07/31/2012 09:34 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Olympic surprise: London traffic moving fine, at least for now

LONDON - Here's a pleasant surprise for Londoners who feared the worst: So far the traffic is flowing just fine despite the extra pressure of the Olympic games.

In fact, with most London motorists choosing to stay away or working from home, it's actually less aggravating to get around town now than usual.

Although some lanes on major London thoroughfares are reserved for Olympic VIPs — and violations could cost motorists 130 pounds ($200) — most major roads were working well for commuters.

The volume of traffic has dropped by nearly 30 per cent, officials said Tuesday, easing congestion that might have been caused by the special "Games Lanes."

Many people are heeding government advice and staying away from central London, while others have taken off on summer vacation due to the U.K. school holidays.

"There were initial problems and delays when the "Games Lanes" were introduced last Wednesday, but since then they've cleared up," said Mick Savage, the U.K. director of the firm Trafficmaster. "It's never going to be fluid traffic, but it's easier than normal."

Britain's Olympic Cabinet committee was told Tuesday that subway journeys are up since the Olympics began, while road traffic has dropped, even during rush hours.

The number of people riding the Underground was up about 30 per cent over the weekend, with 2.44 million passengers on Sunday, compared to 1.9 million on Sunday July 15, the committee heard.

One reason for the drop in road traffic may be that the anticipated boom in tourism has not matched expectations. Tourism experts said Tuesday that hotel bookings, which had been expected to soar during the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympic period, were actually lagging.

Angela Skelly, director of the JacTravel service, said hotel reservations in London were lower than last year at this time period.

"Bookings for London are very substantially down, whereas bookings for all other European cities are significantly up — as is London in September," she said.


Associated Press Writer David Stringer contributed to this report.