Transport and the Olympic legacy: driving innovation
By Katherine Aitchison, on 17 September 2012
Oh no, sorry, that’s what I was expecting to write a couple of months ago. Back when the Olympics were a big black mark in my diary when I would be unable to get to work or the supermarket or even out of my front door due to the millions of extra people London would be hosting.
And apparently 97% of Londoners agreed with me. Only 3% of the city’s population felt that the transport network would cope with the added demand of the Games. But we were all wrong; everything ran smoothly, events started on time, no athletes were lost at Bank station never to be seen again and (perhaps most importantly) commuters were able to keep on commuting.
So what can we learn from the employment of public transport during the Games and how can this shape the network of the future?
This was the question posed at a gathering of transport experts on Tuesday 11 September who gathered for the fourth in a series of five UCL events looking at the Olympics and Paralympics and the big questions that surround them.
We were joined in the Cruciform lecture theatre by Dr Andy Chow (UCL Centre for Transport Studies) and Dr Jon Reades (UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis), UCL academics who are looking at transport on the roads and public transport respectively. The other speakers were Michelle Dix of Transport for London (TfL) and Natalie Chapman of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) who came to tell us what the Olympics has taught us about London travel.
Far from being the gloomy dissection of disruptions that 97% of us would have predicted two months ago, it was actually an upbeat occasion with some enlightening statistics.
Dr Chow showed preliminary data that suggested travel speeds on the roads were at least the same, if not higher, compared to the same period in 2011 and Dr Reades showed that 87% of regular commuters carried on as normal despite the Games.
So how did we achieve this unexpected success?
Dr Reades says a lot of it was due to demand distribution – the Games venues were outside of the areas people normally commute to (in fact, the DLR saw a 100% increase in users compared to the same period in 2011) allowing commuters to commute and spectators to spectate without getting on top of each other.
But a very large part of the credit has to go to TfL. Before the Olympics their public engagement programme was extensive – it was impossible to go outdoors in London without seeing a poster/leaflet/email warning you to change your travel plans during the Games.
No-one can claim that TfL didn’t do everything in their power to inform the public of what was going on and how to avoid major disruptions. This is one of the major things that Michelle Dix says the company plan to take away from this experience.
Utilisation of similar information programmes could be very useful for explaining and warning of disruptions during tube upgrades or major events such as the Jubilee and could even be rolled out in unexpected situations such as during the London riots.
But it wasn’t just public transit that was affected by the Games, someone had to keep pubs supplied with beer, supermarkets stocked and waste cleared from the streets and a major player in the field was the Freight Transport Association.
They brought in initiatives such as night time deliveries, re-routing and alternative modes of transport in order to keep stock moving.
Many of these were hugely successful and saw added benefits such as lower carbon emissions and reduced fuel costs – making businesses keen to continue with the programme now that the Olympics and Paralympics are over.
One of the biggest benefits of the whole Olympic experience has perhaps been one of the most obvious. Better communication between different transport co-ordinators, as well as between suppliers and customers, has kept everyone happy and the city flowing smoothly.
It is easy to assume that because there was such a big fuss about London 2012 that the improvements will have been transient and localised.
However, the take-home message from the experts on the panel was that now these communications and initiatives are in place, it is hoped that we will see far-reaching benefits to transport users across the country as other organisations take notice of what was achieved during the Games.