Congestion predictions drive crowds, business away from London

The center of London has gone silent. Many of the hotels, retailers, taxi drivers and other businesses counting on the Olympics to bring in new business have instead watched as the central and west London districts became a ghost town.

A taxi driver last night said that his business for the last week is down 28 percent from a year ago and said the predictions by government officials and Olympics organizers of massive crowds and major transport issues had scared off many Londoners.
“They’ve done a good job scaring everyone to death,” the driver said. “I’ve been a cab driver 15 years. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Hotels that were counting on incoming tourists for the Games have had to slice prices. The BBC reported Monday that a hotel near Hyde Park had cut its prices from 500 pounds a night before the Olympics to less than 100 pounds a night since the Games began.

Retailers have seen business slow to a crawl, as well. The number of people going to stores Friday prior to the opening ceremony was down 10.4 percent from last year, according to a study the BBC cited from research firm Experian.

A taxi driver in Greenwich had similar complaints and placed the blame on officials and the British press, whose talk about big crowds and transport issues before the Olympics caused people to take vacation or stay home. Decisions like that have made getting around town on the roads easier, but the driver said that hasn’t offered much relief.

“It’s been a bit of a disaster,” the driver said. “We haven’t earned any money.”

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