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Will London keep moving during the Games?

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Roger Mosey | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 11 October 2011

It was a pretty routine Monday morning on the tube network. My District Line service was slightly delayed by a person ill on the train ahead.

There were longer delays on the Bakerloo Line because of a signal failure at Waterloo, while services in East London were held up by a fire check near Liverpool Street.

But like hundreds of thousands of other Londoners, I made it to a meeting and then to work on time - just a regular commute on a regular day.

The reason for paying closer attention than usual was that the meeting was about transport in London during Olympic Games time - and it's a theme being put in the spotlight by the Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy today in a meeting with London Assembly members and representatives of the 33 boroughs.

This is a case where I'd recommend having a browse through the wealth of material starting to appear on websites.

Mr Hendy has launched as a one-stop shop where people can find Olympic transport information; and it supplements (does that make it a two-stop shop?) the useful website for businesses that sits with Locog.

It's here you can find some interesting predictions - including waits of more than an hour for some tube trains at times of peak demand.

For me, there were two big themes emerging from the meeting. First, much of the reporting in the past has focused on stories about the Olympic Route Network on the roads - and then separately the pressures on buses, tubes and trains.

But as a statement of the blindingly obvious, all the transport systems are intertwined when it comes to keeping London moving.

People on a crowded London Underground tube

London's transport system could be even more congested at certain times during the Games. Picture: Getty

So there are messages to people about (a) please don't drive - these are public transport Games; but (b) regular use of the roads and tubes has to drop too in order to prioritise the athletes and crowds heading to venues.

Then the second conundrum is about how non-Olympic businesses get their staff to work, their goods delivered and their customers served properly.

To take a BBC example: how do we get everyone to the Proms on time when there's an Olympic Route Network just east of the Royal Albert Hall in Park Lane and when Hyde Park has a Live Site accommodating 50,000 and a number of Olympic events?

If you're a shop in central London, what time will you get your deliveries - and can you get some of them ahead of Games-time and beat the road closures?

These kind of questions generated a sparky debate when I got back to the office.

Some people think this is potentially Millennium Bug 2: actually, London will manage perfectly well and the threat of an hour-long wait for a tube means it won't happen in practice.

Others, who've listened to the murmurings of Olympic experts, believe transport remains a potential Achilles Heel in 2012.

For myself, I'm not going to make a prediction - because the evidence points in both directions.

London has a decent system most of the time, and the planning that's going into next year is impressive in its range and depth.

On the other hand, most Olympic cities struggle in some way with transport; and the complexity of London, combined with some narrow roads and the chance of random signal failures or security alerts, means you wouldn't stake your house on there being no problems.

But you're welcome to express your views here as ever. And I should just conclude by apologising for my previous post being closed for comments too rapidly, because the point of this blog is to allow debate to continue and I hope you'll take advantage of that.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog. An understatement really to say that congestion will increase, in an already extremely congested place.

    There is no real deterrent though for motorists during the games other than a polite request which motorists have already ignored for years. School runs and work commuters will think that they are above these requests as they see the need to travel by car as a necessity. This mind-set needs to change before people will change their routine for the Olympics as it already divides opinion on whether it is a good idea to have them in central London or not.

  • Comment number 2.

    And if businesses i.e. couriers and delivery drivers are going to operate at different times, then there needs to be a universal incentive that might need subsidiarity contributions. As not all businesses will cooperate and comply with a polite request if it puts them out of pocket.

  • Comment number 3.

    #1 Hopefully school runs won't be a problem as the Olympics wake place during school holidays. Totally agree with you that mind sets need to change. Why on earth does a parent insist on taking their child to school when free public transport is on offer? The difference in traffic during and outside of term time is just incredible.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'd say it's almost certain that something somewhere will go wrong on the transport network during the Games - to use one of your examples, someone falling ill on a train - that can't reasonably be planned for. I hope and believe that there won't be a meltdown, however. I guess a lot will depend on how the media decide to report it - will they focus on how most of the time it worked well, or on the few times it didn't work well?

  • Comment number 5.

    @3. Very good point, strangely that hadn't even crossed my mind. Work commuters still pose a big problem as not only is the use of a car seen as a necessity but people are reluctant to change their routine.

    @4 I think it's almost a given that something will go wrong but contingency plans are in place for that sort of thing (the just in case scenario). I'm also sure that the media coverage will be very pessimistic and only report on the negatives, as that is the nature of news in this country.

  • Comment number 6.

    re number 3. "Why on earth does a parent insist on taking their child to school when free public transport is on offer?" What free transport?

    Maybe my four year old qualifies for free transport, but I've no intention of letting him try and navigate the required three buses that would get him to school in the morning, and the three buses which would get him back homa again without adult supervision, and I'd like to know how we would get "free public transport" to achieve that aim?

    It might only be 4 miles from home to school, but in order to complete a full days work as well, public transport is not an option.

  • Comment number 7.

    The problem with the English transport ''system'' is that it's basically pub-standard.

    You only need to look across the North Sea to see some classy continental transport networks; France, Germany, Denmark, etc. Not to mention some of the public transport systems in East Asia.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think a lot of people will take their holidays in August during the olympics (to either enjoy the games, escape london, or stay home and paint the house etc.) which will mitigate against the congestion.

    If I was attending an olympic event I would definitely avoid peak hour if at all possible anyway. You would have to be a masochist to go out of your way to jump on the Victoria line at 8.30 on a Tuesday morning.

    Hopefully businesses will allow workers to change their hours accordingly - I don't understand why this doesn't happen normally. I work at a bank and work strictly 9-5.30 for no apparent reason other than rigid conformity. If I could start and finish earlier I think i would save myself half an hour a day fighting to get on a train etc.

  • Comment number 9.

    It is going to be chaos and London will grind to halt. In a recession this is the last thing we want and now we have the public running of the stadium hanging round our neck. Look at Greece 7 years after holding the Olympics. I for one have business to do in London and I am not going to stop it just because an event where 80 % of the sports are minority is taking place. How come the IOC have to have so much control over everything. By the end of the Olympics I bet the vast majority of Londoners will be pleased to see the back of it. I dread to think the long term damage to many small firms this 3 week event will cause.

  • Comment number 10.

    Soul_Patch in #7: I was lucky enough to go to the World Cup Final in Paris in 1998, and unlucky enough to rely on public transport to get me home. The Metro system just stopped after France's victory, and I had a 2 hour walk back to my hotel. The first hour of walking with French fans singing "Allez, allez les bleus" was quite entertaining, but it wore thin by the second hour...

    The point, of course, is that major events challenge any city's transport systems for a variety of reasons. Most recently, Vancouver had huge queues for their new tram service; and you just need to try to get out of Wembley on a big match day to know that delays are inevitable when tens of thousands of people try to get into one tube station. And that's usually at a weekend and without the rest of the activity of a capital city happening right around you.

  • Comment number 11.

    I live in Northampton and drive to work in west London every day, so the request not to drive to work is aimed directly at me; can I assume that there will be more trains running and that these trains will cost half as much as they do now? Or are the organisers politely asking me not to feed my family for a month next summer?

  • Comment number 12.

    I don't beleive anyone who lives and/or works in London who really believe that transport won't be an issue. The Jubilee Line is an absolute discgrace on the best of days. As for the these comments about people taking holiday in August to enjoy the games!!!!.....who is going to pay my wages for this period?. I have to come in or I don not get paid. I also can't set my hours to come and go as I please. If I could I certainly wouldn't on a rammed tube as 7am. I fear for the people using public transport to come to these games who don't normally use it. We have, unfortunately, become very used to it.

  • Comment number 13.

    The issue of congestion is completely and utterly irrelevant because all of the important people that need to get to events will have their own dedicated traffic lane.

    Why would Olympic Organisers care if the Tube is too busy for local people? We have to go to work to pay our mortgage, so we have absolutely no choice to make.

    Why would they care about spectators? It's your problem to get to the event... You've already paid for your tickets in advance, so who cares if you miss it?!

    Empty stadiums are only an issue if they are empty because people have not bought tickets. You've already lines their pockets with gold, so the bitter truth is, they'd probably prefer it if you didn't turn up at all!

    If this was an Olympic Games for the little people (that's you, me and Johnny Foreigner by the way) then promises would have been kept....

  • Comment number 14.

    The Olympic contradiction 'Please do everything you can to ease the burden on the public transport & London roads'.

    On the other hand let anyone vaguely associated with the Olympics use West End hotels rather than those in Canary Wharf / docklands then give them their own lane to clog up public transport.

  • Comment number 15.


    Trust me, if England won the FIFA World Cup in their own backyard, you wouldn't be going anywhere for a while on public transport! First ever French FIFA World Cup victory in 1998, can't you give the metro workers a break.......?? You should've joined in with a few glasses of red, non?

  • Comment number 16.

    I live in Stratford and the key thing from my point of view is how congested will Stratford, as the destination for most Olympic journeys, actually become during the Games. Since its renovation (which is still going on in parts) and opening of the Westfield shopping centre (which has been a major commercial success, ironic in times of economic crisis), there are even more people flowing through the station than ever before. Conditions in key sections, especially the main exit tunnels and barriers, are already very cramped all day every day, as are the stairwells down from the platforms. Staff have been drafted in to "keep everyone left" as much as possible and direct the flow. If commuters are then factored in, including: a) those who use Stratford as an interchange to travel further east on the overground network, b) Central Line commuters and tourists going shopping in the West End or to/from work at Liverpool Street, c) DLR commuters going to/from work at Canary Wharf or flying to/from City Airport, d) Jubilee Line commuters bound for the Greenwich Arena, or commuting via Waterloo and London Bridge, plus e) shoppers who want to exit for the Westfield centre, ON TOP of those making journeys to the Olympic village (potentially a minimum of 300k a day), this will be unmanageable and will inevitably result in complete gridlock. That is ignoring the usual potential for line, train and signal malfunctions causing knock-on delays for the entire network.  Every day there is heavy traffic in the area, and the High Street will as far as I understand be reduced to 2 lanes (possibly 1) if they bring in a protected lane for athletes, guests, etc.  It is a massive and unprecedented (when was the last time London held a major sporting event like this apart from '48?!) logistical undertaking, and steps have been made to prepare everyone, but I am firmly in the "It's going to be complete carnage" camp....

  • Comment number 17.

    I will be a volunteer spending 10 days at the Olympic Park during the Games. My journey by train to Stratford involves 2 trains and would normally take just under an hour. I dread to think how much longer it will take next summer and hope that my shifts will be timed to avoid the busiest times. I also hope that the queues for the security checks to get into the Park won't add significantly to my door-to-door journey time.

  • Comment number 18.

    Carloslatinos in #15: fair point. Alcohol seems to be a theme:

  • Comment number 19.

    @12 Mr G. Right.
    Nobody who uses the Jubilee line expects anything other than chaos for ordinary people during the Olympic Games. They still haven't sorted the signalling out after the millennium dome fiasco. Money would be better spent extending step-free access -- which would help Londoners for years, not simply make our rulers feel important for a fortnight.

  • Comment number 20.

    London Transport simply wont be able to manage with the over crowding.

    over crowding is the main issue here. It will be a nightmare

  • Comment number 21.

    Given that Newcastle barely copes with 48k going to SJP and we have the Metro, unlike other cities like Leeds, on a Saturday plus the CBD users then I don't know how London will cope with the main stadia full just about every day plus road congestion. I know the LU drivers have been bought off but all it takes is 1-2 "terrorism related incidents" and the thin margin betwene sucess and failiure will be breached.

    If you've ever seen the programme the BBC did a few years back with the mid-air accident caused by the weather (Lineker was covering "an England game" in Manchester that was "called off" if that rings any bells...) well you could have such an event caused by congestion.

  • Comment number 22.

    As all my friends in Sydney said in 2000, keep smiling, our important visitors must never guess the truth.

  • Comment number 23.

    Getting people anxious now is surely a key strategy of the Games organisers; hence the "business as unusual" mantra we keep hearing. They want people to seriously consider staying away or allowing plenty of time if they do come in to London or go to events. It worked in Sydney and it looks like its working in London.

  • Comment number 24.

    @22 Haha ain't that the truth! Don't worry, I shall resist the urge to trigger the passenger alarm on every tube journey I take during the Olympics due to nausea from all the sweaty arm pits thrown in my face. I'd hate so much for innocent people to be inconvenienced.

  • Comment number 25.

    What is it with some people in this country? The Olympic Games haven't been held here since the 1940's and probably won't be held here again for 50 years yet people look for reasons not to enjoy the games instead of being positive and adopting a can-do attituide. Look, yes there are going to be delays at some point in the Games period but, unlike Network Rail and the Train Operating Companies, TFL's staff have great experience in dealing with large crowds and will manage the situation. Nonetheless the usual rules apply: Allow plenty of time to reach your destination and if possible avoid the area - commuters will be amazed at what alternative routes are available should they take the time to study their journey carefully.

  • Comment number 26.

    @13. Part of the paralympics is during the School term so there may be a problem here.
    Roger - will the paralympians depend more on specially adapted bus/mini-bus transport ? Could that add to pressure on the road network ?
    I will be travelling up from south coast near to Brighton and plan to use public transport and leave early except for events which finish late when I will need to rethink.
    I was in LA for Olympics when gridlock was predicted. Drove up from south of LA with no problems.

  • Comment number 27.

    My initial thought is to get the hell out of dodge for a few weeks, but why should I? I'm not that fussed by the Games & don't want to use my well earned holiday on avoiding it, as I usually choose my holiday based on the avoidance of the school term times for a cheaper, less busy holiday.

    I would be keen to know exactly what they will be doing to make things run well, at least better than they are now. Will they be able to avoid the signal failures that seem to occur bi-weekly on the District Line? A line on which I seem to waste most of my life on already. My commute is from Fulham to the City which is not too far & takes just over an hour door to door. It is also a very popular commute and is already very over crowded. I would cycle but do not feel particularly safe with this method. With the added traffic and congestion I can't see me even considering this as a mode of transport throughout the games.

    I work for a company that is small but needs every cog to be working. The question is; can I persuade by boss to let me work from home for the entire period?! My guess... probably not.

  • Comment number 28.

    @Barca43 - yes, the Paralympics happen partly in School time though the overall total of Games journeys will obviously be lower than for the Olympics. And the assumption will be that athletes stay in the Village.

  • Comment number 29.

    @10 I find it highly entertaining that, six years after Singapore, you still want to try and take a dig at Paris!!
    The 1998 WC is hardly a valid comparison. This was a single game and not a three week jamboree. It was the final game and, more to the point, France had just won against Brazil of all people and was for the first time in its history the football world champion!
    Needless to say, virtually all of the Paris population came down in the street to celebrate. Hence your discomfort at having to walk home in the company of French revellers.
    Please try to find a better example next time, Roger.....

  • Comment number 30.

    @15 Took the words out of my mouth.
    I penned my answer before reading your post and Roger's reply!

  • Comment number 31.

    @Mr G: You don't need to live in London to know the problems. You just need to have visited London and used the underground system.
    It is going to be mental, and when I say mental I mean REALLY mental.
    For things like ill people on trains or things like that I'm guessing some sort of scoop and treat service rather than freezing everything up as happens now.
    Advertising the fact that many places are within 15 minutes walk of major stations rather than having people using the underground would help. Really in many places you would be better off walking (if able to of course) compared to the problems we are going to have. And that is on a normal Saturday let alone during the Olympics.

    I'm thinking for those of us coming from outside into Kings Cross/St Pancras it's going to be the suitability of the High Speed Javelin service that will be of major importance as that will be better than using the underground network.

    @DABT: I'm sorry but you can't ignore this point and think it will go away and there is no way on earth you can compare what they will have to deal with with any other event. Have you been to Wembley when a game finishes? That's 90,000 people leaving one area surging into London and filling up several stations as people go home. Imagine that happening in several places at once along with the normal traffic for many days at a time during the week for several weeks.
    Not saying it's impossible or all going to collapse but it is going to have to have a massive amount of organisation, but also advertising and informing people as to what is going on.

    Add to that the need to jump down hard on anyone causing problems eg arguments in crowds, pushing in, abuse to staff etc. Policing will have to be strict in enforcing existing laws that often drift when it's busy.

    One answer on the underground would be to use both side of the escalators and just fill up and get off. No having people rush past, just fill them up and go.

    I can see some tube lines literally cut off for Olympic use at times with normal residents and commuters being nudged onto other lines at peak movement times.

    I will say one thing though, there has been some amazing work done on some of the lines in London over the last 5 years especially. Really different and good. But the numbers will be awful come 2012. But there is little choice. Just don't expect to be able to pop from one side of London to another to see different events with a few hours inbetween.

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm planning to work from home for those 6 weeks. I'm a disabled traveller and judging from the reluctance of my fellow commuters to let me have a seat, so are 99.5% of people who travel by tube! I normally cope with this by waiting for an emptier train, but if there is more overcrowding than usual, I will never be able to board a tube train during the Olympics.


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