually use. Definitely worth a try, particularly if you have keen schools that want to extend debating to more students.
Use public transport
You may not be able to do this for all of your journeys, but in some countries it’s perfectly feasible to use public trains, trams or buses for at least some of your journeys. It could work out cheaper – especially if you strike a good deal with the city public transport authority – and you can sit back and think happy thoughts about all those environmental benefits.
However, the most important knock-on effect of using public transport is just how many volunteers you’re going to need. You’ll need people to chaperone debaters and judges to the station or stop; you’ll need responsible, mature people who can lead a specific group to the correct venue at the other end. Remember that it’s easier for people to get lost or separated in a public place: the ratio of shepherds to sheep (as it were) will need to be higher if you’re going to be leading people around a major city; more than 20 people being chaperoned by one student, and it could start getting difficult.
The desire to showcase a country, especially a large one, sometimes means participants are travelling for many hours regularly. This wears everyone out. Obviously, there will be special occasions and exceptions, but for most debates, students should not have to travel more than 1.5 hours (i.e. 3 hours' round trip).
To make sure timing is not a problem, try following these two rules of thumb:
Journeys take longer than you think.
This isn’t all your fault. Some people are lazy in the morning or just haven’t read the noticeboard, and your bus will leave 15 minutes late; you might threaten to leave without people, but that’s tricky if you’re a judge short. Sometimes there are road accidents, or perhaps some roadworks which appeared overnight and caught even the bus driver unawares. Your bus might even break down. Once you get to the school, maybe they’ve ignored your “10 minute welcome, please” instruction and put on an elaborate 30-minute break-dancing demonstration.
It’s important to build in some slack time, particularly if you are running on a tight timetable. Don’t try to squeeze in too many activities in one day. If you find you’re shaving off 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there, that’s a bad sign: you’ll probably end up adding 20 minutes back on. In general, people won’t notice if they arrive at their venue and have to hang around for half an hour. They will notice if they get there and there’s no time to use the toilet before the debates begin.
Finally, remember that there's always the possibility of a bus breaking down. Some companies will do deals in which they guarantee a replacement bus within a certain time if this happens - it's worth checking this out when you are comparing different companies, as it might be worth paying a little extra for peace of mind. Of course, you can't cater easily for all contingencies - but the potential for breakdown is yet another factor that is worth bearing in mind when planning your schedule.
Get your host schools to be flexible.
Sure, all schools run on a timetable. But this is the World Schools Debating Championships! Can’t they take everyone off that strict timetable for one day? You need to tell them that “arrival 9.30” really means “arrival some time between 9.00 and 9.45”. The school should ideally provide some kind of ‘holding room’ where everyone can get coffee or juice throughout the day, and this should be available from early on, just in case everyone gets there early. At the other end of the day, beware students (even lovely responsible students) needing to get buses if you haven’t told their teacher that the debates might run late.