Simon Calder: The fun and the Games on the Tube and trains

The man who pays his way

On paper, it looks like a recipe for disaster. London 2012 is placing more reliance on public transport than any Olympiad for decades – and much of the capital's transport infrastructure, from St Pancras station to the Metropolitan Line, is so old that it pre-dates the modern Olympic movement.

Yet despite a few hiccups such as Tuesday's fire alert on the Central Line and some routine maintenance issues, it seems to be working – and, indeed, there is much to be proud of in the way our transport providers are handling the Olympics. The front-line staff who run the capital's Tube, train and bus networks are taking the Games in their stride. They are, after all, accustomed to moving millions of people around every day, while coping with the extra pressure from big football matches when tens of thousands of fans cause a short, sharp surge in demand for transport. Stratford, the main Olympic venue, is about the best-connected place on the planet, with two high-capacity Tube lines and high-frequency Overground and Docklands Light Railway links to many parts of London and the South-east.

The big test was last Monday. Would the system survive first contact with both Olympic traffic and regular commuters? After all, travellers had long been warned that London Bridge Underground station would be "exceptionally busy all day on Monday 30 July".

This assertion works better if "exceptionally busy" is replaced by "fairly quiet". I made a point of going to London Bridge station for the first spell since the opening of hostilities when passengers were warned they would have to wait up to 15 minutes to board a service. I must have waited on the near-empty Jubilee Line platform to Stratford for up to 15 seconds – and I got a seat.

Most Tube travellers have experienced nothing but good-humoured staff and fellow passengers, and a system running smoothly with plenty of "headroom" to cope with extra spikes in demand.

The Olympics have jolted transport enterprises into doing some joined-up planning. Train operators from East Coast to East Midlands, Virgin to First Great Western and South West Trains, are laying on extra late-night services throughout the Games. After the Opening Ceremony overran, these were held for stragglers making their way back from the stadium at Stratford. People got home 20 minutes late to Leicester or Cardiff or Exeter, but they got home. (Incidentally, to speed up the next Opening Ceremony I suggest the Rio 2016 organisers deduct one medal for each athlete in the parade in excess of a dozen for each national team.)

What with National Express quietly and efficiently adding special buses from across Britain to the Games, Tube trains running in the early hours and accelerated journeys on long-distance trains on Sundays, Olympic visitors should be impressed by the nation that invented mass transit a couple of centuries ago. I suggest that when the Games are over there will be a lot of calls to "keep the Olympic spirit alive" – and maintain a coherent approach to all manner of problems, including our transport system.

How to scare away visitors

The smooth operation makes the dire warnings from the key transport organisations in London look all the more absurd. Once the Games are over, the people who made unequivocal statements about how overstretched London would be must explain themselves.

All the evidence from previous Olympiads, notably Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, suggests that host cities are much quieter than usual while the Games are on, because tourists and business visitors stay away in their hundreds of thousands. Why was Transport for London so sure that 2012 would be different?

"London will be very busy during the Games," is the organisation's mantra. That view is backed up by Britain's busiest airport, Heathrow, whose website front page still cautions passengers that: "Roads and public transport in and around London will be busier than normal during the Games" – and reinforcing that warning to stay away by insisting: "There are still [hotel] rooms available but they are running out fast".

In fact, the exact opposite applies. London isn't very busy during the Games. Roads and public transport are quieter than normal. And there are plenty of hotel rooms available for the remainder of the Olympics.

These claims are not merely mystifying – they are also economically damaging. Given the months of official warnings of gridlock in the capital, no wonder every large business is keeping its people well away from London, and tourists are staying away in their millions. They are missing out on a city en fête, and Britain is losing out on a vast amount of revenue.

The Olympic Bug

As you may have read here a fortnight ago: "In a replay of the 'Millennium Bug' scares – you remember, how computers would spontaneously combust at midnight on 1 January 2000 – London is in the grip of entirely misguided fears that the capital will be overloaded with tourists and traffic."

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?