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MARCH 10, 1997

Melbourne's strike problems

THE Australian Grand Prix is likely to suffer serious financial losses this year thanks to an industrial dispute which saw Melbourne's public transport system close down for the weekend. Albert Park was designed to be based around the city's tram and bus systems and very little space was allocated for car parking to avoid disrupting the park and the surrounding suburbs more than was necessary. In 1996 it was estimated that the Public Transport Corporation ferried over 70% of the 401,000 spectators to and from the track during the four-day event.

The Public Transport Corporation made a considerable effort to replace the missing trams and buses, hiring a fleet of 650 private coaches to run to and from the city center but attendance figures were still affected with this year's four-day attendance figure estimated to have been only 289,000, with Sunday's crowd being reduced from 154,000 to 107,000. The crowd on Saturday was down from 101,000 to 68,000.

According to the organizers, tickets sales for the race were on target to match last year's figures until the transit strike which closed the city's tram and bus services completely on both Saturday and Sunday and caused a four-hour stoppage in the middle of Thursday. Most of the losses appear to have been in the general admission sales, while grandstand and corporate sales remained high. Opponents of the Grand Prix said that figures were down because Melbourne is not interested in the race and that the strike merely masked the drop in numbers.

"I feel a sense of betrayal that a strike should be called," said Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Judith Griggs. "I am disappointed by the fact that this strike will jeopardize our chance of again winning the award for the best Grand Prix in the world."