Employees getting to work on time as city grapples with an extra three million riders per day on public transportation
LONDON, U.K. (Reuters) — Britain's much maligned public transport system coped with an unusually quiet early rush hour on the first full working day of the Olympics on Monday, winning an early gold for carrying one million spectators smoothly through Europe's busiest commute.
Travellers said buses and trains were working surprisingly smoothly with a few hiccups, confounding dire forecasts of a transport meltdown in a city once notorious for slow trains, late buses and incoherent delay announcements.
London's transport bosses expect an extra three million journeys per day during the Games on top of the usual 12 million, an Olympian test for an underground train network that first opened in 1863 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
"I've noticed how easy it has been to travel. With the influx of one million people for the Games, it's made me wonder, where are they?" Paul Richardson, a 37-year-old photographer, told Reuters at London Bridge, which the authorities had warned commuters to avoid.
Saying their breezy, delay-free journeys seemed too good to be true, some travellers said they would reserve judgment on whether the transport system should get a medal until it coped with several days of Olympic rush hours, including the evening crunch.
The capital's higgledy-piggledy public transport system has been a target of scorn among Londoners and employers who complain that the jumble of grimy buses and delayed trains damages London's reputation as one of the world's premier cities.
But in interviews with Reuters correspondents across London, commuters said the early morning rush hour had gone unusually well: empty trains and serene bus journeys replaced the usually cramped and sweaty crush that is the daily fare of London life.
"The trains were all excellent today, we had no troubles," Hugo Brown from Ely in Cambridge, who travelled to the Olympics to support Britain's Paul Drinkhall in the table tennis competition, said.
"It's probably better than I expected. We had given ourselves extra time to get here and we've actually gotten here in less time than expected," he added.
Commuters said trains and buses appeared exceptionally quiet, indicating that some travellers may be altering their journeys because of fears of delays or simply dusting down their bicycles or walking boots. Some Londoners took vacations, worked from home or just took the day off.
London Transport and the city's mayor have conducted a campaign for weeks urging commuters to vary their journeys, take alternative routes or use a bicycle.
Some Londoners, indeed, appeared to have opted to cycle to the office: In otherwise quiet streets, swarms of cyclists in luminous yellow jackets formed at every traffic light while bike sheds in the City of London were fuller than usual.
"It's nothing like they warned it would be, they said we'd have to queue 30 minutes just to get on the Tube but I ended up getting to work an hour early," said Letizia, an Italian living in London, at London Bridge station.
Chris Round, 23, from Boston, Massachusetts, who had travelled on the London underground and the Docklands Light Railway to watch the judo praised his journey.
"Nice and easy, it was real easy to get to. We just got on the first train that came. It was kinda crowded but it wasn't bad though," he said.
Fears of meltdown
Such were the fears of a meltdown during the Olympics, that the bosses of the London transport system set up a special web page, www.GetAheadoftheGames.com, which warned Londoners to avoid busy stations.
"So far this morning the public transport system and London's roads are working well as commuters travel to work and spectators travel to the Olympic venues," said a spokeswoman for Transport for London, which runs the system.
The spokeswoman, who appeared unusually happy to be giving positive quotes instead of trying to explain the latest mishap, added that the rest of the week would be extremely busy.
"It's actually been quieter — I manage 30 engineers across London so I've been anxious to see how they'll cope," said Feehan Casey, an operations manager at Bank station in the City of London.
"But none of them have had any problems, I think it's going to be worse near London Bridge and busier generally in the afternoon but apart from that fine because everyone gets in so early."