London’s public transit system is one of the oldest in the world, and is used daily by millions of commuters. For visitors to London, the Tube and the double-decker buses are an important part of experiencing London as a traveler. Read this article for a guide to using London’s transit system and the etiquette appropriate when riding.
What It Is
The London public transportation system is made up of public buses, trams, river buses, underground train lines and the Docklands Light Railway. Typically, visitors to London will find the Underground, buses and river buses to be the most useful.
The most famous of London’s transit options is the Underground, known affectionately as the “the Tube.” London’s Tube has been running for 150 years, making it the oldest underground railway in the world. The first line went between Paddington and Farringdon, which are still popular stops.
Also famous are the city’s bright red double-decker buses. Although the look of the buses has been the same for many years, all of the city’s buses are now equipped with low floors, making it easy for wheelchairs, baby strollers and suitcases to be brought aboard.
River buses carry passengers along the Thames River and are a great way to sightsee while going to your next destination.
When staying in London hotels, be sure to ask the front desk for information on how to get to the nearest tube station or for tips on the best way to get to your destination other than a taxi. The city is not the easiest to get around during peak hours, however, so be aware if you’re traveling before 9:30 a.m., there will be a higher fare for your ticket on the underground than if you travel later in the day.
The pay rates for traveling in London on the Underground, trams and railway are divided into 9 travel zones. Zone 1 is the center of London, reaching to the Circle Line, and Zone 6 includes Heathrow Airport. Zones 7-9 are outside of Greater London. Buses have no zones, but a flat fee.
London Is Your Oyster
In addition to paper tickets, London’s integrated system allows travellers to use a smart card called the Oyster to pay for their journeys. Users must put in a £5 refundable deposit and then charge the card with the desired amount of credit. Tourists in London may be most interested in the Travelcard payment scheme, which allows unlimited travel on the city transit networks and the National Rail Service for periods of time, for example one day or one week. Travelcards start at £7.30 for an adult pass for off-peak use in Zones 1 and 2.
If you aren’t sure you will travel enough to warrant a card or day pass, you can also buy tickets from ticket machines or newsagents.
Etiquette and Regulations
If you’ve chosen to use an Oyster card, don’t forget to swipe the card on the pay sensor when you get on and off the transportation. People who neglect to pay face fines of up to £80.
Common courtesies are normal when riding on the Tube and other modes of transportation in the city of London. Passengers should queue up without pushing and allow elderly people to sit in crowded conditions. When walking down stairs or in corridors leading to Tube platforms, pedestrians will walk on the same side of the path as they drive — on the left. Eating and drinking is unwise on any mode of transportation because you might cause a mess, but it’s not forbidden on London transportation. Drinking alcohol, however, is not allowed while riding. Everyone’s familiar with the London Tube’s recording reminding passengers to “mind the gap,” but tall visitors to London should mind their heads as well. Some of the Tube cars and other areas within the transport system seem to have been constructed with shorter people in mind, travelers say.
About the Author: Mindy White is an urban planning administrator in Toronto. An admirer of public transit systems all over the world, she feels that the London system is one of the best, and never passes up a chance to “mind the gap.”