London mayor tells VIPs to take train at Olympics
LONDON (Reuters) - London Mayor Boris Johnson urged Olympic dignitaries Monday to take public transport during this summer's Games rather than chauffeur-driven limousines on specially designated lanes, to help avoid raising the ire of log-jammed Britons.
The Olympic Route Network (ORN), introduced after some athletes failed to arrive for their events in Atlanta 1996, is shaping up as one of the biggest irritants to Londoners who already have to endure long delays on the capital's narrow streets.
Londoners have also been warned they face queues of up to 30 minutes on the underground rail network at certain "hotspots" during peak times.
"I urge them (members of the International Olympic Committee) to do the sensible thing, do the right thing, get on the Jubilee Line. They'll love it," said Johnson, a keen cyclist who faces a re-election battle in May.
Transport officials, confident the system will cope with the expected additional three million journeys on peak days, launched a "Get Ahead of the Games" campaign Monday to raise awareness among the public about potential overcrowding and to help plan journeys.
A website (www.getaheadofthegames.com) and Twitter will provide up-to-date information and tips on how to dodge congested areas.
One piece of advice was for commuters to delay their journeys home at peak hours by lingering in a pub for a beer.
"You don't need to sit under the kitchen table with a tin hat on, with tins of baked beans for six weeks, you can go around the City and have a fantastic time," said London's Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy.
But the launch came on the same day workers on London's Underground rail network turned down an improved Olympic bonus offer, raising fears services could be disrupted.
Transport for London (TfL) has already liaised with big business on how they can prepare and adapt for the Games, such as encouraging staff to work from home or change their hours, use teleconferencing, take holidays, and adjust delivery patterns.
But one delegate representing Britain's beer and pubs quizzed transport officials at the presentation about deliveries and drinking hours.
Officials say the special routes network is vital for getting athletes to the stadiums on time.
Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of Britain's most successful Paralympians, told reporters it took her 30 minutes to stop a bus driver in Atlanta from going the wrong way.
About 82,000 athletes, officials, media, sponsors and VIPs, will use the 109-mile ORN, which will also be open to general traffic except in certain areas. A third of the network will be made up of the more restrictive Games Lanes with fines for those who breach the painted lines.
Transport officials said sports fans and commuters will benefit from a 6.5 billion pound transport investment program, including an upgrade to Stratford station, the main gateway to the Olympic Park in east London.
Train capacity on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), one of the main routes into Stratford, has been increased by 50 percent, while frequency and reliability had been improved on other key routes, officials said.
Underground trains will run an hour later than usual during the Games while 200 more buses will be running and more pay-and-ride bikes will be available for hire.
"I think when it's over and we look back at all the issues around the Olympic Games, we will look back with some of the paranoia about the ORN as we do now in 2012 when we think back at the paranoia surrounding the millennium bug in 2000," Johnson said.
(Reporting by Avril Ormsby)