Getting around - Public Transport
( See also driving in London including the congestion charge. )
Wherever you live in London you'll need to get around and, despite the tendency of Londoners to complain about public transport whenever the opportunity arises, things aren't as bad as you'll be led to believe. With a large network of tubes, buses and trains to choose from the capital and surrounding areas are pretty well covered and the more you travel the better you'll get at working out the easiest and quickest way of getting where you need to be.
For more information about planning your journey, visit Journey Planner.com.
The first thing you'll need to get your head around is the concept of zones. London Transport (LT), the authority who oversee all aspects of travel in the city, have divided London into 6 zones which start centrally with Zone 1 (covering the City and Westminster) and spread out in concentric circles to cover the rest of London and some areas of the commuter belt which are actually outside Greater London altogether. You can get a free map from LT which shows the layout and coverage of Zones 1-6. This map can be obtained at tube and train stations and is also handy to keep in your wallet or handbag for quick reference.
The whole ticketing system on London transport has changed recently with the introduction of Oyster cards. Oyster is essentially a pay as you go ticketing system which operates by means of smart cards. The card is read by a sensor in ticket barriers on tube stations so, providing you ‘touch in’ and ‘touch out’ at the beginning and end of your journey, it can work out how far you’ve traveled and deduct an appropriate amount from your card. The card can be topped up at stations or online and buses and trams also have card readers installed in them. If you travel several times during a day the fare is capped at a level which is cheaper than buying a one day travelcard.
Oyster fares are cheaper than buying singles in an attempt to get people to switch over from standard tickets. As of 1 January 2007 a cash bus and tram fare costs £2, while the single Oyster fare is £1, but capped at £3 for any number of trips in a day. On the underground, a single in Zone 1 costs £1.50 with Oyster (£4 paper), £1 (£3 paper) in any other zone. At present most overground train stations are not set up to use oyster so you’ll still need to buy a travelcard if you use the rail network regularly.
For information on getting hold of an Oyster card before you arrive in the UK check out TFL’s page :
TYPES OF TRANSPORT
Officially called London Underground but know to most as The Tube, the network of subterranean lines criss-crossing London is world famous. Twelve lines cover the capital from East to West and North to South and the colour-coded map which represents them is a familiar image to most these days. The lines themselves are referred to by name rather than colour (e.g. Central line, Victoria line etc.) so you need to know the name of the line you want to use. The map is available free from tube stations and is easy enough to follow as lines are listed by both name and colour (once in a station, the direction for platforms for each line is usually indicated by both name and colour as well so all you'll need to do is make sure you're on the right platform for the direction you want).
Unlike many other underground networks, the Paris Metro for example, the tube lines aren't named by terminus but by direction (eastbound, northbound, westbound or southbound) so, having reached the line you need, check your map to see which direction you need to go in. One thing to be aware of is the fact that some lines (District and Northern for example) split into different branches outside of central London so check you're on the right train. This may all seem a little complicated at first but you'll get used to it quickly and will find you don't need the map for many shorter journeys to familiar stations.
The big advantage of tubes is that they are frequent (more so than trains) and it's easy to see when you need to get off (unlike buses) so you can't really go too far wrong. If you do get a bit confused as to where you're going there are maps on most platforms and often members of London Underground staff (usually dressed in blue) you can ask. Failing that you can always ask a fellow passenger as most Londoners pride themselves on knowing how to get about (just ask a group of people the quickest way to get from Shepherd's Bush to Chalk Farm and watch the debate unfold). Tubes run from early morning to around midnight on most lines but check when your last train is to be on the safe side.
For information and prices either call the 24-hour London Travel Information Line on 020 7222 1234 or click on http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tube/
Whilst tubes are often the best bet for navigating the inner parts of the city, trains are great for the outlying zones and beyond. Firstly you get daylight and fresh air on trains (a definite bonus in the summer) and secondly the distance between stations is greater so you'll get further more quickly. Trains aren't as frequent as tubes but often serve areas with no tube connections, particularly south of the Thames. Whilst you're within the 6 zones of the transport system your travelcard covers you for train travel as well as tubes so if it's easiest to get where you're going by train (or if the tubes aren't working!) then it's not a problem. Bear in mind that Oyster doesn’t cover most of the rail network at this point though.
When travelling by train it's handy to know exactly when your trains go as missing one by 30 seconds and having to wait 25 minutes is a real pain, especially if you've forgotten your book! You can get train information by calling 08457 48 49 50 or online at http://www.thetrainline.com.
There aren't many better ways to see a city than from the top deck of a bus and London is no exception. Buses are usually slower than tubes but, especially since the introduction of congestion charging on London's streets, things are getting better. Despite the fact that London's buses are owned and operated by a number of different companies, they all operate in the same way and recognise the zonal system and accept travelcards, Oyster and bus passes.
The bus network is more complicated than that for the tube and can take a while longer to work out. Bus stops should have maps and boards to show you the routes they serve and the numbers of routes serviced by a particular stop are displayed on the bus stop sign itself. Buses display these numbers both on the front and back and, increasingly, on the side by the front doors. The display on the front will also show the final destination of the bus along with major stops along the way.
There is also an extensive network of night buses which travel throughout the night, long after tubes and trains have stopped. Add the London Travel Information Line (020 7222 1234) to the contacts on your mobile in case you get stuck.
Although the iconic Routemaster double decker buses have been replaced with newer models, including the extra long ‘bendy buses’ on some routes, they still operate on a couple of Heritage Routes. These buses have been repainted to look the way they did in the 1960’s so a trip on one is a great way to see a bit of London in classic style. The two routes serviced at present are Royal Albert Hall to Aldwych and Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill.
DLR or Docklands Light Railway was opened in the late 1980s basically to connect the Docklands area and parts of south-east London to the centre of town. Trains go from Bank and Tower Hill out through Canary Wharf and Greenwich to Lewisham and up to Stratford to link with the Jubilee Line. For certain areas the DLR is the easiest option for travel and, now the Jubilee Line covers more of the same areas, is much more integrated with the rest of the transport network. The first time you use it you may feel (especially on some of the elevated sections around Canary Wharf) like you're on a safari park style monorail but that all adds to the fun.
As with many large cities, a bicycle can be a great way to get around. With the congestion charge reducing traffic in the city centre (and increasing the cost of driving) many people have opted to switch to bike. There is an extensive network of cycle routes around London which make it easier to avoid the traffic. For more details check out https://www.tfl.gov.uk/cycles/routes/london-cycle-guides.asp.
TAXIS AND CABS
Anyone familiar with London will be familiar with the sight of a black cab. Along with the red double decker Routemaster buses they are one of the most iconic images of the London streets. For short journeys in the centre of town and getting home late at night taxis can be invaluable, just flag one down on the street and away you go.
Minicabs can often be cheaper than taxis, especially on longer journeys, so look out for licensed minicab offices too. Be careful though as there are a large number of unlicensed minicabs operating in London and, apart from being uninsured, these can be highly dangerous. These generally operate by hanging round busy areas and touting for business. Licensed cabs should all have their license on display so check before you get in. To find a licensed private hire operator go to http://www.tfl.gov.uk/pco/findaride/. You can also text 'home' to 60835 to receive a text message listing local hire firms.