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Thursday, September 13, 2012

How the Tube Network Coped with the Olympics

On Tuesday evening, a
lecture was held at UCL to look at how the various transport networks coped during the Olympics. The talk was arranged before the Olympics, when there was still a lot of doom and gloom so there was a risk it would be a wake for the service - but who knew that wouldn't be needed.


As was pointed out, in fact that lack of total collapse of the network means that Londoners may look at how the network performed in a nearly flawless manner during the Olympics might then wonder why it isn't always like that. Of course, part of that was thanks to the total suspension of all road works and weekend engineering closures on the railways - which sadly have to return.

Transport for London naturally collects an awful lot of information about people moving around the city, and some of that is made available under controlled conditions to researchers at UCL.

However, what was the impact of the past year worth of warnings that the tube network would be hideously overloaded? Based on what is still very preliminary analysis, of those Oyster card users considered to be regular commuters, some 87% did not change their journey.

The impact was considerably greater though amongst the occasional travellers - with around half adjusting their trips in some way.



One of the difficulties of the Oyster card system is that it records the entry and exit points, so if people altered when they travel, then that shows up - but if they catch trains at the usual time, but change the route they take once on the network, that would not appear in the data.

There is also the impact of Olympic ticket holders, who were also given a magnetic card based train ticket. For example, I went to the Olympics, and also traveled around a bit on my paper ticket - so my occasional Oyster use seems lower than it was in fact.

It's worth looking at those numbers again though - 13% of regular commuters and about half of occasional travellers adjusting their travel. Put another way, that released capacity on the Underground equivalent to an entire Crossrail project.

Yes, Crossrail arrived this summer - or at least a simulation of it. And that was despite the network carrying more passengers than normal for this time of year. Which shows just how significant encouraging working from home occasionally or traveling a bit earlier in the morning could have if maintained long term.

In the recent TfL board minutes, it was noted that West End Tube station demand during the Olympic Games was up by an average of seven per cent compared with 2011, with a peak uplift of 27 percent on the afternoon of Saturday 4 August.

During the Olympic Games, over 62 million journeys were made on the Tube -- up 35 per cent on normal levels. Tuesday, 7 August was the busiest day in the Tube’s history, with 4.57 million passengers, while Sunday 5 August saw 78 per cent more passengers than a normal Sunday last year.

Back at the UCL lecture, some frankly slightly confusing graphs were shown with more detailed analysis of the passenger traffic volumes on a per-day basis, but one was quite funny.

The sheer size of the TV audience for the Opening Ceremony had an impact on public transport with people staying in pubs or at home to watch it. But once the theatrics were over, and the athletes started the long parade around the stadium, traffic on the tube started to rise before dropping as journeys finished - then spiked back up again at the end of the Opening Ceremony.



It seems the athletes parade really wasn't that interesting. Need to persuade the National Grid to release details of the kettle surge on the electricity demand!

There was a lot more at the talk about other transport networks, and TfL will be publishing its own medium-term analysis on the Olympics in December, with a more in-depth report due next year.

UCL video their lectures, and you will be able to see the whole lecture on their YouTube channel shortly.




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