If the Olympics are about bringing people closer together, that’s as true off the track as on. But can the love-in last beyond August?
On current extrapolations, it’s likely to be a century or more before the Olympic and Paralympic Games come back to London. So logistical lessons from this year’s exercise may be a bit hard to apply to the next London Games.
Yet transport and logistics companies on all sides, business in general, and even the local and national government authorities are keen to emphasise that the Olympic legacy in London isn’t just about the physical infrastructure of stadiums and shopping centres. It’s about intangibles such as ways of working and collective knowledge.
“I think the biggest benefit for us in the logistics sector from all the planning will be better understanding in organisations such as Transport for London (TfL) of us as an industry,” says Natalie Chapman, head of policy for London at the Freight Transport Association.
Geoff Dossetter, who speaks on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, agrees. “Peter Hendy, the commissioner for transport has said the arrival of the Olympics has given him a real insight into freight and logistics,” Dossetter says. “It’s changed the whole attitude.”
Taken for granted
What Chapman and Dossetter have liked about the process is that logistics companies, from global delivery businesses through to one-truck operators, have been involved and listened to. “People do rather take our kind of work for granted,” Dossetter says. “They expect the goods to be on the shelves in the stores.”
For Chapman, optimism about the Games’ legacy contrasts strongly with the freight transport industry’s fears a couple of years ago. “We were very nervous,” she says. “We felt that freight didn’t have the resources in TfL and the other organisers. They were about moving people, the underground and the buses.”
She too is a fan of Hendy: “He’s come and talked at our events, TfL have set up a freight forum to make sure our issues are addressed and they’re keeping it on afterwards. We’ve never had it so good in terms of our relations with TfL.”
Where the new knowledge of logistics issues has helped has been in areas such as nighttime deliveries (see main article) and in a collaborative attitude towards the enforcement of the necessary restrictions.
Some of the more opportunistic London boroughs may have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of riches from large numbers of re-routed and badly-parked delivery vehicles, but the government and the mayor’s office have persuaded them that enforcement needs to be tempered with tolerance: some will deploy helpful marshals alongside their ticket-wielding wardens.
Chapman is confident this kind of dialogue can continue beyond the Games. “I think it is showing that if they can help us to be more efficient theywill see improvements in areas such as safety and emissions,” she says. Night-time deliveries, she notes, take trucks off the roads at times when vulnerable users such as cyclists are on them; they can be done faster, so cause less pollution.
Collaboration is key
To achieve these long term, though, also requires flexibility and collaboration from freight industry customers and some have been slow to recognise their part in the changes in logistics that the Olympics demand. “I’ve detected at times that the freight operators haven’t been getting a lot of sympathy from their customers,” says Dossetter.
Flexibility and collaborative working over deliveries is a point that is much wider than just London 2012, says Greg Johnsen, co-founder of supply chain software group GT Nexus, and other pressures may drive customers to more flexibility. Johnsen’s view is that change and upheaval of the kind that the Olympics represents should be regarded as the norm for agile global businesses with long supply chains.
Logistic resilience, he says, demands some “shock absorbers” in the system: greater flexibility on deliveries, maybe small buffer stocks of items.