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The London Transport Blues

The London Transport Blues

My Ute AustraliaLiving in London I’ve had to come to terms with catching public transport to get around, not so bad I hear you say they have those cool double-decker buses. I’ll agree I was excited for my first ride aboard one but for someone who has spent his entire life (almost) owning some form of car or ute that I could drive myself it has been a big shift. A vehicle allowed me the freedom of leaving when I’m ready and not having to deal with people all up in my face.

For the most part the public transport system works as long as it’s not peak hour, there is a sporting event on, you are in a hurry or you are out past midnight. As you can imagine if that’s my impression from just standard day-to-day use then you don’t want to know what I think will happen during the Olympics in 2012.

So here’s the good. Getting yourself an Oyster card should be the first thing you do on arrival in London. This little baby gets me access to the tube and buses without having to worry about money or tickets, my job is to just keep it in credit. The card costs 3 quid and any old ticket office should be able to have you on your way (you get the 3 quid back if you give the card back). So that’s the good bit out of the way now for the stuff you won’t enjoy so much.

The Tube serves it’s purpose sure but when you hear warnings during the summer period about reminding you to travel with water to help prevent dehydration and fainting you have to worry right? I thought my train ride to Italy was bad when the heater was stuck on but no it was nothing. Riding the tube to work last summer I would get on and within a 20 minute ride felt like I needed a shower again. It gets stupidly hot both on the tube and even down in the stations, would it really hurt them in this day and age to install air con?

Old London BusAdding to the heat problem is the people. Getting on the tube during peak hour is like trying to pack too many sardines into a tin and god help you if you are first one in as you are never getting out till the tins empty. For that reason people are reluctant to move down inside the train for fear of not being able to get off on their stop. Oh and with everyone packed in that tight you are bound to get a face full of either smelly armpit, sweaty back or someones boobs (not always from a girl either *cue nightmares*).

That is just a fraction of the pain you can suffer as it is also prone to break downs (especially the District Line), closed over weekends for maintenance and my favourite the quickly let’s get on the train before the people get off in case we miss it situation.

The bus system while generally offering a slightly less sardine like experience will never be on time when you need it. It is however the only means of transport once you hit midnight when the tube network shuts down. The choices left are either decide to party on till 6am to catch the first one home or seek out one of the few night buses that hopefully run in your direction.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve missed buses or the tube by mere seconds or stood for what seemed like hours in central London waiting for that elusive red box to take me in the direction of home.

Now I’m sure every one of you that has enjoyed London’s public transport in your travels will have a story to tell so I’d love to hear it. Have you had an experience like no other or has it just left you in the middle of nowhere? Leave a comment below so we can share the pain together.

Update
A small edit to the post that after seeing it, I knew it had to be included. Many thanks to Lauren from Never Ending Footsteps for pointing it out. For anyone living in London this video is so much funnier to you because you have witnessed it for yourself.

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25 Responses to The London Transport Blues

  1. JEREMY B April 25, 2011 at 5:49 PM #

    I haven’t been to London yet but heard the Oyster Card is the way to go. I look forward to public transportation anywhere I go in Europe and I don’t expect London to be any different.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 25, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

      Jeremy you will find public transport in Europe better than London and if you ever head to Singapore or Hong Kong well I’d almost eat off the seats there it was so clean and on time.

  2. REBECCA April 25, 2011 at 6:08 PM #

    I would still have to say Australia’s public transport is worst. I really do love the oyster card though, Australia should definitely adopt this idea!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 25, 2011 at 7:39 PM #

      Rebecca Australia does suffer from not having trains run to their airports thats for sure. I have never been crowded on melbourne trains like I have in London though. Can’t speak for Sydney which I imagine wouldn’t be so good.

  3. LAUREN April 25, 2011 at 6:13 PM #

    I’ve actually fainted on the tube before from the heat… I had to be carried off the tube by a load of men LOL!!

    It’s awful…

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 25, 2011 at 7:43 PM #

      haha Lauren I hope it wasn’t Westminster or another tube stop with lots of escalators.

  4. NICOLE April 25, 2011 at 6:33 PM #

    Do you find the tube rides to be worse in summer or winter – people packing wise?
    Hope you got your Wills and Kate collectors tube card. 😉

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 25, 2011 at 7:46 PM #

      Nicole winter is much better. You still have to remove the layers you wear but it’s so much more bearable and guaranteed to keep you warm on a cold day. And no they really should give me one shouldn’t they.

  5. KATJA April 25, 2011 at 7:00 PM #

    Oh, I do NOT miss London Transport. It’s amazing how small London is when you start walking instead of taking the bus or tube. Towards the end of my time there I cycled or walked to most places.

    If you haven’t heard the Amateur Transplants’ ode to London Underground, you really should give it a listen. Fair warning though: there’s very bad language in it, so please don’t follow this link if you’re easily offended.

    Amateur transplants video link

  6. THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 25, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

    Katja I have found that too. I came here thinking wow London will be huge but if you are prepared to walk a bit most tube stops aren’t far from each other at all. While my work requires me to get a train due to how far away it is I’d take a bike any day if I could.

  7. RANDY April 25, 2011 at 10:36 PM #

    Ah, it’s so nice to get the local take on public transportation. I’ve only used the Tube once or twice (later in the evening) and it seemed like a pretty amazing transit system. However, I know all to well how things change during peak hours or holidays or late at night. San Francisco has similar woes, maybe not as bad, but similar. The midnight thing has always pissed me off. It’s the same in SF. After the MUNI closes (SF Subway), you have to take the night owl buses, which, if you didn’t live along a popular route, could take at least an hour to reach your destination. And then it only runs every hour on the hour. Nothing like missing that 2 a.m. bus, when you have work at 8:30 a.m. and can’t afford a cab ride home.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 27, 2011 at 10:15 AM #

      Randy when its out of peak times the majority of the ride is fine. Problem is half the day is peak time and then it goes and closes haha.

      I’m just glad I live in a well connected night bus area as taxi’s ain’t cheap.

      • ALANA February 28, 2012 at 12:09 AM #

        the only time I had major issues with TFL, was during the *many* tube strikes! But then again, I’m from Adelaide, I’ve never had a licence, my standards are pretty low!

  8. MEGAN April 25, 2011 at 11:36 PM #

    I’ve been to London several times and I actually quite like taking the tube! Though as only a casual visitor I’ve never experienced delays or serious overcrowding, either.

    Sydney’s trains are terrible – I’ve been stuck in them metres from city platforms for up to an hour.

    At the moment I’m contracting at an office about twenty ks from the CBD and trains only run to my stop every 30-40 minutes. That’s in peak hour, it’s insane!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 27, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

      Argh Megan I’ve never been on Sydney trains but I can say I’ve never waited an hour for a train in London except for when it snowed and we got stuck on the tracks.

  9. KAROLINE April 26, 2011 at 3:48 AM #

    That last bit of the video was hilarious. I’ve never been to London but I’ve experienced quite a number of awful public transport. Luckily I’ve never fainted but I was close to crying.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 27, 2011 at 11:22 AM #

      The worst part Karoline is that I’ve seen most of what’s in that video first hand.

  10. DAVE April 26, 2011 at 9:20 AM #

    God, I was belly laughing during that video clip. It brings back all of the horrible, horrible memories that only 3 years of living in London and taking the tube every day could provide.

    I’m still emotionally scarred from that experience – which in many ways is fantastic, because now when I visit the city, it’s nothing but a breath of fresh air. It’s amazing what taking the tube outside peak hour, and it not really mattering what time you get anywhere, does for the experience! 😉

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 27, 2011 at 11:43 AM #

      haha Dave you are right. I got on the tube yesterday about 3 in the arvo and it was as quiet as anything. Made the slow old district line bearable for a change.

  11. SAMANTHA BANGAYAN April 27, 2011 at 1:46 AM #

    I had no idea that double decker buses were common there! I thought that they were only ever used as tourist buses in New York. Hehe! =P

    I totally identify with missing your car as well, Chris. =P I wouldn’t even risk it here in Peru though because Peruvian drivers are crazy! =)

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD April 27, 2011 at 11:51 AM #

      haha Sam nope they are everywhere over here, most common bus for public transport from what I see.

      I do get to drive over here but only to and from clients which isn’t as often as I’d like.

  12. ALEX April 27, 2011 at 4:22 PM #

    Ahah the video is brilliant! I hated the tube in London and found it way too expensive. I mean you always have a line that’s not working whether it’s a signal failure (what does that even mean?) or just closed for construction. I lived on the Jubilee line for a year and a half and for the whole time it was closed almost every weekend for construction. But the price of my monthly pass was still a hundred quid…

    On the other hand I’m a big fan of the bus system. It’s slow indeed but so convenient. Especially at night… It saved me so many times after going out. I did fall asleep a lot in them as well 😉

  13. DEBBIE BEARDSLEY @ EUROPEAN TRAVELISTA April 27, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

    I do enjoy using the transit systems when traveling but can relate to missing your vehicle. We get so used to just having them there that I think it may be a little difficult changing.

  14. AYNGELINA May 2, 2011 at 12:51 AM #

    I love public transportation but Buenos Aires is testing that love. The subway is so hot they have open windows which is nice for a bit of breeze but on really hot days the men unbutton their shirts and you’re surrounded by hairy chests.

  15. AUDREY May 10, 2011 at 1:51 PM #

    All so very true, and great video!! It’s especially difficult when you get on the tube from Heathrow Airport and then have to change lines with all your luggage, haha!!

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