August 1st, 2012
06:57 PM GMT
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London (CNN) – Did London 2012 Olympic organizers scare off too many people?

It started to occur to me last week that I was getting seats on trains and buses at times that I shouldn’t. I had the fastest commute home in 22 years. I beat my best by ten minutes and now compare myself to a certain female swimmer.

Transport For London (TFL) warned us for years that there would be a 20% increase in travel during the Games and that certain stations would be "exceptionally busy."

The crabby newspaper writers warned about so-called "Limousine Lanes" clogging traffic in London. These were set aside for those in the "Olympic Family" to get to venues and back to the Olympic Park. Taxis complained they could not use them.

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I used one of these lanes on Monday (CNN has one car with the special pass) and there were few vehicles using it at the time and there were few cars in the other lanes.

Then, I got an email from a friend who owns a restaurant in Soho. "Where are the punters?" she asked. Her takings were down 30%. On top of that, after years of warnings, she booked night deliveries and bought extra refrigeration and paid for extra security to take these deliveries.

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I can tell you the streets around the area are eerily quiet.

Companies prepared by renting sleeping pods and getting staff to take trains. Others told staff to work from home or take long holidays.

It worked. Too well.

So far, other than the usual train problems, London is working fine.

Shall we call it Y-2-12?

Think back to the late 1990s, and Y2K. That was when people started to warn that older computers could not handle the date change from 12/31/1999 to 01/01/2000. Millions (billions?) of dollars were spent upgrading software or buying new gear to prepare.

I remember CNN deploying people to command bunkers for nuclear power plants in Japan to military installations in Colorado and giving updates throughout the night.

Little went wrong (apart from planes crashing in that wonderful Simpsons Y2K episode) and a lot of people made money scaring us into spending a lot of money to fix it.

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West London traders are now pleading for visitors to leave the Olympic Park and come have a pint or meal around Regent St.

Shops are reminding us locals they are open and the tube is working fine, so far.

Given the ways of the British media, I know organizers would have been pilloried if they didn’t prepare for the worst, and athletes suffered from clogged roads and companies could not get vital supplies.

On Friday, when 80,000 people head for the stadium for athletics, maybe London’s Victorian transport system will start to strain.

Frankly, it may be time to stop calling it that. The (underused) overground is not that old and has new carriages; the Dockland’s Light Rail through East London has many new stations; the airports are modern and now well connected to public transport.

Given the first week, it will take a lot of simultaneous problems and the return of many locals in order to cause problems.

Let’s hope it does not happen.

I need to get to Gatwick Airport on Saturday.

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Filed under: BusinessOlympics

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Adam

    As a New Yorker, I found London's transport system refreshingly clean, efficient, on-time and easy to navigate. Of course, I was there for only a week, but I was impressed!

    August 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  2. Tim

    I had to travel to the US embassy in MayFair yesterday to renew my son's passport. It was the fastest trip into London I have made in 10 years, no queue to get into the embassy and empty restaurants to boot!

    August 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  3. chris

    I bought a sarcastic olympic t-shirt that reads 'It only took me 3 hours to get to work today'. I can't wear it because the Tube's the quietest I've seen it in years.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  4. streaky1981

    "It started to occur to me last week that I was getting seats on trains and buses at times that I shouldn’t"

    It started to occur to me about a month ago that something was very very wrong. I love in London and had to go up north at the weekend, coming back on the East Coast Mainline, there was 2 people besides me in a carriage that is normally close to full.

    Going past about 3 venue stations earlier on the Jubilee Line and the DLR – completely deserted. It's great if you need to get around or do some shopping but it must be having a horrible effect on business.

    Seriously never seen London like it. Then again tourists even at the level they're at are making it much less efficient than it usually is.

    August 2, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  5. jeff

    We experienced something very similar during the Vancouver Olympics. Most business were told to prepare for record sales but instead experienced below average sales. Even pubs in the heart of downtown among the crowds of thousands experienced a drop in sales. People don't want to be indoors. They want to be outside celebrating.
    It took my business months to recover from the Olympics.

    August 2, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  6. power4things

    But Victorian sounds so quant! This is like Los Angeles in 1984, they scared so many people into telecommuting or leaving town that L.A.'s legendary rush hours turned almost pleasant.

    August 2, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  7. avtar singh

    I had no problems with the London transport system or services. I think to be fair, the transport department doesn't/hasn't got enough credit from the media for how efficient and how prepared they have been for the Olympic Games. Just my 20 cents on the matter having been to London before the Olympics and seen the work that was being done.

    And to also be fair, London still has one of the best transport systems of any city in the world. Very well organized and systematic. Many other modern cities can learn from them. Malaysia especially!

    August 2, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  8. Stephen

    "It started to occur to me last week that I was getting seats on trains and buses at times that I shouldn’t. I had the fastest commute home in 22 years. I beat my best by ten minutes and now compare myself to a certain female swimmer."

    Judging from other answers on this page, this seems to be a common occurrence at Olympic games. For my own part, I noticed the same thing occur in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics. Traffic was way down even during peak hours allowing me to go to and from work and other places in record time. Sydneysiders had been asked to take their holidays over the Olympics period and I can only suppose many obliged!

    All which suggests you should enjoy the quick runs while you can! Traffic will return to its more usual slow pace again once the games are over.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  9. charlottegeary

    I just got back from a few days in London, and I was astonished by the lack of crowds. On previous visits, there was always a line at least an hour long for the London Eye. This week, my husband and I bought a ticket and stepped right on board. The BT London Live venue in Hyde Park was mostly empty. We never had to wait for the Tube. Everything was surprisingly easy and low-stress (except for finding a pass into the Olympic Park, which was seriously frustrating and never worked out.)

    August 2, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  10. avtar singh

    I suspect a lot of people are on holidays out of town or have just been smart and are heading to work a lot earlier than they usually do to avoid the rush that was expected during the morning and is afterall the summer holidays anyways...

    August 2, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  11. Noborry

    The number of casual tourists is down to virtually zero as the olympics have led to grossly inflated pricing for accommodation, etc. thus scaring them off.
    The regular locals were fed horror stories of crowding, so they are on vacation out-of-town.
    The *only* sources of crowding are the olympic spectators and those few of us that simply have to work over the summer hols.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:23 am |
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