London 2012: Traffic jams on the roads, train problems underground, and aÂ fancy cable car frozen in the air.
Wednesday saw an uncertain test of the British capital’s Olympic transportÂ plan, as lanes reserved for Olympic VIPs came into force two days before theÂ start of the games and the city’s creaky subway system struggled withÂ glitches.
Traffic jams blocked some of the main routes into the city as the wildlyÂ unpopular “Games Lanes” took effect. The 30 miles (48 kilometers) of lanes areÂ to operate from 6 a.m. to midnight throughout the games, and cars or taxi cabsÂ that stray into them face a 130-pound ($200) fine.
Thousands of London drivers have switched to public transport, only toÂ encounter severe delays on several underground subway lines caused by powerÂ supply problems and signal failures. Severe delays were reported Wednesday onÂ the city’s Central and Hammersmith subway lines with ripple delays affectingÂ other lines.
Even London’s new river-crossing cable car –Â opened last monthÂ –Â hit aÂ problem, with a technical fault stranding passengers above the River Thames forÂ roughly half an hour.
British officialsÂ –Â who have been advising Londoners for weeks to planÂ ahead, allow extra time for travel or just stay homeÂ –Â advised a stiff upperÂ lip.
“There will be a lot of disruption and London is a congested city anyway,”Â Transport Secretary Justine Greening told BBC television.
As a host city, London is as cosmopolitan as they come, but transport is itsÂ weak spot: Traffic often clogs up on its narrow, historic roads, bus schedulesÂ can change at a moment’s notice, and the famous Underground suffers from dailyÂ delays and infrastructure that in parts is more than a century old.
For a city of its size, London has surprisingly few highways or wideÂ thoroughfares, which means that most roads have multiple traffic lights andÂ pedestrian crossings. Olympics organizers have repeatedly urged people to avoidÂ driving their cars, to walk and bike ride around, and for spectators to go toÂ events using public transport.
“Drivers do have somewhere to go, but it’s been a bit confusing,” said PaulÂ Watters, head of road policy at the British Automobile Association. “We knowÂ it’s going to be tricky and difficult, and it’s bound to be full of teethingÂ problems. We’re almost there now so hopefully it will be better.”
Critics argue that the Olympic VIP road lanesÂ –Â open only to athletes,Â officials, journalists, emergency services and games marketing partnersÂ –Â areÂ elitist and make life difficult for everyone else. Britain relies on trafficÂ cameras to spot infractions, so many people won’t know they’ve been ticketedÂ till the bad news arrives in the mail.
To make things even more confusing, the lanes will be open to regular driversÂ if Olympic traffic is light, with the information displayed on electronicÂ signs.
The International Olympic Committee had specifically demanded the lanes beÂ created after learning lessons from previous gamesÂ –Â one of the worst beingÂ Atlanta in 1996, where bus drivers got lost and some athletes arrived momentsÂ before their events.
In London, some of the loudest opposition to the Olympic VIP lanes has comeÂ from the city’s cabbies, who have staged two recent demonstrations that broughtÂ central London traffic to a standstill. They say being banned from Olympic lanesÂ jeopardizes their business by creating much longerÂ –Â and costlierÂ –Â cabÂ rides for customers.
“We’re not going to be able to drop passengers where they want to go,” saidÂ Lee Osborne of the United Cabbies Group, which protested with about 50 cabs atÂ Tower Bridge on Tuesday. “Traffic in London is pretty bad as it is, and nowÂ passengers are going to suffer with the meter just ticking away.”
But cabbies called off a planned protest Wednesday, saying in a statementÂ that “we don’t want to make a bad situation worse.”
There was good news for London-bound travelers, however, when a union calledÂ off a pre-Olympics strike by immigration staff at London’s Heathrow Airport. TheÂ 24-hour-long walkout had been planned for Thursday, the day before the games’Â opening ceremonyÂ –Â potentially snarling incoming traffic on one of the busiestÂ days at Europe’s busiest airport.
London’s Tube network is the most popular way to get across town, but itÂ groans with ageÂ –Â its first line, the Metropolitan, opened in 1863. Today,Â that line still runs alongside more than a dozen others in a half-modernizedÂ system that handles up to 4 million trips a day.
London’s entire transit network handles an average of 12 million trips a dayÂ –Â and officials are expecting up to 3 million extra journeys each day duringÂ the Olympics.
In all, the British government has injected 6.5 billion pounds ($10 billion)Â to upgrade the transport network for the games. Whether that is enough is stillÂ an open question.
“It can’t even cope in normal times, all it takes is one problem and theÂ whole system gets paralyzed,” said Tony Shelton, an accountant who was ridingÂ the Northern line. His journey was only slightly delayed but he said: “I’llÂ probably avoid coming into town.”
Source: Fox News