Olympic Feat: How First ‘Public Transport’ Games Couldn’t Do Without Parking By Glenn Kurtz
True to the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.”
When the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) published the first edition of its transportation plan in 2007, it billed the London Olympics as the first “public transport” Games, meaning no parking, other than for a few VIPs.
“The aim,” the ODA plan described, “is for 100 percent of ticketed spectators to travel to the Games by public transport, or by walking
London prepared for the crush of transit users by launching the “Big Build,” which increased the system’s capacity with longer train platforms, longer trains and the extension of key lines. As Executive Vice President of Alternative Transportation for Lanier Parking Solutions, I appreciated the organizers’ laudable goal.
But less than a year from the start of the Games, organizers realized 100% compliance simply wasn’t realistic. They needed to add park-and-ride lots.
LOCOG, the London Olympics organizing committee, wouldn’t touch it. So, the ODA hired James Campbell of the U.S.-based event management company Sparrowhawk Inc. to devise a quick solution.
The result was a network of nearly two dozen park-and-ride lots strategically placed near each venue. Spectators would park in grassy fields and board double-decker buses to reach the events.
Based on Lanier’ experience in managing parking and transportation at the Vancouver and Salt Lake City Olympics, Sparrowhawk hired me to visit each lot on the day of the respective events and advise on operations.
For the first six days of the games, each day was an opening day for a venue and the park-and-ride lot serving it. This was a nerve-wracking experience, since we could make only an educated guess based on available data about how many cars would show up.
The main way of predicting park-and-ride traffic for each opening day was information the ODA gleaned from online sales. If 20% of spectators had purchased a parking pass online when they bought their event tickets, we could set an absolute minimum to expect.
The wildcard was the so-called “mode split,” or how many spectators who didn’t buy a pass would use transit, and how many would show up at the lots as “pay on the day” parkers. Every day was like the Super Bowl, with 70,000 spectators converging by means about which we could only make an educated guess.
The pleasant surprise was that the mode split leaned more heavily than expected toward transit. The subway was so popular, even the Team USA men’s basketball team was spotted riding the London Underground after a game. The park-and-ride lots filled to only 60-70% capacity – a manageable number, but still plenty to justify the lots.
Culture of Planning
The final challenge was how to make last-minute logistical adjustments at the lots, especially since British culture demands detailed planning and strict adherence to the plan. At every park-and-ride lot, a Health and Safety inspector – an independent agent required by British law – was keenly observing operations to ensure that they were according to the written plan.
At one lot, when we realized patrons were crossing on foot in front of buses to get to their cars, we knew we had to adjust. That required a consultation with the Health and Safety inspector so that he could study, consider and approve the change.
A tweak that might have taken minutes in the U.S. took more than an hour. That said, I suspect the culture of plan discipline is the main reason the London Summer Olympics ran so smoothly.
Communication Is Key
Technology also played a key role in moving spectators about the densely packed cities and expansive, rolling hills. A transportation nerve center displayed the view from dozens of cameras placed at pressure points around the city.
Spectators who bought parking online were notified by text about trouble spots.
They could even sign up for alerts specific to their event.
In the case of an Equestrian event, for example, the park-and-ride lot was by necessity about 90 minutes from the venue. Patrons were assigned shuttle buses, and if they missed them, they were stranded many miles from their cars.
To minimize this risk, patrons were signed up for text alerts, and when one of the Equestrian events ran an hour long, everyone received a text message that the buses would wait for them. That freed them from having to exit the event before it was over.
One thing we’ve learned from customer relations is that communication is the key
When all was said and done, parking was a vital component of the 2012 London Summer Games’ transportation plan, but a manageable component, thanks to a plan built largely on transit, with just enough flexibility to accommodate thousands of cars without offending Britain’s culture of planning discipline.
Glenn Kurtz is Executive VP of Alternative Transportation for Lanier Parking Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org