Great Britain

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Public Transport in the UK

The various public transportation options in the United Kingdom offer you a lot of ways of getting around. You can travel by train, bus, ferry, or taxi. We give you a comprehensive overview of the different modes of transportation, as well as some tips on where to turn for information on accessibility.
Taxis offer a convenient if costly way to travel in British cities.
  • There are a number of railway and train operators in the UK, with Network Rail managing most of the national network.
  • Intercity bus services are plentiful and often cheaper than trains, while local bus networks can be found in most municipalities.
  • Taxis and ordered minicabs are also key players in local public transportation. However, a ride in an iconic black cab in London will be significantly more expensive than a bus journey.
  • Since its introduction in London in 2012, Uber has grown to be a competitive alternative to taxis in many big British cities.
  • Ferry connections provide not only easy access to neighboring countries, but also along the Scottish Highlands and to Northern Ireland and the smaller British islands.

On a Journey with the World’s Oldest Railroad System

Public transportation in the UK includes a comprehensive railway system that allows you to reach almost every smaller or bigger town by train — the system is in fact the oldest in the world. There are different companies which maintain the national and regional networks, with Network Rail managing the majority of the national network in Great Britain, and NI Railways managing the railroad traffic in Northern Ireland.  

The price of your train ticket is typically determined by the distance and time of your journey. However, which network you are traveling on as well as how far in advance you book your ticket can make a significant difference as well. You can look up times, connections, and prices as well as book your tickets on National Rail Enquiries.

If you are a frequent train traveler, you should check out the National Railcards or Regional Railcards, which — if applicable — might be a great deal and ultimately save you a lot of money. BritRail passes, on the other hand, target tourists and are only available for purchase from abroad by foreigners who have not lived in the United Kingdom for six months or more.

In any case, taking the train is a very relaxed and often scenic way to travel. On paper, fast trains allow you to commute easily between major cities, especially on the north-south axis, as well as big cities and airports. For instance, it only takes 15 minutes to travel from London Heathrow to the city center with the Heathrow Express, while a journey from Edinburgh to the capital will take you between four and five hours, depending on the exact route and type of train. However, it is worth noting that delays and cancellations have increased significantly in recent years, as has overcrowding, particularly on commuter trains.

Traveling by Coach and Bus

Traveling by coach is not only a valid choice for getting to the UK, but also for exploring the country on a budget. There are different companies which offer connections from one point to another. You can use comparison sites like CheckMyBus in order to shop around for great deals. Please remember that you need to buy coach tickets in advance as they can’t be purchased directly when boarding.

The main, but not only, operators in the UK are:

You can also easily get around cities and towns by bus, including the iconic double-deckers found in London. The local bus networks are run by different companies, so you will have to contact them individually for ticket prices and time tables. Typically, you can buy the ticket directly from your driver or from local travel centers.

Taxis and Uber in the UK: Tradition vs. Technology

If you have to get from point A to point B quickly, have a lot of luggage, or if you just don’t want to bother with public transportation, taking a taxi might be a convenient alternative. You should keep in mind, of course, that taxis are not available everywhere in the UK. However, they are prevalent in bigger towns and cities and particularly in London, where the black taxis (or black cabs) have become rather famous.

You can hail a taxi in the street if it has switched on its yellow “Taxi” sign. If you are unsure where to find a taxi, local train stations or airports are a great place to start. In London, use of the Hailo App and taxi apps in general has also become a popular method for hiring licensed cabs. In addition to the fare, as shown on the meter, you should tip the driver by rounding up the fare, or adding about 10%.

While London’s cabs have a long history ranging from horse-drawn carriages first licensed in the 17th century, to today’s iconic black taxis, modern technology has made an impact: since its official UK launch in 2012, Uber’s services have rapidly expanded in big British cities and now pose a real alternative to taxis and minicabs.

The Preordered Alternative: Minicabs

Minicabs are a low-cost alternative to taxis in the UK, but have to be hired in advance. Unlike taxis, they do not have a meter. This is why you should ask the operator or the driver about the price before you start your journey. Please remember, for your personal safety, only use licensed minicabs, especially in big cities like London. Minicabs from unlicensed providers are illegal, uninsured, and potentially unsafe for passengers.

Ferries: Perfect for Exploring Remote Isles

Ferries are a popular form of transportation when it comes to getting to the United Kingdom. Ferry connections can be used for more than just entering and leaving the country; they’re indispensable when it comes to traveling along the Scottish Highlands as well as to and from the many British and Scottish Isles.

Tickets are usually best bought directly from the operator, either online or at local ferry terminals, but you can find an overview of the various ferry companies and travel routes on websites such as Discover Ferries.

Public Transportation Resources for the Disabled

Most trains in the UK carry a wheelchair access ramp, and buses are often able to tilt down to meet the sidewalk. If you look at the London tube map, you’ll also notice that stations with disabled access are clearly marked.

For more information, visit Transport for London also provides more specific, local advice on the accessibility of trains, buses, and the tube in the capital. Finally, Disabled Travel Advice offers lots of useful tips on public transportation in the UK for expats and travelers alike. Although their British city profiles mostly target tourists, expats may find their information useful as well.


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