Welcome to London, home of the 2012 Olympics. The Games haven't started yet, but transport delays and warnings of what's to come are already starting to irk Londoners and worry visitors.
Shortly after arriving in London on July 16, U.S. hurdler Kerron Clement noted on Twitter that his bus driver had gotten lost en route to the Olympic Village, tweeting, "Um, so we've been lost on the road for 4hrs. Not a good first impression London."
Meanwhile, other commuters were simultaneously dealing with their own delays. The Olympic Route Network — a system of priority lanes covering 109 miles of road, designed to ensure competitors and VIPs arrive at the venues on time — opened its first lanes on the on the main motorway from Heathrow. But as ordinary vehicles are forbidden from using the designated route, and face a $200 fine if they're caught doing so, the newly-opened lanes brought traffic to a near-halt as drivers lined-up to merge out of them.
While the majority of Olympic events are scheduled to take place in the eastern reaches of the city – the Olympic Park is in Stratford, an area about six miles from the city center – many visitors are expected to stay in, and commute from, central London. And to accommodate the 3 million additional journeys per day that are expected on public transport, the city hopes to coax locals into changing their habits. The city has launched a public information campaign called "Get Ahead of the Games," to persuade commuters to avoid public transport when possible, walk or re-route.
On June 22, there was another source of delay as a city-wide bus strike clogged the streets with private cars. The Unite union is campaigning for the £500 or greater bonus that transport workers on the Underground, Overground and rail networks have accepted to sweeten work during the Games. London buses carry around 6.5 million passengers every day.
The authorities are quick to defend London’s preparations, pointing out that nearly $10 billion (USD) over the past seven years has been poured into repairs and improvements on the city’s network of trains and Underground metro lines. Locals are skeptical that the investment will prevent massive snarl-ups. And that, more than any campaign run by the government, may deliver the desired result and keep Londoners off London transport and roads during the Olympics. A survey by foreign exchange firm Travelex found that a third of Brits who’ve booked summer holidays abroad chose their dates with the idea of avoiding the Games.