The influx of visitors set to hit London for the Olympics have raised concerns the transport system cannot handle the extra weight. Airport delays, strikes and congestion could see London grind to a halt as 5 million visitors overload the city.
Traffic on London’s central transport routes is expected to go up by 30 per cent during the Games, making the city’s infrastructure one of the biggest risks to the Olympics’ smooth running.
“There are huge problems with the transport infrastructure in London as anybody who’s visited the city will realize,” said Simon Calder, a travel journalist for The Independent to RT. He added the system has an outmoded infrastructure “in terms of airports, railways and the metro system” and is out of sync with the rest of Europe.
During London’s Olympic bid the transport system was the element that scored most poorly with the IOC, but it was thought that the city would have time to modernize its infrastructure ahead of the Games. However, the threat of a strike from London bus drivers could bring the city to a halt.
Over 20,000 bus drivers across the city are currently voting on whether or not to take strike action during the Olympics. Bus drivers have appealed to London’s transport office for a 500-pound ($790) pay rise during the games to cope with the “massive increase” in workload.
“If London’s buses do come to stand-still because of strike action that our members will have been forced into this city will come to be gridlocked; nothing will move. People won’t get to the games: the athletes, the journalist, the coaches and the spectators won’t even get near that Olympic park,” Peter Kavanagh from Unite Union told RT.
Over 800,000 extra passengers are expected to use London buses while the Games are on.
Transport for London (TfL) has denied the request on the basis that bus drivers are employed by a number of different firms that set their rate of pay.
Both train and Underground workers will be receiving hundreds of pounds of bonus pay during the Olympics.
If the strike does come into force it will put massive strain on London’s other transport services, forces 6 million people to squeeze on to the London Underground.
It is not only London’s inner-city services that have drawn critics’ ire ahead of the Olympic Games, but also the UK capital’s infamous airports. Passengers have been warned to expect to wait up to three hours to get through Heathrow Airport’s terminals.
Heathrow will serve as the main gateway for visitors of the summer games.
Hundreds of Olympic athletes are being forced to travel from London’s smaller Stansted Airport because Heathrow cannot cope. Major teams such as Australia, China and Canada have booked chartered flights from the North London airport after the closing ceremony.
Immigration Minister Damian Green told a parliamentary committee that passengers would potentially be delayed for longer if their plane arrives 10 minutes later than scheduled. He put this down to “the wind.”
"That will depend on the wind, over which, with the best will in the world, airlines and the Border Force don't have control," he said.
In an attempt to curtail an imminent airport gridlock UK ministers have hired hundreds of extra workers to deal with the influx of passengers. Even so, the outlook for London’s overloaded airports is less the optimistic.
“We are confident that our plans are robust, but… it is an exceptional period and there will be some disruption," said a spokesperson for PM David Cameron.
In spite of significant investment and ample preparation time London’s transport system could cause a real upset during the July games, a potential source of embarrassment for the Games’ organizers.