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Is Transport in the UK going to be better after this year’s Games?

The Games Legacy

This is the first in a series of articles which will address the above question.   

I will present a mix of first-hand experience and commentary from the people who will be running transport during the Games and those that have been involved from the early strategy stages.  Then, once the Games are over I intend to indulge in a retrospective: what went well, what went best, what went surprisingly well and what went exactly as planned, and what we (should) have learned.

Why?  For two reasons: firstly, the frenetic activity within the Games Transport community does not allow for trumpeting of the interim successes, the innovation, or the energy going into preparing for the events of this summer; and secondly, there are already lessons to be learnt from the work of the Olympic Delivery Authority, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and all the other stakeholders in UK Transport: including operators, government, and security.  Many of the lessons will be lost if they are not aired here and through other channels right now.  The more exposure through the more channels the better (so feel free to re-tweet and share this article, under Creative Commons CC-BY).

Can’t we apply the same model as previous Games?

Games Transport is always fascinating.  The London Games are ground-breaking. The Games represent an extreme event in any circumstances.  The four year cycle and change in location mean that no two Games are the same.  Even within the same country, in the same year: there are substantially different challenges to transport provision for the Paralympic Games which follow so shortly after the Olympic Games.

For 2012, preparation has to take into account the effects of massive changes in technology over the last four/eight years: add onto this the obvious environmental, societal, political, demographic, and commercial differences between the UK in 2012 and China in 2008.  Then superimpose the impact of the economic crisis, and it is evident that the challenges to the Games and to the logistical backbone represented by transport are immense and unique.

“Model the crowd. Follow the crowd”

Changes in communications and movement management have been acknowledged in preparing London and the UK for the Games.  LOCOG Director of Operations, Doug Arnot has experience of running the Games in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.  One of his mantras is “Model the crowd. Follow the crowd”.   Detailed modelling of the transport users and estimation of their movements is essential for safety, for protecting and enhancing reputations and to ensure the Games are a commercial success.  In a later article, I will dip into the approach to modelling, use of social media and other communications, and proposed management of crowds and travellers – maximising the capacity and resilience of the transport network as a whole. 

Communications, Collaboration and Coordination

One of the key mechanisms for maximising capacity, and an emerging success story from the Games, is the Transport Coordination Centre (TCC).  This communications hub has been designed by the transport community, and is populated by delegated representatives of the major operators and other stakeholders in transport.  It is an intelligence centre which links and integrates the traditionally independent participants in UK Transport through objective assessment of issues and incidents as they arise.  It enables more effective decision-making by the various operations centres dotted around the country. 

More on the TCC and coordination later.  But in brief, it is a model which can be applied in operational or commercial environments where it is acknowledged that communication and coordination allow organisations to be more agile, reduce risk of failure, and increase the probability of achieving excellence: clear demonstration of emerging best practice.

Getting Ready

Readiness for a one-off event requires an extensive programme of testing and exercising.  The Games cannot go wrong.  It is acknowledged that the transport network will be stressed significantly from just before the opening ceremony and throughout the Olympic & Paralympic Games.  Business-as-usual at Games-time is referred to amongst the Games transport community as “Business-as-unusual”!  Peak times are described in various ways, including “planned stress”.  Incidents that would dissipate rapidly today could escalate rapidly at Games-time.

Many people, even in established organisations, have new roles for the Games.  There are new processes and technologies designed to enable them to achieve the Games objectives.  The Games Readiness programme starts with testing of these and then builds up to testing and then exercising and validation of the systems, components, domains and, ultimately, the entirety of Games operations.

The TCC and other operating and coordinating centres have been tested as independent units, as have the various events and venues teams.  They are now being exercised within their wider ‘domains’ in order to prepare for the unexpected. 

I will be looking at some of the lessons being learnt from Games Readiness activities and highlighting where benefits and further opportunities are being generated.

Have your say

So, if UK Transport operations, operational readiness, organisational simplification, movement modelling, travel demand management, coordination, communication and integration and the processes and technologies which enable all these are of any interest to you, please follow this series of articles. 

If you want me to look into any specific aspect of Games where we could all benefit from some Games insight, then do let me know - you can post comments below, or contact me directly - you'll find my contact details through my profile here on _connect (just click here).

My objective is not to be saying “why, oh why didn’t they do this?”, but “look at what has been done and what has been achieved, and look at how we might apply what we see across transport”. 

I want to do a small bit to ensure Transport in the UK is, indeed, going to be better after this year’s Games.

Daniel Ruiz, Delivery Cell One

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