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Olympic transport fears quelled

2012-01-30 18:03
London Olympics (File)
London - Olympic organisers have some travel advice for the millions of people who work and live in London: Be patient. Have a beer. Telecommute.

Rejecting suggestions of possible transport chaos during the July 27-August 12 Games, they unveiled a £8.8 million ($13.3 million) campaign on Monday to persuade city residents to change their travel patterns to ease the strain on public transport.

Even as London Mayor Boris Johnson tried to focus attention on the positive, transport officials had to bat back demands by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union for more money. Union officials say subway staff are not being offered enough to compensate them for working more hours and erratic schedules during the Summer Olympics.

The fresh union demands came just moments before London transport officials unveiled posters, signs and banners to make travellers aware of how to handle transport issues during the games. Johnson directed his remarks at what he called "Olympo-skeptics."

"They predict that tumbleweed will be going down Shaftesbury Avenue," Johnson said, referring to a main London thoroughfare. "They are completely wrong and mistaken and missing a huge opportunity to profit."

London transport officials have been at pains in recent weeks to downplay concerns about whether the city's aging transportation system can handle the extra traffic from tourists, spectators and others expected to use the network.

Officials point to a £6.5 billion ($10.2 billion) investment in the transport system. They say train journeys are faster and note that many more trains will run - and that some will even have air conditioning - during the games.

If office workers do things as simple as stopping and have a beer on their way home, it will spread out the rush-hour demands, they assert. No recommendations - alcoholic or otherwise - were made for the morning commute.

Businesses have been asked to consider whether London workers could telecommute or have more flexible working hours.

The trouble is that even on regular days London struggles with constraints on the Tube, an aging system that handles 12 million trips a day. The Olympics is estimated to add 3 million trips on busy days. Keeping the system running smoothly is predicated on the notion that locals will rearrange their schedules, change travel patterns and adjust their lives to accommodate.

Even Johnson acknowledged that travelers on the Jubilee line - one of the key arteries for the games - would not be "short of company."

London wants all of its spectators to arrive by public transport - or foot and bike. Ticket holders to Olympic events will receive day passes for the subway as part of their package. A special train known as the "Javelin" will take spectators directly from central London's St Pancras train station to the Olympic Park in the East London neighborhood of Stratford.

The "Get Ahead of the Games" campaign that kicked off Monday marks the biggest effort yet to directly reach the public. Featuring cartoonlike posters and directional signs in hot pink and maroon, the campaign tries to let people know about upcoming disruptions and gives suggestions on how to address them.

The campaign, funded as part of the £9.3 billion ($14.6 billion) devoted to staging the Olympics, will run in national newspapers, rail stations and radio stations across the country as well as around Olympic venues.

Souring the big launch was the rail union's announcement that subway train drivers considered a one-time payment of around £500 ($784) inadequate.

"All we are calling for is a fair deal for all the staff involved in delivering the colossal transport challenge that we will be facing this summer and the negotiations to achieve that are ongoing," Union chief Bob Crow said in a statement.

Crow said the union was ready for more talks. Peter Hendy, the Transport for London commissioner, called the union announcement "a tactic," and maintained that everyone at the transit agency is proud of helping out at the games.

Hendy refused to say how much he was prepared to pay to compensate the transport workers, but the pressure comes at a time when Olympic organisers are straining to stay within budget.

The National Audit Office, Britain's spending watchdog, has reported that only £500 million ($785 million) remains unspent for dealing with future Olympics-related costs.
Hendy insisted the money to cover compensation for transport workers would be available once a deal was struck.

Read more on:    london olympics

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