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I'm Going Underground
London Underground in General
Member Name: katyboo123
London Underground in General
Date: 14/03/11, updated on 14/03/11 (69 review reads)
Advantages: Cheap(ish), convenient
Disadvantages: Dirty(ish), daunting and a little overwhelming
I've grown up about 260 miles away from London, with no requirement to ever visit or pass through even. I think the closest I ever went to London as a kid was Great Yarmouth in the car on a Haven Holiday (which isn't all that close to London anyway!). Oh and I once went to Hamley's Christmas shopping with school after seeing the Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet (I was 12 and I couldn't really see what was happening, despite the really cool binoculars in the back of all the seats!). At 26, I'd never taken the tube. My nearest experience of it was in 2005 when I went to Paris and got about using the Metro - we were two stops from everything and so it was all pretty simple! So, in 2009 when my cousin invited me down to stay in London, I was petrified to say the least at the prospect of having to get the tube!
London is an overwhelming experience for someone from a slow-paced town as it is. It's like being in a foreign country, there's so much diversity and speed - I've never seen people walk so fast. But, coupled with the prospect of having to use a network of underground trains when you don't really know which stop you want or where to board and everything looks the same and you're scared to ask anyone (even if they would stop long enough to listen to you!), it's all really daunting.
The best advice I can give any 'foreigner', in other words non-Londoner, is to be prepared for the journey. Look on all of the online sites available to plan your journey, and take in to account general sensible safety precautions i.e. don't travel alone in the dark, if your listening to music one ear phone out so you can hear some one approaching, don't advertise your valuables and so on (I sound like a nagging mother I know!).
The tube network in London is a collection of 'lines' (eg Circle Line, City Line, Metropolitan Line, etc). Each line has a collection of stops on it and you can join at any stop / get off at any stop. The tube network spans almost as many miles as it is from my house to London - at around 250 miles of track, so it's safe to say, it will get you to almost anywhere you want to be in and around the city of London (coupled with the overground services such as buses, cabs and of course walking!) - but to know where you want to be is another story! First you need to know which tube stops you will be going between. For example, my cousin lives in Vauxhall, but the closest tube station by walking distance from his house is Stockwell to find this out I used Google Maps and just typed in his postcode, tube stations are highlighted clearly with the recognisable red circle. Kings Cross has its own tube station.
The next step is to visit the tfl site (transport for London) and use their journey planner. Enter the start and end location and the time of travel and then get a resulting journey. The information here is crucial to note down ready for any journey. It gives you the line you need to take along with which Zones the line crosses (see below) and which destination you will be headed in as obviously the trains are either heading towards one end of the line, or the other. To reach my cousin's house, I need to take the Victoria line, heading to Brixton. And it crosses Zones 1 & 2.
The Zones pertain to the areas of the city. When you go to buy your tube travel in the tube station you will see ATM style machines, these vend your tickets and unless you want to wait in the queue to speak to the 'Help & Assistance' folk, then you'll use the automated machines. They are dead easy to use, you just select your zones (which you will know from planning in advance!) and whether you would like a one way ticket, return, day pass, etc. It tells you how much you need to pay and then you either pop in coins, notes on the notes only machines, or your card if you use one which accepts credit / debit cards. The ticket prints out and you're set!
You then take your ticket and go to find the platform from which you are departing, similar to a train station only this time; people are stampeding past you like obsessed cattle, so you need to know what you're doing. Spend a second looking at the overhead signs which tell you which platform and which direction you need to walk. And one Golden Rule! On the escalators / stairs keep in the 'slow' lane, unless you are a speed walker <slash> marathon runner, or you will seriously annoy people and probably get shouted at.
Usually, for security and because they don't have conductors to inspect your tickets on the trains, you have to go through security barriers - here's another tip - look at the barriers before you pass, as many are set to only accept 'Oyster Cards' which are prepay cards that save money for you if you're a regular traveller. But, if you try putting your ticket through an Oyster Card only turnstile, you'll not only be embarrassed, but you'll hold the crowds up and they will not be happy!
The trains themselves as well as the underground stations are generally pretty shabby - at the end of the day they take around 28 million passengers per year on journeys you shouldn't expect them to be luxury. I also can't help feeling a little 'grimy' after I travel on them and usually carry a bottle of antibacterial hand cleanser with me, I'm not being disrespectful or OCD, but it's just the way I feel about millions of people touching the handrails or the escalators - and I certainly can't understand people doing things like their make up routine on the tube - but I guess I would feel different if I lived down there. Another tip is to take a little fan in your bag you know the pocket ones? It can get really hot down there and if you get stuck especially on a weekend when there's frequently planned engineering works it becomes uncomfortable.
A huge plus point from me for the tube network is the frequency with which the trains come to each stop. You seldom wait longer than 5 minutes for your train. Considering a bus on a normal road can travel 30mph + and a tube travels on average 20mph they are more frequent, don't just 'not show up' like buses and you don't have that unpleasant interaction with a miserable bus driver to endure! If you can't find a seat once you get on the train, you need to grab on to a handrail as it can be quite jerky going from stop to stop. If you have a suitcase with you, try not to stand in the way of the doors or the centre walkway. At the other end it's the same as getting on the tube but the reverse obviously, and after making one tube journey alone, you really will feel like an expert!
The tube stations are all pretty accessible for people with limited mobility and there are of course provisions in place for those with sensory disabilities. There are amenities in most of the stations such as convenience stores, toilets (proceed with caution!), public telephones, etc. And though I've tried to avoid any instance where you would need to ask for help there are guards available to help you if you need assistance - they are generally very helpful, but sometimes hard to find or really busy sorting out tickets at the turnstiles. Most stations have lifts and escalators, though some of the smaller ones are all steps - you can find out exact station information on the tfl website (www.tfl.gov.uk).
Another useful hint for when you need to make a change on your journey, as on some routes you have to change. My cousin tends to take a couple of different lines if the line he wants to take is particularly busy or has engineering works on it, to avoid delays. If you need to make a change mid journey look at the signs for exit and other platforms, follow the one for the other platforms rather than the exit, or you'll have to re-enter the station leading to all kinds of confusion! Usually, it's a case of getting off one tube, walking through a platform and getting on another one on the other side. Really easy, but can be a little bit daunting again, because everyone else seems to know what they're doing!
Value for money-wise, it's the cheapest way to conveniently get around London. A bus will cost you slightly less (you can usually use a day pass on buses and tubes), but the stops aren't as clear for a non-Londoner or as convenient as they are on the tube. Driving is a no-no from my perspective as there's so many one way streets, congestion charges, traffic jams and so on. A cab will generally cost you a fortune, unless you're only going a short distance. And walking can be pretty scary when you're trying to find your way around and at the same time being aware of your personal safety. Plus it's so easy once you know how - and can get you pretty much anywhere. Roughly speaking its £4 for a one way journey across the main zones (1 & 2) and around £7 for a full day pass for unlimited journeys in zones 1 & 2. It may sound like a lot - but for London, this is cheap - and really, up North we pay £1.80 for a one way bus journey within a town which could fit in to one area of London, so it's not that bad really. These passes usually extend to overground services too like the bus and this can be useful if there's not a close tube stop to where you need to be (though that's quite unlikely); and it can be useful when there's certain lines closed due to engineering works.
An Oyster Card which I mentioned can be useful and cheaper if you intend to travel a lot within the City. But it's really worth reading up on and working out the benefits prior to your visit as it can provide a saving for weekenders too.
There are lots of useful sites to give you an idea of where you need to be, what ticket you need and so on, but the most useful I've found are Google Maps (go to www.google.co.uk, then select maps in the top left hand corner) - it shows up the tube stations near a postcode and will also provide you with walking directions from the tube station to your end location. The other is undoubtedly Transport for London's site which I've referred to several times throughout this review. It gives you prices, a great journey planner, free tube maps (I wouldn't buy one of these in London not worth the money when you can get them both free on line and view them in the tube stations), service updates and planned line closures, ongoing bus routes and information on which lines you will take, therefore, which zones you will pass on your route. It really is an essential site to visit in your pre-tube journey planning.
Overall, a cheap(ish) and convenient way to travel around London - it can be daunting, even overwhelming when everyone around you seems to know what they are doing, but with a little prior preparation you can make like a local! Also, you must think about your personal safety when travelling - but you should do this wherever you travel, particularly if you are alone. Good luck on the great tube network and thanks for reading!
*** FOLLOWING ON FROM COMMENTS ***
Includes Toilet Facility Tube Maps (so you know how long you need to cross those legs for!), Large Print and Monochrome Maps, plus Step Free Maps so you can plan a journey based on the steps on to and off of the trains
Homepage > Accessible Cities > London > London Underground
Will soon include all of the routes which are fully accessible for people with limited mobility. For now, their Contact Us section is pretty cool and they will get back to you quickly if you drop them a line about your route.
Summary: Preparation is key!
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