diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How are we all doing with Get Ahead Of The Games? That's the one stop shop for transport advice in the run-up to the Olympics. If our normal journey might be messed up because of activities at a Games venue near us, everything we might need to know is available in one place. Or that's the idea. There's certainly been a torrent of publicity, all those adverts and posters and billboards everywhere encouraging us all to check in and plan ahead. But if we've now visited the website, how comprehensive and useful has it been? Have we yet uncovered the specific information we might need? Or has the publicity perhaps peaked too early, before there's enough there to persuade us to act?

I ask, because we've recently been on the receiving end of the Olympic business planning drive at work. Certain activities might become more awkward during the Games, obviously, so the company doesn't want to get caught out. We've got specific people liaising, and coordinated meetings going on somewhere, and there's even been a representative from TfL in to give the company advice. You'd expect nothing less. So it's been somewhat disturbing to be at the bottom of the chain - an employee in a position of assumed ignorance - to see how little of this advice has trickled down.

At work we've not yet been told anything specific about the predicted travel problems in our part of town. Instead we've been directed to the GAOTG website, where there doesn't seem to be any specific guidance either. Instead there are borough-by-borough guides, covering a considerably broader area, and these are packed with almost but not quite specific information. Planning on travelling by bus? "Many bus services will operate more frequently and there will also be some diversions." Great, thanks, cheers. Planning on travelling by train? "Some stations and lines will be particularly busy, including <not the station nearest work>. You can minimise disruption to your journey by avoiding these stations at the busiest times." Nothing there of enormous help either.

Now I happen to know that there's much more detailed information elsewhere, most of it over at tfl.gov.uk/2012. This site has dire health warnings about congestion at umpteen stations on a half-hourly basis, all terribly useful, but nobody's directed us to this. It also warns which lines are likely to be busy when, because a slack station's no use if all the trains running through are rammed, but nobody's mentioned that to us either. There's a great deal my workmates should be concerned about, and many a commute that might become impossible, but nobody's pointed any of this out. Instead we've been sent the official dumbed-down message, essentially "there might be some problems, would you like to replan?" and that's not been motivational at all. Without specifics to guide us, nobody round my way's interested.

When the GAOTG email came round at work, most people concentrated on the interactive map, and played with that, not realising there might be anything better hidden elsewhere. And the interactive map told them not to worry. Stations with issues are marked on the map by orange or red circles, with red meaning "exceptionally busy" and orange meaning "busier than usual". One of the main stations nearest work doesn't have a red or orange circle, not even if you move the timeline slider all the way across the top of the map, so everyone interpreted this as "it's OK, it won't be busy here, not ever". And that was it, they drifted off, opportunity lost.

Hidden in the smallprint at GAOTG is the news that the website shows only the "first round of information", and that "these are not all the stations that will be affected." We're promised more detail on National Rail services and stations, and additional information about DLR, London Overground and Underground stations. The slider at the top of the map will one day stretch back into the Torch Relay and ahead into the Paralympics, both of which were promised "soon" when the site was launched in January. But not yet. Olympic transport planners must have worked out by now that (for example) Wembley Park, Russell Square and Stratford International will be "busier than usual" during the Games, but for some reason the map's holding back on telling us this.

Expect a GAOTG website update soon, because back on 21st February they promised more information "over the next two months". But I fear they might find Londoners less than willing to notice. My work colleagues have all decided there isn't a problem, because there wasn't when they looked, and they'll only look once. GAOTG's initial poster campaign has encouraged us all to visit a website which doesn't yet reveal the full picture, so has probably lulled several commuters into a false sense of normality. We'll all notice eventually, I'm sure, but any assumption that Londoners might dutifully rearrange their summer has thus far proved wildly optimistic.

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