Jim Pickard Minister raises prospect of transport gridlock during London Olympics

Business leaders in London should let staff work from home or travel outside rush hour to prevent gridlock during the Olympic Games, the government has urged.

Shifting to flexible working would be essential while the Underground, roads and trains contended with the weight of tourist numbers flooding into the capital, said Norman Baker, transport minister. More than 8m tickets are being sold for the 2012 event.

We are going to have a gigantic influx of people all wanting to travel to see events and it is simply not possible for everything to keep running if everyone carries on as normal,” said Mr Baker. “You have got to work differently to do this.”
A third of large companies already plan to allow staff to work flexibly during the games, according to a recent survey from Deloitte.

With just over a year to go before the event, Mr Baker is trying to spread the message that getting companies to cut their transport use could have beneficial effects beyond the Olympics.

Not only would it cut carbon emissions but also support the economy by easing congestion, he said, explaining that sometimes his brief as transport minister meant asking people not to travel.

Describing rush hour as an “insane concept”, he said: “It is crazy that we all travel on the same train on the same day at the same time. We should be able to spread the peak across different times.”

The transport department plans to set an example during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by letting many staff work at home or in offices nearer where they live.

The minister outlined an ideal scenario where a worker could travel outside the rush hour. “Perhaps starting their day at home, workers could delay travel to the office until mid-morning, when journey times are likely to be reduced, and work from the office only when necessary before leaving at a convenient time.”

Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, the business group, said negotiations on ways to ease the pressure on the transport system had already begun. “The next few months are  . . . arguably make or break, as businesses put their contingency plans in place for 2012,” she told me.

Mr Baker has launched a review with business leaders to explore ways to cut commuting and business trips in general. This could involve video conferences or other broadband web technologies, he said.

He launched his initiative at the UK headquarters of Microsoft, which has cut staff travel by 21 per cent over three years by using technology.