Olympics journey fails to thrill

When Lloyds TSB wrote the 80m cheque entitling it to be officially associated with the London 2012 Olympics, it could not have known just how topical its idea of a journey would turn out to be.

When Lloyds TSB wrote the £80m cheque entitling it to be officially associated with the London 2012 Olympics, it could not have known just how topical its idea of a “journey” would turn out to be.

What Lloyds, and its agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, had in mind was the symmetry between its advertising slogan “For the journey” and the more metaphorical association with the athletes’ journey, and indeed London’s, journey to the Olympics. It’s all about rejuvenation, apparently: passing the baton from one generation to another.

What they may have been less aware of at the time is that the “journey” idea was also proving an inspiration to Tessa Jowell, the grandiloquently named Olympics minister. Jowell, too, shares the vision of slick, TGV-standard railway carriages – as featured in the ads – effortlessly conveying passengers of all ages and classes to their destination. Except her vision is a lot more literal, indeed alarmingly so.

For Jowell and her advisers have decided that what we all need (and – who knows? – maybe it will help the nation combat obesity en route) is a carless Olympics. The Olympics transport plan, published this week, unwraps a strategy that will encourage “100 per cent of spectators to travel to the games by public transport, walking and cycling.” True, Olympic planners have denied they are doing away with cars entirely, but it’s the decision to scrap two jumbo park-and-ride sites destined for the M25 and M11 that gives the game away.

The Dome revisited?
Yep, this is Dome Mark II coming up, in which politicians will once again demonstrate their ability to meddle their way to disaster. Olympic idealism and naked commercialism have always been combustible bedfellows but their compatibility seems likely to be strained still further by an superfluous agenda of social and political engineering being interwoven into the event.

Of course, cars won’t be totally off the menu. Apparently 50,000 athletes and senior Olympics officials will have access to a fleet of 3,500 vehicles to ferry them via specially dedicated lanes across already congested London. The rest of us, it seems, will have to make do with push bikes, shanks’ pony and our creaking bus and Underground system.

Yet, let’s be fair: this transport plan has many laudable aims. Rickety transport infrastructure and a corrosive media were cited as two of the principal objections to London being awarded the Olympics; the Government would be foolish not to tackle at least one of these with some constructive counter-measures.

More haste, less speed
But is this the way to do it? It’s all very well Jowell opining that “transport was a strength of our bid” (it had to be, given that transport infrastructure is one of our outstanding flaws as a host country), but there’ll be serious trouble if the plan about to be implemented is overly prescriptive, overly ambitious and fails to carry public support into the bargain.

True, there is the high speed rail link from Folkestone to St Pancras to boast about. By great good fortune this was under construction anyway (so requires little extra funding) as a commuter rail service to London which will run from late 2009 onwards. Boost the capacity of the new East End station at Stratford, enhance the shuttle services for the occasion of the Olympics and at least one element of the transport problem is solved. But what of the others?

With up to 800,000 people expected to visit all Olympic venues on the busiest days, this will be a challenge for conventional bus and train services even if, like the docklands light railway, they are put on steroids for the occasion. Suggesting people might be better off cycling or walking may have the virtue of being truthful but it is not a message that is calculated to appeal.

Let’s hope for Lloyds’ sake that the journey turns out to be a smooth one after all.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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