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Tubing your way through London
London Underground in General
Member Name: stafoo
London Underground in General
Advantages: fast, stops at major tourist attractions
Disadvantages: hardly any step-free access stations
The London Underground - or the tube, as it's more common know - is fast, convenient and as a tourist, stopped at all the places I wanted to go.
Split into nine different zones with thirteen different lines, the Underground covers almost all area of London within the M25.
With so many different lines and zones, the tube is extremely confusing at the best of times and can take a while to get used to, but there are large maps available for viewing and some major stations also offer smaller pocket maps, it's worth grabbing a few of these are they are easily lost and ripped. The lines and zones are clearly marked by a variety of different colours for each line
As a lone parent with a young child, hauling a pushchair around can be daunting at the best of time, and out of hundreds of stations, only a handful within Central London offer step-free access. Not really a problem if there's two of you, just an inconvenience, but if you are by yourself or are wheelchair bound, this can be a major problem. Although I am able to manage stairs with a pushchair, the sheer amount was extremely intimidating though the steps at 99% of stations aren't steep in the slightest and luckily, a lot of passer-bys offer a helping hand.
The step-free access stations are clearly marked on all maps - including your handheld ones.
Although the Underground network is huge, most stations are not and you can start feeling claustrophobic very quickly, especially as the major stations are extremely busy almost all the time.
As with all public transport, peak times such as the school run do get really busy and it's worth avoiding these times, especially as pick pockets will be using the Underground.
The waiting times for the tube vary depending on which line but during the daytime, I never seemed to wait more than a few minutes.
Prices vary depending on which zones you're travelling within, though as a tourist, I didn't need to venture out of zones 1-2, which cost me £5.60 (after 9:30am) for unlimited travel, reasonable value in my opinion, though if you needed to buy one of these for more than a couple of days, it would probably be worth getting an Oyster card. If you need to travel to more zones, this would obviously be more expensive with zones 1-3 going up to £6.30 (after 9:30am) and so on.
For your money, you get a ticket that's extremely similar to a train ticket with a black strip on the back for the machines at each station to read. The machines at the station let you in and out and with every station I went to, a couple of members of staff were watching over the process.
At every station I used, there was an extra wide machine for wheelchairs and pushchairs - even if it wasn't a step-free access station.
Each station I used had a good number of staff around, mainly working on public safety and making sure people don't jump the barriers. Extremely reassuring if you get lost, injured or pick pocketed.
The trains themselves are quite narrow, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and I personally felt sick looking out the windows and seeing the tunnel wall just inches from the windows.
On most trains, there was a designated area for pushchairs and wheelchairs, and in general, people did seem to respect this. Each train differs with its seating system and you can either get the two-seater facing forward classic or the multiple seats in a row under the windows. The seats themselves, although cushioned, weren't too comfortable and not at all roomy.
Overall, I would recommend the tube if you're able to get down the steps with ease. It truly is the fastest way around London but as expected, does get extremely busy. If you're using the tube for just a couple of days, it offers good value for money but I can see travelling in London all the time would prove expensive. Although I didn't have many problems with the stations, I hope they improve the situation surrounding step-free accesses and add more escalators or lifts, even if to those stations that prove most popular.
Summary: Great for tourists, but I'm sure Londoners themselves wish for a better mode of transport.