Following on from last month's article on the legacy that the Olympic Games will leave on our transport systems, this month's article (Download a pdf of it here) looks at how collaboration and co-ordination is expected to help the Games organisers and the transport systems operators effectively manage the extended congestion the Games will bring.
Games transport: May-September 2012
On 19th July the Olympic Torch Relay sets off from Land’s End. With it starts an extended period of “Business as Unusual” for UK transport.
Short, one-off events can cope with moderate incidents or deviation from plan for two reasons: 1) there is less build up, and 2) recovery can take place over the extended period after the event is over. But once the Torch Relay begins, there is a gradual build-up to sustained, intense activity right through to September. This is not just a one day event, so some form of stable steady state has to be achieved. This summer there will be very little recovery time or space before the pressure builds up around another event.
Transport Coordination Centre - a new model
A new model for managing transport has been developed to deal with this unusual environment. It integrates the operators, who traditionally work in silos. The Transport Coordination Centre embodies this new model. It is a lean hub, sitting at the centre of the transport network; integrating transport operations and enhancing coordination and cooperation with Games, Government and Security operations. The TCC represents the individual perspectives of its stakeholders. It is a component that has been duplicated and scaled, as appropriate, at venues and other critical centres.
What’s the issue?
“The Olympic and Paralympic Games are all about the spectacle”. And a spectacle is only a spectacle if it is seen by live spectators: an estimated 9 million of them. That’s more than the resident population of London or Paris coming to watch the Games. 9 million in addition to the business people, tourists, residents, and the “Games Family” comprising athletes, officials, and others making the Games happen.
So the big challenge is to enable all these people to get where they want to as painlessly as possible. And that means making the most of available capacity and, where possible, increasing it. That’s why this year’s Games represent a paradox: there is a desire to keep Sport in the headlines, not Transport. But the UK transport community are rising to a massive challenge in responding to the demands. So transport will be inevitably in the news.
Control or Coordination?
Capacity is being increased by a number of means. Pre-emptive travel demand management is being used to reduce and redistribute background demand. Passive travel demand management is being applied through journey time planners and movement management plans (look forward to Article 4 in June - we'll add the link when it's published!). Meanwhile, intensive efforts are being made to ensure that the assets are in top condition, to avoid interruption to services. Also, rapid response reactive maintenance regimes will be in place for the duration of the Games. But if all the infrastructure works, the real issue is still how to manage operations in real time.
In order to manage the pressures on our transport network this summer, it has been agreed that a conventional command and control approach will not suffice. For light traffic and for major crises, command and control does work and specific sets of procedures, roles and responsibilities exist. But Games-time Business as Unusual will sit in the broad spectrum between these two states.
Substantial risks lie in making the transition from one state to another with the associated shifts in roles and responsibilities. Step changes in control should be reserved for the most extreme situations. The best way to smooth the transition is through formalised cooperation and coordination.
Coordination and Communication
Transport operations require effective flow of data, information and intelligence. If flow is effective, the best decisions can be made in a timely manner. To achieve this, the number of nodes and the number of links in the communications network must be minimised. The nodes must be multi-disciplinary, multi-modal centres populated by small numbers of people, each of whom has broad knowledge of all the organisations to which that node is connected, and each of whom is an excellent, objective, communicator. These are the ‘Coordinators’ in the integration or coordination centre. The links between centres must be unconstrained and direct.
Unfortunately, a leap of faith is required for a large bunch of disparate organisations used to working in silos to agree to cooperate in such a way that they can form the compact multi-disciplinary, multi-modal centres which will enable them to collaborate effectively.
Fortunately, the Games’ global exposure provides the incentive to take that leap of faith. In the case of the main Transport Coordination Centre (TCC), senior executives of the participating organisations have signed up to a TCC Charter. The TCC Charter commits each organisation to provide appropriate resources and to respect the advice and instruction from the TCC. Physically present in the TCC are staff seconded from the major operators alongside liaison officers – linking the TCC tightly to the other nodes in its immediate network: from government, security, London operations and the Games operations centre itself. Similar multi-modal, multi-disciplinary nodes have been established at the major venues: including the Olympic Park and Weymouth. This is all in line with the requirements of the Games Act of 2006 and the intensions expressed in the Olympic Transport Plan. But it far exceeds the intentions.
Information, Intelligence, Decisions
Data and Information reach the coordination centres at the same time as they get to the existing operating centres. But at each coordination centre, they come from a number of sources, reflecting the view and needs of individual organisations. In each coordination centre, the multi-modal and multi-disciplinary perspectives enable more rapid, more objective conversion of the information into intelligence. Conclusions drawn at a coordination centre can be swiftly disseminated to the operating centres (by a seconded representative of that operating centre) where, more often than not, the conclusion will be endorsed, a confident decision made and implemented. The leap of faith and high level commitment from senior executives underpins the collaborative efforts of the TCC and empowers operational staff. The outcome is more rapid decision-making and more sustainable, more effective actions. ‘Decisions’ are made near to the point of execution but they are better informed by assessment of options at the coordination centre: the hub where key roles are represented and where objectivity and independence are intrinsic to the culture and processes.
Combatting Congestion with Coordination and Collaboration
The transport network will be under significant pressure throughout the Games period. Under “normal” circumstances, a modicum of additional stress might result in a localised incident causing small ripples of congestion. During the sustained peak periods of the Games, the same incident will escalate. The waves from a Games-time incident could collide with those from another incident and the escalation could be dramatic: in terms of magnitude and speed. The outcome would be serious congestion at the very least.
Catalyst for collaboration
One of the greatest legacies of the Games will be that they have acted as a catalyst for collaboration between operators and other stakeholders in UK transport.
This will be manifested in the mesh of coordination and communication centres across the country: some acting at the tactical level, some at the operational level across rail, roads, aviation, rivers and marine transport around the country. Some will stand down after the Games, some will be kept on standby, and others might become permanent fixtures.
So, having established the network, the next major challenge is to exercise it. Allan Edmondson, Head of Coach and Bus Services (Olympic Delivery Authority) has said, “We like to demonstrate a spirit of partnership. If the passion and will is there, we can make it all work”. That spirit will win through when it is coupled with formal structures and exercising.
Next month I will write about how that confidence has been built up through the Games Readiness programme and what that means to transport after the Games.
Please do COMMENT on this article - I'd be very interested to know your take on this!