I’d always dreamed of living in a city, but it’s something that I’d never done before; now, residing in the largest, most metropolitan city on Earth, there’s one thing I must admit to having nearly no experience with: public transport.
I’ve lived most of my life in a small suburban town, where the only thing possibly definable as public transport was a bus along the main road, normally headed towards Atlantic City, or back from it. I bought my first used car during my senior year of high school, and loved the freedom it afforded me; for once I could go out when I wanted, without having to worry about how I was getting there and back. That said, I’m used to driving wherever I need to go.
London, however, is a far cry from my small New Jersey town. Living in a city has its perks and its drawbacks, but one of the best things by far is how simple travel can be. Today, I wanted to see the fireworks for the Lord Mayor Inauguration, all I had to do was take a quick peek online for directions on the official travel website, TFL.gov. With just a few seconds of typing out where I was and where I wanted to go, it gave me four different options for getting there. In a way, it’s rather like the public transport version of GPS, giving you several different options on how to reach your intended location.
The most well known method of transport is the Underground, also known as ‘the Tube’. I’m lucky in that I live on a campus which is very self contained, so unlike most London students I rarely need to travel for classes, but when I do travel distances, I use the underground. For example, I have friends going to school/living on the other side of the city, so occasionally I’ll walk down the road to Mile End tube station, and take the central line westward, either meeting up with them by their flats or taking the line towards a certain station where we’ll all meet. I’m fortunate in that I received an Oyster Card at my Ifsa-Butler orientation; this means that I receive a discounted rate on all transport, and that I don’t need to stand in line to buy tickets every time I travel. I’ve yet to meet a single Londoner without one.
Though quick and easy to use, the tube does have the drawback of not exactly being completely affordable on a student budget. Depending on where you’re traveling to, one trip within the city can cost around 2 pounds, 4 without an Oyster card. So if you go out for a night with friends, you need to take into consideration how many times you’re going to be riding the tube. For example, I once intended to simply meet my friends for dinner in China town, so I took the tube to Leicester Square. They then wanted to meet some other friends, so we once more took off from the nearest station. When I was finally heading home, I realized that without paying attention I’d used up all of the prepaid funds on my Oyster, spending roughly 6 pounds that night alone. Fortunately, I don’t think that I would have been charged much more beyond those 6 pounds if I’d traveled anymore on the tube that day; if in one day you spend on your Oyster the amount that it costs for a day’s prepaid travel card, which would be 7 pounds and 20 pence for me, the card scanners simply act as if you have a travel card and don’t charge you anything beyond that rate. This only works within certain zones of the city, but it’s a nice scheme.
The other method of public transport that I use often, especially when traveling within my own section of London, is the bus. Back home I’d never been on one, yet here they’re a common source of travel. They’re cheap, especially with an Oyster card, though traveling on them usually takes longer than taking the tube. When carrying heavy bags back to my dorm from the grocery store nearly a mile away, I almost always take the bus back to my campus. However, it can get really crowded, especially on the route back from the grocery store, and I know some claustrophobic friends that will let several buses pass them by till they find one that they’re willing to take. However, their main advantage is that they never stop running; though some routes may close, there are some that run 24-7 and others that take different routes at night. Thus, after the tube closes, usually around midnight depending on the station, buses can be your best option home.
I’d love to go on about taxis, but I’ve never been in one. What I do know, however, is that they can be very pricey unless you’re splitting the fair with a sizeable group. That, and I’m constantly hearing warnings against taking an unlicensed cabs, whether it be through word of mouth of advertizing by the city.
Personally, my favorite method of travel is walking. A few of my friends have travel cards for certain sections, meaning that all of their travel within that section is already paid for; they take the tube even for the smallest of distances, just because they can. I don’t have a travel card, and though it might be nice, I don’t need one. All of my classes are a short walk from my residence hall, not a tube ride away, and while I do travel, I don’t take the tube or bus if my destination is only a few stops away. Walking at street level, I get to see what’s around me, and enjoy it. Taking the bus, the signs are only a blur, and you can barely read them, while on the tube you only see the pitch black of the tunnels and the ads within your train. By walking, not only do I save money, but I get to know the city a little bit better each time.
Walking – best done with friends.