London wins early "gold" for slick rush hour
LONDON (Reuters) - London's much criticized public transport system, the busiest in Europe, won early gold for easily carrying a million spectators through an unusually quiet early rush hour on the first full working day of the Olympics on Monday.
Travelers said buses and trains were working surprisingly smoothly with only 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 3 million journeys per day during the Games on top of the usual 12 million, an Olympian test for an underground train network whose infrastructure in parts dates back to 1863.
"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.
As the voice of London mayor Boris Johnson boomed through the station with a pre-recorded message warning of delays, rush hour regulars all praised the slickness of their commute.
"They've done a good job. The journey has been very straightforward and even the sun is shining," said Michael Taylor, a commuter at the station.
Even Prime Minister David Cameron left his official armored Jaguar cars at home on Monday, taking the underground to check the travel situation with his own eyes.
Some travelers did say they would reserve judgment until they saw how the system coped with several days of Olympic rush hours, including the evening crunch.
The capital's higgledy-piggledy public transport system is often berated by 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But commuters all across London reported that the cramped and sweaty crush that is the daily fare of London life had been replaced by near-empty trains and serene bus journeys.
FASTER THAN EXPECTED
"The trains were all excellent today, we had no trouble," said Hugo Brown from Ely in Cambridge, who travelled to the Olympics to support British table tennis player Paul Drinkhall.
"We had given ourselves extra time to get here and we've actually gotten here in less time than expected."
The fact that trains and buses appeared exceptionally quiet suggested that some travelers might be following different routes or dusting down their bicycles or walking boots, as authorities and the mayor have been urging for weeks. Some took vacations, worked from home or just took the day off.
Bike sheds in the City of London financial district were fuller than usual, and there were swarms of cyclists in luminous yellow tops at many junctions.
"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, took the Underground and Docklands Light Railway to watch the judo.
"It was real easy to get to," he said. We just got on the first train that came. It was kinda crowded but it wasn't bad."
Such were the fears of a meltdown that the bosses of the transport system set up a web page, www.GetAheadoftheGames.com, which warned Londoners to avoid busy stations.
"The traffic in London has not - touch wood - been badly affected by the Games, or certainly not as badly as some people were predicting," Mayor Johnson wrote in a column in the Daily Telegraph about why people should feel cheerful about the Games.
"The Tube has performed pretty well so far," he said. "Buses are running more or less to time."
Johnson said the authorities were frequently allowing drivers to use special Games lanes.
A spokeswoman for Transport for London said the transport system was working well for spectators and commuters alike, appearing unusually happy to be giving positive quotes instead of trying to explain the latest mishap.
(Additional reporting by Reuters staff in London; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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