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From London 2012 to Paris 2024: The Evolution of Olympic Public Transport

The 2012 London Olympics are well-remembered for the immense speculation that it would be the first proper public transport games, where buses, trains, walking, and cycling would be the preferred modes of transport to ensure that athletes, officials, and spectators would all arrive on time and in good order, and, equally important, get home safe and sound. On the first day of the Olympics, the chimes of Big Ben were heard welcoming the army of spectators and fans as they arrived in central London on trains, ships, and planes from around the world.

Sir Peter Hendy, the then Commissioner for Transport for London, and his vastly experienced team spent years planning the event, not only in London but across all the venues that hosted events across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. The sailing competitions in Portland in Dorchester on the south coast of England were particularly noteworthy. Attendees could drive to the excellent First Bus park and ride site, where parking was free, and it was also free to catch the brand-new buses supplied along with hand-picked staff who had volunteered specifically for the Olympics. It was interesting because many people who used the park and ride had not used buses since they attended school. This was the point; the public transport games were designed to appeal to those car users who would not have dreamed of using buses unless either encouraged or forced into using the alternatives. One memorable instance involved an athlete who won a gold medal for fencing from somewhere in South America, who caught the tube back to his hotel proudly wearing his medal and taking selfies with everyday Londoners who were going backwards and forwards to work.

The legacy of the London Olympics has not been forgotten and should not be underestimated. Of course, COVID scuppered audience engagement at the Japanese games, but it is very different now, and it will be very interesting to see how this year’s Paris spectacle will embrace the concept of public transport. As you might expect, the French will do things somewhat differently, and as they like to say, “Vive La Difference.” To be quite honest, you could not get a greater difference between London and Paris as what the Parisian public transport authority has recently announced is that they are going to increase the price of a Metro ticket by a staggering 85%. In addition, they are going to double the price of bus tickets specifically during the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The price for a single journey on the Metro will go up from €2.50 to €4, while a ticket for a city bus will jump from €2.50 to €5 from end of July, just a few days before the games start, and continue until September 8th. The French trade unions have expressed their displeasure, saying that they had not been consulted and knew nothing about it all until it was announced. A spokesman said, “For us, the ticket price does not correspond to our idea of a public service, and for such a global event, it comes across as a bit of a racket.”

The logic behind the high price increase is to encourage the local Parisians to buy the local pass where the price has not been increased. Apparently, 4 million people use the public transport network, and the idea is to encourage as many as possible to buy the pass. So far, some 430,000 have bought the pass, so as it stands, they only need to convince another 3,570,000 to purchase the pass. The authority has established a website for the locals so they can plan for the games. This includes details of all roads and public transport, showing which routes and lines will be affected. Three central Metro stations, Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau, Concorde, and Tuileries, will all be closed before the games. In addition, during the games, 185 km of road lanes around Paris will be reserved for vehicles carrying Olympic athletes, journalists, and officials.

As the clock ticks down to the games, now just a few days away, there is great anticipation to see how the French Olympic games will pan out. It is expected to be a fantastic event, with records broken and heroic stories to enjoy. However, it is also hoped that the logistics can deliver so that everything goes smoothly and seamlessly. As always, time will tell.

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