Chauffeured cars whisking VIPs along express routes to the Olympics will allegedly be fitted with sensors able to turn red lights green. When I read this news it suddenly became clear to me that what is commonly known as the 2012 Olympics is actually a horror film with production well-advanced. Its title is The Millennium Dome Rises Again. ("Just when you thought it was safe to go back to East London...")
Both the Dome and the Olympics are creatures of Tony Blair of course, and his tone of jargon-ridden can-do machismo combined with political correctness is all there in the website detailing the transport arrangements of the Olympic Delivery Authority – if you can be bothered to read it, that is. Personally, I can't. A sentence like "Download the Consultation Report for the Consultation Draft of the second edition of the Transport Plan" is quite difficult to get beyond. However, the gist is that this is supposed to be "A Public Transport Games", and there's a lot about the aggrandisement of Stratford and West Ham stations in particular. (The latter actually received its big makeover in 1999 as part of the desperate attempt to complete the Jubilee Line extension in time for the millennial launch of the Dome. Before then, it had been one of the smallest stations on the Underground, the facade not much wider than a terraced house, and every week one of the station staff used to put out the dustbin for emptying.)
To be fair, the ODA transport literature is not that much more unreadable than that produced in 1999 by the New Millennium Experience Company, the body – you will recall – "responsible for delivering the UK's national focus to mark and celebrate the arrival of the third millennium". I remember receiving a press release announcing that people choosing to access the great white boil by rail would be conveyed from Charlton station by "a wheel-based service". Persistent questioning forced the admission that this was a bus, and even though that word was insufficiently pompous, the NMEC, like the IOC, was both proud of its emphasis on public transport, and neurotic about the possibility of things going wrong.
This is only natural. The Dome was literally hollow and the Olympics are metaphorically hollow, nobody – I assume – having the slightest interest in the actual sports. The event itself being nugatory, it's therefore all about the before and after – especially how people will get to it, and from it.
Our big public spectacles have long involved transport neurosis. The Metropolitan Railway, the world's first underground line, was supposed to be completed in time for the Second Great Exhibition of 1862. It was a year late. But this time around there is the authentic tang of fear. London's public transport networks are already horribly overcrowded.
Twelve million journeys are made every day. During the Olympics there will be another three million. In light of this, David Cameron's suggestion – admittedly made for PR purposes only, that government ministers visiting the Olympic venues should do so by public transport – is illogical. He did also imply that he might cycle to the Olympics, in which case Boris Johnson would have to abandon his own bike in favour of something even humbler. I can see the headline now: "I'll be going to the Olympics by Spacehopper", says Mayor.
But the clue to Cameron's real intention – which is to travel in a bulletproof limousine – is contained in his admission that security will be almost as big a challenge as transport, and those high-tech road lanes (apparently a requirement imposed on London by the IOC) are presumably a response to both anxieties. Transport minister Norman Baker recently proffered his own solution, urging Londoners to "work remotely; or use video conferencing to ease demand". In other words, the best way to solve the Olympic transport problem would be for people not to use transport. Stay at home.
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