The Guardian's Comment is Free asked me to write a piece on the London Olympics & what it meant to me. Anyone who's read my blog for more than five minutes will know that I'm not even slightly sporty and am not remotely looking forward to the Olympics. The best thing that's come out of it in my opinion, is the fact that we've now got WiFi on the London Underground. What had fascinated me most about the Olympics is TfL's keeness keep people off the transport system. With the exception of Thames Water (during our recent 'drought'), it's rare that you'll find an organisation spending advertising money to encourage you to use less of a service!
In my opinion having a public address system with Johnson's enthusiastic and excitable tones on permanent loop will do much to keep many Londoners off the Tube. It's probably TfL's secret weapon.
Since November 2010 TfL and the Olympic Delivery Committee have been urging us not to use the tube during the Olympics – with the dire prediction that on the busiest days there would be an extra 3m journeys on the transport network, with a 30-minute wait to get on a Tube train.
Fast forward two years and the reality of this "don't use our service" policy is in full force. There's a multitude of TfL posters encouraging us to work at home, get on a bike, walk, pole vault, travel on the roofs of cars, do anything but use the public transport system. We're being handed maps at mainline stations with "handy" walking distances to various locations. "Walking is a great way to soak up the Games atmosphere and experience what is happening in and around the city", the map helpfully advises. It might also be a great way to soak up the rain and a lot of sweat.
In May 2012 TfL even turned to "gamification" to try to keep us off public transport. They teamed up with a company to produce Re:Route where walkers and cyclists earn points and money off products the more they walked or cycled. Although it appears that even cycling part of your journey might not be an option any more, as bicycles aren't allowed on the London Overground, Southeastern, Southern, Gatwick Connect and Heathrow Express services during the Games period. Also if you cycle in or even stop your bike in the Games Lanes you'll be subject to a £130 fine.
Now with just a few weeks until the Olympics start come the transport rehearsals. "Simulated queuing" and other "passenger diversions" took place earlier this week as we were asked to test the transport system. Staff in fluorescent jackets were at major London stations waving passengers, who normally knew where they were going, through one-way systems and weird bottlenecks. This was putting our Olympic queuing skills to the ultimate test. Upbeat internal emails have been sent out by TfL inviting staff to take part in a "tube crush test", just to see how many people can physically be packed into a Central Line train.
TfL is doing as much as it can to remind us that travelling on public transport during the Olympics is going to be far from pleasant, so why not just avoid it. Will this policy have a longer term legacy on London's transport? Will we discover that we can potentially live without it (& those pesky strike threats)? Will teleworking increase, when employers discover that their staff can start work earlier & get a lot more done by working at home in their curlers without being stuck on a Tube? Who knows?