TAMPA — Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 pulled in a whopping 150,000 people and more over three days last week, including practice on Friday.
But that proved to be more people than the transportation plan could handle, delaying arrival by hours for some and preventing others from getting into MacDill Air Force Base at all.
It’s always been difficult to move so many people for an event held on an occasional basis, but this year organizers thought the use of shuttle buses from Hillsborough Area Regional Transit would help.
Not as they had hoped, it turns out.
"Is something wrong with the buses"? one person asked Saturday on the MacDill Facebook page, following up with this sad story:
"We are here at Brritton (sic) Plaza and waiting for more than two and a half hrs. and only two buses show is 11:27 and still waiting ... So sad waiting two years for this show and wasting the time waiting for the bus. I decide to not drive into the Base to avoid the traffic at the end of the show but that was a bad decision."
HART officials say the buses, like other vehicles, got caught up in traffic and by security checks at the base’s main Dale Mabry gate.
"The buses started on time but what might have caused delays was the security at the gate," HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison said. "There was only one gate open that allowed for buses and regular vehicles to enter the base. Our buses were running every 15 minutes from Britton Plaza but due to the congestion caused by tight security at the gate there were delays."
Morrison said it might be wise during future shows to have the buses use a different gate to speed things up.
By around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the 30,000 parking spaces at the base were full and officials announced that only pedestrian and bus traffic would be allowed in. By 2:49 p.m., the base closed off pedestrian access, too.
There are lessons to be learned, said Air Force 2nd Lt. Allison Mills, a spokeswoman for the base.
"Every year that MacDill hosts an AirFest for the community, we try to make it the best we can for our guests and as with anything in the Air Force, we are constantly looking to improve and we will certainly be looking into that for the next AirFest," Mills said.
Those who arrived early or managed to get inside anyway were delighted by the Navy Blue Angels, Air Force F-22 and A-10 demonstration teams, other aerobatic acts and dozens of displays.
"Excellent shows from when I got in at 1:00 PM," someone also posted on the MacDill wesbite. "I spent 60 minutes in traffic at the South Dale Mabry entrance, off Gandy Blvd. Next time I will camp out at the entrance. GREAT JOB To ALL at MacDill."
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman