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London Living – Navigating Public Transport in London: THE TUBE

So lovely reader I’m presuming you are here because you have a hankering to learn about the intricacies of the London public transport system? As a veteran of those hallowed halls I’m hoping I can impart some of my hard won wisdom to you. Join me as I throw back the curtain and reveal the inner workings of this cruel and wilful mistress.

If you have arrived straight here then I heartily recommend that you go back and read THE BASICS before you any further, otherwise please carry on as we investigate London’s greatest asset and the bane of many commuters existence…THE TUBE.

Navigating public transport in London the tube underground subway train station system how to guide to public transport in london

The London Underground, colloquially know as The Tube, is the oldest underground railway in the world. Opening in 1863, it is made up of 11 different lines which service over 270 stations across the network. At its best it is a slick, efficient way to shift the hundreds of thousands of people that move through the city everyday. At its worst it is a fiery hell hole in the centre of the earth that leaves you stranded in a dark tunnel with your face pressed into the armpit of someone who’s never heard of deodorant.

It can be daunting upon first approach, especially if your London geography isn’t strong and you don’t know your East from your West. Try to plan your journey above ground and take a screenshot of the directions on your phone for reference when you’re underground without access to the internet. The next best thing to do is to get acquainted with your greatest asset, the iconic tube map.

Reading the Tube map:

The thing to know about this map is that the distance between stations is not indicative of the distance in real life and the direction of the stations is only generally correct. It’s set out this way so that all the stations can be crammed into a workable space that fits on a noticeboard.

Download this pdf map and save it to your iBooks or other such app (or just Google it). It shows you how long it takes to walk between stops so you can avoid rookie errors like taking the tube between Covent Garden and Leicester Square (literally a 4 minute walk).

Have a good look at the tube map and try to familiarise yourself with the lines and which way they run, either North to South or East to West. You can then look at where they intersect, this is where you can change for a different line. It’s rare that you will get to spend a journey on just one line, you can swap as many times as you want underground and you don’t pay another fare until you surface at the end.

The map will also show you where there is step-free access to the train or the platform. East London is basically your friend if your mobility is limited as the DLR is completely accessible, the rest of it could be a bit of a nightmare so I would stay above ground where possible.

Signage is generally pretty clear so you shouldn’t end up going to far wrong. It’s not the end of the world if you do, you can always jump off, cross the platform and go back the way you came. Somewhere you might come unstuck is when the Northern Line splits off at Kennington to go via Bank or Charing Cross. I have found myself absent-mindedly getting on the wrong train in Tooting and then having to go arse-shit-crap-fuck all the way back to Kennington. At one point I lived in Kennington with each train on a different platform, that really was the pinnacle of my London life.

Riding the Tube:

Riding the tube is generally a warm experience. In Summer it’s hot and sweaty, in Winter it is much the same except you’re wearing a huge coat and multiple layers that you will probably want to remove. Some people keep them on and I can only assume that they are dripping with sweat inside (or they’re those freaky people who go to Thailand and appear completely unfazed by the humidity). Try not to overheat on the tube if you can help it and take some water with you.

Another thing to be aware of when riding the tube is standing to the side and allowing everyone out of the carriage before you try and get on. It seems obvious but the number of people who don’t do this is astounding. The doors will beep when they are closing so stay out of their way, no one will thank you if you hold up the tube by trying to force your way through them.

Londoners aren’t as rude as people make out and you shouldn’t actually have to throw your weight around to get in and out of the tube, crowding people and pushing definitely isn’t necessary. This doesn’t stop some people getting aggy down there, I would advise putting on your blinkers and not engaging with people acting this way.

Tube Etiquette:

I know I claimed Londoners aren’t rude but DON’T TALK and DON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT on the tube. The only exception to this rule is if you are on the last tube home at which point everyone is a bit pissed and feeling footloose and fancy free. People who talk to strangers on the tube are assumed to be clinically insane. It can actually be a good strategy to adopt if you don’t want anyone to sit or stand near you.

If the tube is busy then please for the love of god move down the carriage and don’t crowd around by the door. Standing in the centre aisle is actually how you show your intention to take the next available seat. If someone gets off the tube and you are in the aisle closest to that seat then you have first dibs. It can be aggravating if you have been waiting ages and someone up the line, who just got on, nabs a seat but it is location dependant not who has waited the longest.

Try not to be gross on the tube by eating smelly food or being smelly yourself, seems obvious but again not everyone gets it. Also please don’t be a Turtleman, (my name for people wearing backpacks) take your backpack off and put it between your feet, it takes up more room behind you than you think and I have been smacked in the face enough times to wholeheartedly encourage you to do this.

When moving through the tube stations and escalators always stand on the right and let people pass on the left. Don’t encroach on any part of the left-hand side of an escalator if you can help it, you will impede the flow of traffic and be tutted at. You can walk if you want, when you hop on an escalator have a glance and see how far it is. If you’re coming out of Angel on the Northern Line then don’t even think about trying, it’s like scaling Everest. As you get to the top keep walking and don’t block people coming off behind you, get your Oyster card out and head for the gates and out in that sweet sweet fresh air.

Pro Tips:

  • Call the lines by their names rather than their colours.
  • Don’t be a dick.

and finally here is a video anthropomorphising tube lines. I kind of know the girl who plays the Metropolitan, Piccadilly and Bakerloo Lines, she’s part of a comedy duo called Stiff and Kitsch. If you ever get a chance to see them you should, they’re excellent.

Featured Image by: Viktor Forgacs

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