I’ve just started to notice posters on the Underground advertising something called ‘Get Ahead Of The Games,’ a website whose purpose is to advise us local yokels how to cope in a few weeks when the world and its extended family descends on London for the Olympic Games. I’m not going to quote directly from this website because it’s hard to know at the moment quite what will bring down the wrath of LOCOG and the ODA, but you can explore it yourselves here.
‘Get Ahead Of The Games’ is a crafty title. It has connotations of getting one over on the inevitable disruption the Olympics will cause, of being smarter, faster, brighter than those who are coming to London. But really it should be called ‘Get Out Of The Way Of The Games,’ because that’s what we’re being asked – and told, in some cases – to do.
The organisers of the London Games have taken note of the traffic chaos which attended the Atlanta Games, and they have designated some thirty miles of ‘Games Lanes’ on roads in and around the Capital. These will be for athletes and Olympic officials to travel between venues without getting snarled up in traffic jams. Londoners – those mad enough to drive in Central London, anyway – will have to cope with reduced lanes and the resulting traffic difficulties. And anyone not driving an official Olympic vehicle who uses a Games Lane faces a fine of up to £130.
Obviously, London is not going to shut down for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics. This is a working city and it will have to keep working. But anyone who has ever experienced Rush Hour on the Underground during the Summer could tell you that the transport system is going to creak, at the very least. So how will it cope with the extra passengers? By us getting out of the way.
I can’t remember who in authority made this suggestion, but last year someone advised Londoners to ‘stay a little later,’ and ‘have a beer after work’ in order to ease the burden on public transport. It was said with the typically blokeish, friendly tone governments seem to adopt when talking down to the electorate. The website advises businesses to ask employees to work from home, or to have ‘compressed weeks’ – five days’ work compressed into four longer days – and to walk or cycle to meetings. Get out of the way, in other words. The website is full of amusement like this.
To be honest, there was never going to be an easy way to stage the Olympics here. The majority of events will be taking place in and around London, and I’ve seen one estimate which puts the number of people visiting the Capital for the Games at around 11 million. Greater London has an estimated population of about eight and a half million, according to Wiki. So it’s obvious that some kind of plan and some kind of concessions need to be made. But I do get a sense of being swept aside for the duration, of being told to get out of the way. And to be honest, if that’s the best the Olympic organisers can come up with, I find it a bit annoying.
Back in 2010, a note summarising, among other things, the funding package that would use public money to finance some of the costs of the preparation for the Games was placed in the Library of the House of Commons. One paragraph runs thus:
‘The budget is to be financed by the National Lottery (£2.2bn), GLA Olympic council tax precept (£0.6bn), other London (£0.3bn) and Central Government (£6.2bn).’ (my italics)
Those figures have probably changed since 2010, but it gives you some idea where some of the money’s coming from. The Lottery. Council Tax from the Greater London Authority. The message to Londoners seems to be ‘pay up, and then stay out of the way.’