I travel to London from a suburban town most days by train and in a typical day I may go to 3 or 4 places in London by public transport. I never come into London by car and I am too cowardly to cycle. I think this makes me a pretty regular user of the transport system. In common with millions of regular users I was at first amused and then slightly irritated to hear Mayor Boris’s voice booming out at every tube station encouraging me to “Get ahead of the Games”. I really liked the cartoon adverts cleverly weaving in Olympic and public transport themes to warn people of possible transport congestion. Behind the scenes Transport for London (TfL) put in a huge effort to educate businesses and help them to develop alternative travel plans, and Government departments have instructed people to work at home or from another office.
The doom-mongers gleefully predicted “gridlock”, “transport meltdown” and “commuter hell”. Monday 30th July was the day it was all supposed to go pear-shaped. To find out what it was actually like I took a tour round some of London’s venues by a range of different transport options. The journey in was a very normal summer commute. The train was not stuffed like it would be the rest of the year and it was (just) possible to get a seat. Travelling from Paddington to London Bridge I avoided a hot spot by taking the Circle Line to Canon Street and walking over London Bridge. The Circle Line was so empty they could have offered a trolley service. My colleagues informed me that London Bridge station itself was quiet too. My walk took in Upper Thames Street – one of the infamous “Zil lanes”. There was hardly any traffic at 8am. City Hall to Excel involved a walk over a quiet Tower Bridge, looking fantastic in the sunshine with its Olympic rings. Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to the Excel centre at around 10.30am was also quiet. At this point I tried some more unusual forms of transport by taking the new cable car from Royal Victoria to the Greenwich Arena (the Dome).
This cost £3.20 with a discount for my Oyster Card but it was a real treat with stunning views east to the Thames Barrier and west across Canary Wharf and the city. A bit pricey if you have a family but cheaper than the London Eye and no queues. From the Greenwich Arena I took the Thames Clipper fast boat service to Canary Wharf. £4 discounted price for a single journey but you can get an all-day ticket for £7. The boat was fast, efficient and empty. At the end of the day, the dreaded Jubilee Line from Canary Wharf at 5.30pm. On a normal day you sometimes cannot get on the first train that comes along and have to stand up sniffing somebody else’s body odour or garlic infused lunch (depending on your height) all the way to London Bridge and beyond. This is a main artery to the Olympic Park so big trouble was expected. Nothing of the sort – I stood in at least a foot of space all round. We could have had a dance but London commuters don’t do that sort of thing. The journey back from Paddington was again a typical summer breeze. I got a seat on a filthy old train that First Great Western laughingly describe as a service.
So, on Day 3, TfL’s plan seemed to be working but we should not be lulled into a false sense of security. Vancouver had a similar experience in the first few days but people started to return when they heard reports that the city was quiet.
It is also inevitable that we will hear the little words that London commuters dread at some point; “severe delays” or “part suspended” followed by one of the standard excuses “signal failure” or the chilling “person under a train”. In fact, news just in is that the Central Line has ‘severe delays’ due to that other familiar excuse ‘faulty train’.
But for now, is all working better than anticipated and congratulations to TfL and LOCOG for a job well done.