Members of the Australian team on Monday night told how their bus journey from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic Village turned into a 3½-hour marathon, accidentally taking them past a series of central-London landmarks before getting lost in West Ham.
The Australians, among the first wave of the 16,500 athletes due to compete at the Olympic Games to arrive in London, had hoped for a speedy transfer from the airport to the athletes’ accommodation, which opened on Monday.
In what could have been a script for the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve, the bus driver containing the Australian contingent of 30 officials and medical staff took his passengers past Buckingham Palace and the back streets of West Ham.
But the bus driver hired by London Olympic organizers had not driven or been shown the route before, and could not operate the GPS navigation system fitted in the vehicle.
The result was a journey which took the tired and bemused athletes past Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament before finally crawling to its destination.
A separate London 2012 bus carrying American athletes got so badly lost it took four hours to make the 23-mile trip across the capital.
The blunders were an embarrassment to London’s Olympic organizers, especially as yesterday marked the point at which the world’s media began to take a special interest in the event, and given that Heathrow itself seemed to cope well with what had been billed as the busiest day of arrivals in its history. Bus drivers, many of them unfamiliar with London streets, found the GPS systems difficult to operate and some of the Olympic venues, like the athletes’ village location, have not been pre-loaded.
Navigation woes meant drivers missed key turn-offs and the 90-minute journey was in many cases extended well beyond 2½ hours even though the Olympic Lane was in operation on a small part of the M4.
But the transport commissioner Peter Hendy thought that particular delay may have been exaggerated.
He said: “I can’t believe it would have been four hours – they would have had to get seriously lost. They would have been at Southend rather than the Olympic Park. They would have seen the whole of south-east England.”
Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson apologized for the transport problems. More than 1,000 athletes checked into the Olympic village with a similar number expected on Tuesday.
He said: “If people have been on buses that have got lost then it is of course regrettable. I am extremely sorry, and clearly the drivers need to know where they are going.”
The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games said the average time taken for the airport route was two hours, slightly longer than it had forecast. But it brushed off the transport problems.
A spokeswoman said: “We will do over 100 bus journeys today. It is day one and we have only had one or two issues where journeys have taken longer than planned, the vast majority are fine.”
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