No extra money has been set aside to pay refunds owed to delayed commuters during the London 2012 Olympics despite the extra burden placed on the transport system by the Games, The Independent has learned.
The news comes after a Tube line taking spectators to and from the Olympic Park broke down again this morning; the first full day of events. The failure on the Central Line, which rendered a portion of track including the station serving the main venue in Stratford inaccessible, is the second major problem to hit the system in a matter of days.
Severe delays were caused right along the line when a signal failure at Bethnal Green forced its closure between Liverpool Street - to the west of Stratford - and Leytonstone – to the east.
One passenger, who was delayed by 20 minutes, said she was not only held up by the signal failures but also by the number of extra people trying to find another way to Stratford. Stephanie Howson said: “The platform was pretty packed with people waiting to get on to the District line, changing their routes. It added another 20 minutes on to my journey, making me late for work.”
“It is the second time this has happened this week alone due to signal failures, which is frustrating at the best of times, let alone on the first day of the athletics. It means you need to leave a lot of extra time for travelling, in case the line is down. You can’t always rely on the service.
She added that TfL’s refusal to set aside extra money at such a busy time for commuters was “awful and slightly foolish”. She said: “Perhaps they are relying on the fact that the general public aren’t hugely aware of [the fact you can claim refunds].
“They will not be winning themselves any fans. They absolutely should have put some money aside, they have known about the Olympics for some time and should have been putting contingency plans into place. They are obviously very confident in their ability to get it right. Considering how much we pay for travel, it makes you wonder where the money goes.”
Janet Cooke, CEO of the statuatory appeals body London Travelwatch, said that, in the event of a flood of refund demands during the Olympics, TfL would “simply have to find the money to pay for them”.
She said: "If they get it right, then they have got away with it, so to speak. In that case, we would sooner they put their resources into making the system work in the first place. We would encourage passengers to claim refunds where they think they are due them and, if they come to us, we will make sure that they get compensation.”
A TfL spokesman confirmed that the organisation does not have any contingency fund to pay refunds to delayed passengers beyond the money it would have in normal circumstances.
Commuters who are delayed by more than 15 minutes can claim back the cost of their journey. However, TfL confirmed that Olympics ticket holders, who have free travel for each day on which they have tickets to the Games, are not covered; nor are people whose delays were caused simply by queues to get into the stations.
This morning, staff at Liverpool Street directed people on to other Tube lines and London Overground services towards Stratford as thousands on their way to the Olympic Park joined many more trying to make their way around London. The service resumed later in the morning TfL said, but it was still running with severe delays.
Events at the park today include Jessica Ennis beginning her campaign for gold in the women’s heptathlon.
The breakdown happened hours after the Prime Minister urged people to “come back into the capital” following claims that the 2012 Games had turned London into a ghost town, with commuters and non-Olympic tourists avoiding the city.
David Cameron said the “threat of meltdown on the traffic system” had been defeated and London was “open for business” during the sporting events.
He told Sky News last night: “People said also that London wouldn’t cope, the traffic would grind to a halt, the capital city wouldn’t manage. That hasn’t been the case either. I think the authorities have done a good job.
“Clearly there is a challenge now, though, to say to Londoners, to the British public who’ve helped us to, as it were, defeat the threat of meltdown on the traffic system, to say to them now actually there is a case, London’s working well, it’s open for business, come back into the capital, come and shop, come and eat in London’s restaurants and let’s make sure that all of London’s economy benefits from this.”
Announcements have begun at Tube stations, advising travellers to visit shops, restaurants and other attractions in other parts of London as well as the East End.
“There is a hell of a lot going on and the Tube is there for people to use,” he said.
“The Boris announcements (warning of delays) stopped, as they were always planned to do. Now the message is to people to get out there and see what London has to offer.”
TfL said Tube passenger numbers are already up 10% on usual levels for this time of year, with journeys to “key West End stations” up 12%.
The problems also extended to the mainline train system. Passengers had to wait for up to 40 minutes at St Pancras for Southeastern’s high-speed Javelin services to Stratford International, according to traffic information service Inrix.
Queues snaked down the road outside the station, with some angry customers waiting to get to the Olympic Park taking to Twitter to vent their frustration.
Twitter user Mary Harvey posted a photograph of a long line of people waiting to get into the station, and wrote: “Central line broken. 50000 people to the Olympic park on the javelin = MASSIVE queues. Nice one London transport.”
There were also delays of just under an hour on the Docklands Light Railway between Stratford and Canary Wharf this morning because of a signal failure at Poplar, and some traffic problems on the roads around Earls Court due to a burst water main, an Inrix spokesman said.
A spokesman for Southeastern, which runs the Javelin service, said it was only a little busier because of the Central line suspension.
He said: “The only issue is people have had to queue to get on the platforms to the trains. There are eight trains per hour, with a capacity of 25,000 per hour. Although there are queues, they are moving. It’s not like you are sitting in a queue and it’s not moving. All the trains are running on time.
“If people are planning to travel on the Javelin, we would advise them to allow a little extra time.”
Organisers said queues at the Olympic Park were up to an hour long this morning but all ticket-holders were able to access the events. Crowds are expected to be biggest today and tomorrow, between the hours of 10.30am and 5pm, with lunchtime being the busiest period.
The transport network will face further strain over the weekend when hundreds of thousands of supporters turn out to watch athletes fight for 48 medals at events including the women’s marathon and triathlon.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “The great thing about this morning was that the other three prongs into Stratford immediately took up the slack.
“You saw the pictures of that stadium this morning - it’s incredible, it’s rammed with people.
“It (the transport network) is going to stand up. There will be difficulties, there will be imperfections, but it’s holding out very well.”
Shashi Verma, TfL’s Director of Customer Experience, said: “Refunds for passengers who face delays of over 15 minutes on London Underground will continue to apply where there have been service disruptions which are within TfL’s control. Refunds will not be given to passengers who experience delays in getting on their Tube due to high passenger volumes.”