I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Using public transport in London


St Helier station
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner, but I love London so. And I've been a regular user of public transport in London for as long as I can remember.

When I was a very small nipper I was regularly hauled up the Northern Line from Morden to Oval (I think) to get my eyes seen to. Once I came back with an eye-patch, and not long after that I started wearing glasses.

A few years later I was getting buses from Raynes Park to Wimbledon, and then Morden, on the way home from double games on a Wednesday afternoon. At least a couple of times my bro' and I fare-dodged our way down to Ash Vale -- we started at Morden Road as it was an unmanned station, unlike St Helier which, at the time, had a ticket office and everything. These days St Helier has fuck all, just a huge exposed staircase. It is still right next door to a huge estate for disabled ex-servicemen and their families, however.

I remember when bus tickets cost 15p or 20p depending on how far you were going, and when the Capitalcard existed. That one meant you could use trains, unlike the Travelcard which only allowed tubes and buses. I think the latter was 70p. I also remember getting the 88 bus from Mitcham to Acton Green just because it was a huge, massively long bus journey which started locally to us. I was about 12, and pretty sad even then. Though not as sad as whoever wrote that Wikipedia page about it, fucking hell.

Early technique for visiting central London was another route learned from Kevin: bus to Wimbledon, tube to Earls Court, change for another tube to Leicester Square and hey presto, the West End. Why didn't we start at Morden? I don't recall, though the Northern Line was pretty shitty.

Once I became flush enough to use the Capitalcard, or perhaps when they abolished it and added trains to Travelcards, I started starting at St Helier, and my days out would include the odd fast train from London Waterloo to Surbiton (and back), for 2 reasons: it was the longest non-stop journey in my quarter of London, and Surbiton station had great bannisters you could slide down. I was about 15, and still pretty sad.

Since then I've gone into the centre shitloads of times. Before university it was to go to gigs -- I went to more than 70 in 1991, at the Marquee, the Dome, the Astoria, etc. During university it was to get to Victoria for the coach, or Euston for the train. And since university it has been to drink, to go to gigs, or to work: I've worked in (or beyond) central London since October 1997.

That's a whole lot of travelling on public transport in London. Here are some of the lessons I've learned.

  1. "Seek assistance" is London slang for "if at first you don't succeed, try and try again, and again, and again, and again"
  2. When you get on a train or tube, there is no-one behind you. Stay near the door, surveying the whole carriage for a suitable place to sit or stand. You are not blocking anyone.
  3. If the tube driver is standing on the platform having a smoke and a chat, they're going to leave imminently, so run and barge people to get to your favourite carriage. Hurry!
  4. The words on the front of buses are lies. You should always get on the bus and ask the driver where they're going.
  5. "No exit" means "exit", especially when written on the steps at a busy station. People getting off trains are more important than people getting on them, so ignore anyone trying to battle past you to get on the train you just left.
  6. It takes, ooh, a good 5 minutes, surely, to walk the length of an 8 carriage train, so you really need to run along the platform if it's less than that 'til departure. Hurry!
  7. Waiting 10 minutes for "the fast train" is an efficient use of your time. The timetable which says that one arrives just after the slow train you're not getting on is a lie.
  8. The "please don't use your mobiles here" posters and announcements were drawn/made with a little wink. Just keep your calls down to 15 minutes or so, no-one'll mind.
  9. On crowded station concourses, do not under any circumstances face the direction in which you are travelling.
  10. A queue of 50-odd people at a bus stop will only take around 2 seconds to board, so if you're over 50 yards away you must run for it. Hurry!
  11. The buttons at pedestrian crossings do not make the lights change. No-one knows what they do do, and it might be bad, so don't use them.
  12. Bicycle lanes are for pedestrians.
I might look for a job I can walk to.

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