“Gradually he realized that the Tube map was a handy fiction that made life easier but bore no resemblance to the reality of the shape of the city above.”

Train arriving at Westbourne Park
Train arriving at Westbourne Park

You need to know four things to get around on public transportation almost anywhere in the world:

1. How to pay

2. Which line you need

3. Which direction you want to go (usually designated by the terminus of the line)

4. Which stop you need

This happened exactly once in my 9 weeks in London... empty train carriage: the unicorn of urban living.
This happened exactly once in my 9 weeks in London… empty train carriage: the unicorn of urban living.

In my experience, the first one is usually the most difficult to figure out, especially as cities get more strict about requiring the use of fare cards over paper tickets. I’ve lived in DC for the last five years, so I was used to using Metro to get around, but pubic transportation London was a whole different experience.

The London public transportation system makes figuring out all of these pretty straightforward. The network is massive, and the coverage is excellent. You can go almost anywhere on public transportation, either on the Underground or Overground trains, Docklands Light Rail or on a bus. Each station has clear signage, and each train/bus makes regular announcements about where you are and where you’re going.
What’s most amazing to me about public transporation in London is that they built the first Underground station in 1863, before electricity. Can you imagine getting on a steam train to travel underground?

IMG_8941
Long escalators like this are common as are flights and flights of stairs

The Underground is commonly called the Tube because of the shape of most of the tunnels. It’s not always underground – I think only about 40% of the network is underground – especially once you get out of central London and into the suburbs. Each of the 11 lines has its own quirks – my apartment is nearest a Hammersmith & City and Circle lines station, so I’ve spent the most time on those. They run some of the newest trains in the city, so the “Mind the Gap” reminders seemed silly. The trains come right up to the platform. But on some of the other lines, you can see that the warning is very important as some of the gaps are quite large. Sure, the Tube is crowded and can be frustrating. But on the whole, it’s a fascinating system. The stations are beautiful, too – the tile work alone is amazing.

Westbourne Park station

I’ve split my commuting time in London about equally with the Tube and buses. The iconic double-decker buses go everywhere, even if they don’t go as quickly as the Tube. You do need an Oyster card though – drivers don’t accept currency. I like to be able to see where I’m going, so it’s fun to ride around town, especially if you get the front seat on the top deck.

Title quote: Neil Gaiman, Never where

Staircase on a double-decker bus, or as I think of it: an opportunity for me to give my drunk toddler impression if I'm trying to go up or down while the bus is moving.
Staircase on a double-decker bus, or as I think of it: an opportunity for me to give my drunk toddler impression if I’m trying to go up or down while the bus is moving.
Double-decker in the rain
Double-decker in the rain
IMG_9858
An empty bus early one morning – about the only time you see this
IMG_9459
There’s something rather magical about seeing the city at night from the front seat on a double decker, like this shot of Regent Street.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s