Outside the sporting arenas, this Olympics so far has been about empty seats, empty trains and empty shops. Oxford Street and Covent Garden have seen trade down, with many blaming TfL’s warnings about staying out of London during the Games.
Co-incidentally or not, the Mayor’s “hi folks” messages officially stopped blaring out yesterday (though we’ve seen reports of them still playing on a number of buses). Anecdote suggests shoppers are returning and the Guardian’s attempt to get into normally sold-out venues didn’t go well.
Over in Greenwich, where equestrian spectators were being over-eagerly shepherded direct to Greenwich Park – straight past shops and restaurants – the barriers are coming down. Less fortunate are traders at a food market in Leyton, who paid £13,500 for a pitch after being promised thousands of passers-by, only to find Games-goers told to use other stations. The owner of two food stalls at London Pleasure Gardens is in a similar situation: he was told to expect 35,000 visitors per day, but the site is struggling to attract people from the nearby ExCel centre.
When it hasn’t broken down, public transport has coped admirably; perhaps helped by people staggering their journeys. But again, anecdote suggests people are starting to creep back to normal, perhaps believing the warnings were all hype. At this rate, we’ll all be travelling in at rush hour just as the athletics starts on Friday – which means three Olympic stadiums worth of people on their way to and from Stratford each day. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps TfL’s warnings (and this week’s media response) could have been more nuanced?