It's a hard one to write about being from London; you only ever see it from a work point of view and in rush hour normally.
However about 2 weeks ago , me and my girlfriend decided to take a week off work and go sightseeing in London , we stayed in a hotel in just outside covert garden and brought a week's travel card each for zones 1 to 6 ( that was expensive , felt like a rip off in fact )
The transport itself can be mad, it really is just stupid at rush hour, although for the millions of people using it daily, it's doing quite well to be honest, tube trains all over London are very regular and seem to be packed all the time but there is the odd train that arrives seconds after the last one leaves and its lovely and quite in there.
The best way to travel in London, if possible. we found was to take the river cruisers , they give a whole new meaning to London , after sitting on a packed tube and then getting out , walking down a noisy and smell road where the busses , cabs and cars are sitting in what can only be described as one huge car park at times . The river just turns peaceful, after getting on the cruiser and traveling down the centre of the river, almost all the noise had gone. it was amazing , its defiantly the way to go if possible , the price is a little steep but if you're a tourist then your probably have budgeted for it anyways .
Buses are ok if you're not looking to go anywhere fast, they aren't too bad when it comes to overcrowding but can take up to 15 minutes to wait and get on one and if you're not lucky, you may have to change a couple of times, a tube journey may only take 20 mins but the same journey by bus has taken me up to 2 hours to do.
Black Cabs are the way forward if you want to experience the world famous London knowledge, your go down streets only an inch wider than the cab itself and your appear in the most odd places but it's always the quickest way to travel, although slightly expensive, for the quality of what you're getting, the price is pretty much spot on.
We did do a lot of things in London that week, but were just talking about the transport in this review.
Transport in London gets a bit of a bad name for itself sometimes, mainly when the tube system has problems and people generally like to have a good moan but I actually think the transport network in London is brilliant, vast & diverse.
You have buses, overground trains, underground trains (the tube), cycles, light rail, trams and boats all overseen by Transport for London (TFL). TFL are there to overlook the running of all of these, by issuing service licences & setting tickets & fares. TFL contract out all the operations to the operators like Arriva & First. I thinkthat with TFL overseeing everything it mean's that no operator is different from the other, for example theres tons of bus operators in London, but they all have to use red buses with a small variation to show their companies identity, but the fares are all the same and I never bother to see which operator runs my bus as it makes no difference. This is kind of good as it means that all operators whether bus, train or tram or other, has to run to set guidelines & can ensure a high standard of service is maintained for all passengers regardless of mode or company used.
So you have the tube, a very wide network of large & fast shuttle trains running under & above ground on 11 lines, I think trains are very good, they are quick & very regular, with trains running across all lines pretty much all day every few minutes, unless theres major disruption you don't have to wait too long for the next one. The bus network is very large & has a vast range of routes across the whole of the London Borough, infact, hundreds of routes run around the city & outskirts every single day, you also have a vast range of 24hr & night buses, so even at 3am you can get a bus to most places, nowhere else in the UK has a network quite like it, even at 3am theres a vast array of buses you can catch, especially in the centre of London. The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a fast rapid transport system, which has 2 little train cars running, as if by magic, without a driver, running across East London from Tower Gateway & Bank in Central London out to Lewisham, Beckton & London City Airport/Woolwich. I find the DLR a fantastic system, very quick, a journey from London City Airport to Bank is just 23 minutes, the stations are wide & bright, clean & tidy, the service generally operates to timetable with trains upto every 5 minutes in peak periods. Never had any problems with the DLR. The Croydon Tramlink, operates trams across South East London from Wimbledon. Boats operate along the river in Central London and also many cycle routes are available for those that wish to cycle. You can also use the 100's of black cabs to get around from door 2 door too.
Each mode of transport links together, for example all the major train stations are linked with the tube & tons of buses, taxi's can take you to any of the 5 airports in the City and the tram & DLR also connect to the tube & local bus routes.
I find that the huge amount of choice & variety is fantastic, great fares & ticket options too with an Oyster Card.
I feel compelled to write a review on London Underground after finally winning a crown. I have been meaning to write a review on this topic for a while now, as I have a lot to say, so bear with me and I hope you enjoy reading.
If you are looking to travel into London regularly, through work of social reasons, then I am sure you will understand that pretty much the only way to go in is through the use of the tube. For those of you who are not familiar with the system there is basically a wide number of different trains that link together at certain stations, which means it is possible to get from one part of London to another without any walking, just changing trains. Also you can use some of these stations like Kings Cross St Pancras and Victoria station to travel directly to other parts of the country by national express and many other lines.
The problem is that due to the whole transport system being owned by the government they are effectively a monopoly. This means that as customers we are abused and have no choice to pay the increased prices. There were many problems with this in the past as they were increasing prices at a very fast rate. Initially they solved this problem by offering the Oyster card and let me say that I was a very big fan of the oyster card. This allows me to travel with ease as the card just needs to hover above the reader and does not even need to be removed from my wallet. The problem is that with the oyster prices, yes they are lower than the normal prices, but that is due to the normal prices being ridiculously expensive. I am sure the government would say this is due to inflation; however I am not so sure as the rate all the prices are increasing is alarming. Oyster Prices are now £1.10 to travel in the same zone when just a couple of years ago the price was 70p. A normal price is over £3 which is just plain ridiculous. They know that customers, like me, have no choice but to pay this price as it is the only half decent way to travel into London and they can change the prices at will due to their monopoly status.
Also this monopoly status means that they do not have to try hard to satisfy the customers and can keep the train quality as low as they want. For example the tracks used are over seventy years old so around the world war two era. This means that the trains can not go at a decent speed and it takes a good forty minutes for me to travel into London, where as by car it would take around fifteen to twenty minutes. In Germany the trains are much more efficient and trains come within thirty seconds of the stated time, so the customer knows exactly at what point their train will arrive. On top of this the train speed is much much faster than this country and it really is excellent service. In this country some stations do not tell you how long to wait till the next train and at certain points of the day you may find yourself having to wait over thirty minutes for a train. So you can see the difference in efficiency and timing between Germany and London and why the system needs to be drastically changed in the capital of our country.
Now above I did mention that the Oyster was a good service in comparison to the normal ticket buying, and that the prices are cheaper than normal; however I have had an experience which made me reconsider my judgement on the Oyster and the service of the London Underground staff, which is normally excellent. Once when travelling back from Clapham junction I tried to use my Oyster card and it was not functioning. So I went up to the staff at the gate and asked him why it did not work. He promptly swiped my card on his reader and said that I needed to buy prepay. I had no idea what this meant and he just went back to chatting with his colleague, so I politely interrupted him again. He then said I needed to go up to a ticket officer and buy a ticket. Of course I did not want to buy a ticket as this was more expensive then Oyster and I already had enough money on my Oyster card. At this point I was getting pretty frustrated and believe me it takes a lot for me to get flustered. So I went up to him again and was in the middle of explaining the situation and some girl approached to also talk to him and he ignored me and asked her what the problem was. It turned out she had the same problem as me. You will not believe what happened next and I apologize for the use of cap locks but hopefully that will emphasise how I felt at the time. He asked her to stick out his hand, and then he KISSED HER HAND, and let he go through the gate. I really feel like swearing here, but will retain myself from doing so as I am sure it against the Dooyoo conditions, however how can he HAVE THE CHEEK TO DO THAT, and leave me behind, just due to me being male and this service was inexplicable. I really wish I had asked for his name and reported him to the London Underground as this service was DISGUSTING. I was then left trapped on this side of the gate for the next thirty minutes and eventually a staff member came to replace the horrible staff member who served me. Luckily this guy was much more polite and I explained my situation and he let me through. So I hope you can understand how I was annoyed at my oyster card not functioning and disturbed at the service from the London Underground staff and how I was treated by this particular member.
Now let me move onto the Bus service provided. The Bus and Tube service is all operated by the London Underground and the TFL website can be used to view what the best route to take is to get from one destination to another and on average how long this journey would take. Although I will not review the website right now, let me just mention that this site is excellent and I have nothing bad at all to say about it. Too bad about the actual service itself. The Bus service itself is not bad, with many different busses available to take you from one destination to another. It is more convenient for short distance travel, so within a few miles and for this it is good. However like with the trains they are not efficient enough with busses not that frequent and never on schedule. However they do accept Oyster which makes them compatible with trains, but like with trains the prices are always rising and have increased a lot within the last few years.
The bus drivers seem to vary and I can not criticize the TFL on this, as it really does depend on the bus driver himself, or herself, on how friendly they are. What really baffles me though was that the driver has a video camera in his compartment which views the backdoor, which I believe is primarily used to see if anyone, sneaks in through the backdoor without paying. This is frankly a waste of money and yes it would stop some people scamming them, however the government should spend money on more pressing issues, especially with the financial situation affecting everyone.
Overall I have to give the transport for London, two stars, but it could easily have been four if it was not for the few bad experiences I have had. A lot of work does need to be done and I feel a major reconstruction is vital so that the tracks are better which will result in faster more efficient trains and a better service all round for customers.
I do not live in London but i am fairly regular visitor to the capital to visit family and therefore need to use the public transport as driving is a complete nightmare. My auntie used to live in Camden, north London, and getting around from there was very easy due to the tube being on the northern line and from my experience a decent bus service, sorry couldn't tell you exactly which service. Now living in Lee the train runs about every 15 minutes which is pretty impressive i feel and from her house to Leicester Square say is only about a 15 minute journey. I understand there are occasionally problems with line closures and so on but this comes with the territory of a wide ranging service like this. However i feel that i get a little ripped off when i visit, an off peak travel card costs me £5.70 each day and i might only make one or two journeys. However an excellent and reliable service.
Tube strikes are something that are often threatened and rarely fulfilled but during the last academic year Londoners have been unfortunate enough to have to suffer two of them. The first of these was horrendous - as I'm sure was the intention. There was complete chaos as men and women who have spent every day of their working life in the City suddenly realised that they would have to dust off their A-Z and don trainers in order to make it into work on time. Those who did not were left cramming the pavement, in crowds five people deep, in an attempt to catch a bus and then cursing at the bus conductors who were really not paid to deal with crowd control. Taxis were a rare commodity as well but it wasn't raining so I was happy to walk. The journey from Liverpool Street to St James' Park only took around 40 minutes but it was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that everyone else was getting so stressed. I actually watched an argument break out when one very smart, middle-aged man was told that there was no room for him on the bus (which, might I add, was clearly bursting at the seams). Obviously, they homeward journey was not such a pleasant experience and the novelty of a bracing stroll had well and truly worn off and I just wanted to go home. So, when the second tube strike came along I decided that I would find a better way of dealing with it. When my train pulled in at Liverpool Street, on the day of the second strike, I wandered down to Tower Pier (next to Tower Bridge) where I had heard there would be a ferry. There those lovely people at City Cruises had laid on a complimentary service that stopped at Blackfriars, Embankment, Westminster and Waterloo - perfect! It was even better than that. The queues went down very quickly and the staff were incredibly friendly. I decided to listen to my inner child and headed straight for the top deck where I encountered many more excited people discussing the various sigh
ts and jostling for the seats with the best views. If, however, you did have to work then there were plenty of chairs and tables inside along with toilets and a coffee/snack bar! Not to mention the fact that smoking was permitted on the top deck, which I gather many people saw as a huge advantage. As the boat arrived at its first stop, I observed from my privileged position a strange half smile on the faces of many. These people who had not only avoided the tube-strike disruption but had experienced a far more pleasurable journey than they would have done had the tube been running. I know it put me in a good mood for the whole day - perhaps due to the excitement of doing the same thing on the way home! The boats for the return journey were not quite as efficient, as they were laid on for the tourists rather than just the commuters, but there were still plenty of seats. Also, we were treated to a running commentary - the majority of which I was unaware of - along with more tea and snacks just at the time when we all needed it most. All in all, I cannot speak highly enough about the City Cruise service and staff and I have to admit to being slightly disappointed whenever the subsequent tube strikes have been cancelled!
Heaven help the tourist. If you were a tourist trying to get from A to B would you know whether to buy a single, return, LT Card, Travel Card, Family Travel Card or a Weekend Travel Card ? and all the prices are different depending which zone you are in or going to, or would you better with a Carnet. What a farce. It is cheaper to travel with a child than it is to travel on your own. Even then a child of 14 or 15 years has to go through the performance of applying for a photocard, bit tricky if you have just arrived in the country, as a passport is not always acceptable as proof of age ! What is more 16 year olds are counted as adults. Could you trust the ticket booth to offer you the best deal for your journey if your spoken English is poor ? Heaven would also need to help you out if you travel on the wrong ticket, couldn't exit through an automatic barrier and had to go the excess ticket office and risk being fined. You don't want to make a mistake. I have seen unfortunate tourists, an adult plus 15 year old (with no photocard), charged for two unnecessary LT Cards covering zones 1 to 6, total £15.40. They should have been charged an adult and a child Family Travelcard, total £4. Now where is the logic, no wonder we are accused of rip off Britain. What a welcome to Britain those guys had, for the same money they could have had the freedom of the entire network for a weekend. Do we try to make life complicated in this country ?
I’m a Londoner, so it may seem a little odd that I’m writing about pleasure boats, something intended for tourists.Having worked there for 30 years, you always put sightseeing on the back burner as something you can do any time, and by implication never get round to! Then I became one of 10’s of thousands of people who can say that they USED to work for BT, and suddenly going to London is no longer a daily grind, in fact I don’t suppose I go “up there” more than twice a month now, and when I do it’s for some leisure reason. I have a friend whose job has taken him to Greenwich, so I occasionally arrange to meet up for a wet lunch in one of Greenwich’s pubs. Having “all the time in the world”, means that I can pick and choose my means of getting there. The obvious choice, now that I’m a “twirly”*, is to wait till 9.30 am and buy a Travel card, affording use of all Underground, service buses and national rail services within the zones that I have paid for. * “Twirly” – as in “Am I twirly to buy a travel card?” Geddit? Note: a Travel card does not apply to “prestige” transport like Round-London sightseeing tours or Airbuses to Heathrow. HOWEVER, what a Travel card does get you is discount of 1/3rd off the cost of a trip to Greenwich on a pleasure boat. So here’s how I get there. Boarding the Piccadilly Line at Osterley in west London means that I have to buy a Zones 1-4 Travel card, costing £4.30. Some might think that this is expensive but when you consider the amount of services you COULD be using for that money, it’s peanuts. You can pay the same for a day rover of the Isle of Wight, a similar-sized area, but with b****r-all routes available. An alternative, particularly in hot weather, is to get the South-West Trains service from Isleworth to Waterloo – the same ticket applies
. These are only half-hourly, so you need to know the timetable, whereas the Underground is more or less “walk-on” The nearest (most westerly) pier operating boats to Greenwich is Westminster, just outside the eponymous Underground station. This can be reached by changing at Green Park onto the newly extended Jubilee Line to Westminster itself. Also you can come from Waterloo by the same line. Likewise, the District & Circle Line already serves Westminster. Westminster is a good pier to pick if you have kids in tow, as the subway from the ticket hall of the station brings you right out on the Embankment, a few yards along from the boat operator’s ticket offices. No nasty roads to cross. Don’t say Mr. N doesn’t care about these things! One of the boat companies is known as City Cruises, and they operate a fleet of near-identical and reassuringly new catamarans in red and white livery. Other operators may have bigger and glitzier boats, but not whole fleets of them. The “Silver” fleet is an example. Their largest boat appears to be the Silver Sturgeon, looking suspiciously like an escapee from the Volga cruising (maybe “Sturgeon” is a hint), whilst other “Silvers” are somewhat smaller. A City Cruises boat can always be depended on to shift the same amount of queue each time. THE COST City Cruises operate from Westminster, Tower Pier and Greenwich. Other companies use Charing Cross, another Victoria Embankment location – I was about to say “in a riverside location” but then I suppose they’d have to be, wouldn’t they? (By the way, why is it always me who ends up asking rhetorical questions?) Westminster to Greenwich (Adult single) costs £6 less £2 on production of a valid Travel card. A return would be £7.50 less discount. Even better, if you have your nuclear family threatening a wallet meltdown is a Family Day
Rover ticket for £19.50, allowing you to jump their boats at Tower Pier, Westminster and Greenwich all day. Of course, you don’t need to book returns, since Greenwich (Cutty Sark) is now served by the Docklands Light Railway (Lewisham branch), which is covered by your Zones 1-4 Travel card, and Tower Pier is also only a short walk from Tower Hill District & Circle Station in Zone 1. THE BOATS The “cats” have an open upper deck and a fully enclosed air-conditioned lower deck with grey-tinted picture windows. In summer, the usual rush to grab upstairs seats in predictable, but fear not, if you get to sit downstairs at the front pointy bit (note the lack of nautical terms), the windows are so heavily raked back that you can still look upwards as you pass under Tower Bridge etc. The on-board bar is licensed, but don’t expect this to be the cheapest watering hole in London. The ride is very comfortable, and the boat just seems to shrug off oncoming waves with disdain. I suspect that it’s these boats that CREATE the largest wakes, rather than suffer from them! If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of their “unofficial” commentaries from one of the diamond geezers upstairs. These contain a lot of information put in a very amusing way, but don’t take it all as gospel! WHAT TO SEE EN ROUTE From the top deck, you will immediately be aware of Big Ben towering over you at the back non-pointy bit (not strictly true, Big Ben is only the bell, but you know what I mean). Over to your right, and equally imposing is the London Eye standing suspended over the river at some 140-odd metres high and rotating at a dizzy 2 r.p.H! As the boat sets off into mid-stream, you find yourself approaching what many people call Charing Cross Railway Bridge, but officially, it’s Hungerford Bridge. Not the most prepossessing structure you ever saw, but
useful in so much as it also carries a public footpath from the Waterloo area to the Victoria Embankment. The remodelled Charring Cross station starts immediately as the bridge ends. The river now bends right, with the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank and Cleopatra’s Needle on your left. This nearly didn’t make it to London at all. In towing it, encased in a floating caisson from Egypt, the tug lost the towrope in a storm, and for a while it was presumed lost permanently. As you can see, it was found! When the tide is high, you realise just how close London is to being inundated. The Lions Heads that adorn the Embankment wall are said to be “having a drink” when this occurs. Hopefully, the Thames Barrage will stop this getting any worse for several years to come. Even before the awareness of global warming and its effect on water levels, it was widely acknowledged that London is sinking. I have even seen it mooted that we start moving Parliament to Hampstead before it’s too late! As you pass under the graceful and uncluttered 1930’s design of Waterloo Bridge, look for the grey hangar doors by the north kerb under the first left hand arch. These mark the spot where trams (remember them?) turned off the Embankment into the Kingsway Subway (now Holborn Underpass) to emerge up a ramp in Southampton Row (this bit is still there complete with cobbles and rails). The Victoria Embankment is a man-made reclamation of mud-flats built in (surprise) Victorian times to house sewers, drains, the Circle Line and to “tidy up” the river bank in one fell swoop. Before this, buildings like Somerset House and King’s College gave directly onto the riverbank, evidenced by the arched “Watergates” still to be seen in their facades. This is also why The Strand is so named. Before the Embankment was built, it was the nearest road to the foreshore. (Strand = Beach). The stretc
h of river between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges isn’t particularly rich in “rubber-necking” opportunities, but you may be interested by a number of WW1 ships moored along the north bank. These are to all intents and purposes clubhouses for the various Naval Reserves amongst others. This area used to house Captain Scott’s ship, but this has gone home to Dundee, I seem to recall. The other bank is also home the London Weekend TV Studios. Look out also for the “OXO” tower building, now redeveloped and topped out with a Conran restaurant with prices to match the height of the tower. The Blackfriars to Southwark Bridge section has a richer harvest though. You’ve got the Tate Modern gallery on your right (“they HAD to make it free….. it’s full of modern art” opined our guide, nailing HIS artistic colours firmly to the mast!), built from the shell of the old Bankside power station. Dead ahead you’ve got THAT bridge, you know, the one that sways! Once it’s sorted, it will provide a splendid link between the steps up to St Paul’s Cathedral and the art gallery, with wide river vistas as you go. Southwark Bridge is nothing to write home about, but just before going under, look to your right and you will see the replica Globe Theatre, brain-child of the late Sam Wannaker – “They put on Shakespeare and stuff” says the man on the mike. Emerging from the gloom, and still to your right is Clink Street, home of the prison that gave its name to prisons. Not including railway lines, the next bridge is of course, London Bridge, a new-ish structure replacing the old one, which was demolished stone by stone to re-emerge in Lake Havasu City USA. Actually, they only bothered with the facing stones, the infill is 100% pure US of A. Several years ago, this was hit broadside by a Royal Naval vessel whose Captain had
turned down the offer of a river pilot whilst manoeuvring to come alongside the HMS Belfast. The Captain was not popular, and had all his Air-Miles rescinded. The Belfast is now an official floating museum of naval history, and is moored as far upstream as a tall ship can come, since London Bridge is too low for any further forays. This stretch of the Thames is known as The Pool Of London and was home to a myriad wharves until ships got too large to handle. The Belfast is also used as the mooring for visiting ships, like cruise liners. It must be a real thrill to arrive slap-bang in the middle of London by ship, especially since they would have to raise Tower Bridge for you, and I got quite envious of the idea. Just before Tower Bridge is the pier where you may break your journey (with a rover ticket). This is located immediately by the Tower Of London, which needs little introduction from me. I haven’t been there for years (as a result of the aforementioned “I can go there anytime” approach) but I suspect it’s somewhat more full of Japanese tourists these days, posing in front of everything – yes, why do they do that more than other visitors? Does it fulfil some need to prove they’ve been there, like train spotters crossing off numbers in their little books? The Bridge is one tourist attraction I have visited in the recent past. Many people may be unaware that it’s a museum in its own right, with access to the pedestrian walkways at the high level. Displays of the proposed designs, and the history of its construction, pale into insignificance, when compared to the view at the top. It may not be the tallest building around, but the uninterrupted nature of the view is something else. Also, your entry ticket includes a visit to the south side gate-house, under which is the beautifully preserved steam engine that used to provide the hydraulic pressure to work the bridge. After Tower
Bridge, the river suddenly seems to be a lot wider, and less characterful (unless you like loft conversions, that is.) “Only one left at £2.5 million” reads one sign. Hold on, I’ll just empty the other pocket. Damn, not quite enough! I prefer barn conversions myself. Take my place – used to be a house, now it’s a barn. At this point I settle back with a little something from the bar. As we approach Greenwich, we swing right around the Isle of Dogs, the lion’s share of the Docklands Development zone. The water-borne approach to this area looks more like Singapore every time! As you dock at Greenwich, look for the pier manager. Ian, I think his name is. He seems to have a never-ending supply of eclectic bow ties! Now all I need is a pub, but I’ll keep Greenwich up my sleeve for another op.