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London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Transport Lessons and Legacy

This is the 5th in my series of articles on the transport legacy left by the Olympic and Paralympics games.

You can download a pdf version of this article from the Intelligent Mobility folder in the main Transport KTN document library, where you will also find pdf versions of my previous 4 articles.

Is it too early to be learning lessons?

Celebrations took place at the London Transport Museum dinner last month and ‘How London 2012 will change Transport forever’ was the theme for the first major event to discuss transport lessons and legacy.

Sponsored by the Transport KTN, amongst others, this event was held on Friday (26/10/12) at the Institute for Civil Engineering and was an opportunity for ODA and other delivery partners to share interim findings from their legacy work.

It is right that we should pat ourselves collectively on the back.  Targets were met during the Games.   Capacity records were exceeded.  The confidence of travellers in UK transport is one of the greatest outcomes of the Games.

But are we really ready to scrutinise what we did and learn the lessons that will ensure confidence is preserved and expectations are not dashed?

Meticulous planning and unprecedented cooperation 

Peter Hendy, Commissioner at Transport for London, opened his address at the London Transport Museum last month with this explanation for the success of UK transport during the Games.  The objectives, such as transit times for so-called ‘Games Family’ had been satisfied.  More to the point, many members of the Games Family joined the spectators on public transport “because it worked”.  Collaboration across all players was the key.  In the lead up to and during the Games, contractors, operators, local authorities and many other stakeholders were aligned to the one clear and time-bound objective.  According to Peter Hendy, “fed by a few bottles of cheap wine rather than spreadsheets, contracts and protocols”, it was possible to get transport operations to “work at a level where [they] didn’t need to escalate to the Commissioner”.

Howard Collins, COO at London Underground (LU), mentioned employee engagement programmes and new roles such as ‘incident customer service assistants’.  These will have some legacy.  He also reinforced the importance of preparation, urging Rio to “test, test and test again”.  But, like many, he ultimately returned to the theme of collaboration with “one team transport”.  The conventional hierarchical and, sometimes, antagonistic supply chain was set aside for the Games – aided by a big supplier conference before the Games to align objectives. 

A key question is "how can we embed this and other changes in cultural behaviour?" 

How London 2012 Will Change Transport Forever

The format at the event on Friday was of workshops and presentations with generous Q&A time.  Each presentation focussed on the performance of a different aspect of transport operations. 

Howard Collins, still wearing his pink tabard, cited the LU reliability programme as being one of the critical components of success.  An interesting aspect of the programme was that merely checking ancient assets could cause delayed failures, so many parts of the system were simply not maintained during the Games.  He said this short term approach was the right one for Games-time but obviously could not become business as usual.

One question from the floor was “did advice from previous Games help”?  The response was that lessons were learnt from the operators in those cities but that most was learnt from failures – such as at Atlanta.  However, some speakers at this event were less inclined (at this stage) to acknowledge the failings that might indicate stronger lessons to learn.

Peter White from Westminster City Council (WCC) asked whether there were any lessons relating to autonomous transport.  The positive response was that those lines that used automatic train operating systems (DLR, Central Victoria and Jubilee lines) proved to be much more flexible.   This was due, in part, to their independence of the drivers’ capability to drive a particular train on a specific line: an interesting piece of evidence for future transport systems development.

Martin Low (WCC) observed that travellers were influenced by the positive attitude of Games Makers and operators’ staff.  Travellers were more likely to act constructively and intelligently in the face of any incident.  But how can this mass behaviour be replicated and preserved - embedded in the culture?  This reflected the balance of issues being addressed: physical and ‘soft’.

Clare Springett, Head of Travel Demand Management for the ODA, gave a justifiably celebratory presentation on TDM at the event at the ICE.  When asked by Professor Tony Ridley from Imperial College whether TDM might have been just as good if less had been spent on it or even better if more had been spent, Clare said no.  She reckoned they had hit it on the nose.  There was some scepticism in the room.  However, this was not an occasion for challenge. 

In some instances, the analysis was not ready to be exposed.  An example of this was the research to see how successful the spectator journey planner was.

More successes – some of which will stick 

When I recently asked Alan Bristow, Director of Traffic for TfL what he felt was the biggest success story, he went for the Olympic Route Network (ORN): “possibly the world’s largest active traffic management programme”.  Karen Agbabiaka, ORN manager for the Olympic Delivery Authority agreed.  She cited the TomTom system and TomTom’s float vehicle data as having been invaluable in managing the Games vehicle in real time, and in helping deploy the contingency plans in a timely manner.  The ORN is gone.  But the benefit from running it will have stuck with Es George and his team at the London Streets Traffic Control Centre. 

Alan Bristow also mentioned the success of the Transport Coordination Centre, even though it didn’t have to deal with any major incidents.  Designing the TCC had a diffused effect on all of transport, through relationships built up across the transport, security, government and Games domains.  This could stick but will need effort.

According to one follower of this series of articles, “Quiet Deliveries was the gold medal of the Olympics and this will become in my view a way of life for the UK over the next ten/twenty years” (Alan Lindfield Ltd).  Web services for freight and logistics providers have been praised. I am sure that there will be lasting benefits from these and other new web services.  I am aware of at least one planning tool, developed for the Games, which will be exploited by a spin-off SME.  I hope there will be more.  Time will tell.

Next steps

So there is still some more objective consideration of the lessons needing to take place and aired.  It might be happening behind closed doors and we will feel the effects soon. 

The success of Games-time transport is irrefutable.  Two questions remain:

·       Was it value for money?

·      What can still be done to maximise the sustainable, long term benefits?

I care about the first of these only in so far as we need a meaningful benchmark. 

The second question is the most important.  Many of the benefits of capital investment in infrastructure will indeed remain: the “physical legacy”.  But the “soft legacy” is less tangible and the benefits of much-praised collaboration and increased confidence could slip away.

I look forward to objective discussion which will lead to clear actions, addressing those softer issues.  These may be harder to measure, but they are cited by everyone as having been fundamental ingredients of success in London 2012. 

Useful Links look out for the paper entitled Transport Legacy (October 2012)

this article as a pdf

my other articles in this series

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