Living in London?
Getting Around in London
London has an extensive public transport network including buses, trams, light rail, underground train services, and even boats on the River Thames. While connections are good and services frequent, the size of the city could mean that you spend several hours a day commuting to work!
People who live and work near a Tube (i.e. London Underground) station usually opt for the tube as it is the quickest means of public transport. It is, however, also the most expensive. Moreover, using the tube is definitely not recommended during peak hours if you suffer from claustrophobic tendencies or simply don´t like being squeezed into a small and overheated train compartment 50 meters below street level with hundreds of other people.
The London Underground’s long history is partly responsible for this overcrowding and the relatively poor air ventilation. Having first operated in 1863, the London Tube is the oldest underground railway system in the world. This also accounts for its limited accessibility for people with mobility aids or parents with strollers.
Today the London Underground has 12 lines. Trains run from 5am to midnight from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday the hours are reduced. In a single year the London Undergrounds carries 1.107 million passengers!
Buses and Light Rail
Many people prefer buses as the cheaper and slightly less stressful alternative to the tube. However, they usually take longer, and they, too, can get very crowded. London bus services have greatly improved over the last decade, and you can get almost anywhere by bus. While service on all other means of public transport discontinues after midnight, most buses to and from the center of town run all night long.
The only improvement which hasn´t been greeted with pure enthusiasm was the abolition of the traditional red double-decker “Routemasters” for safety reasons. However, a limited number of refurbished Routemasters are still in operation on parts of the routes 9 and 15. Taking a ride is highly recommended not only for its nostalgic appeal, but also for sightseeing purposes. Route 15 in particular takes you past many of London's major sights. Since February 2012, a new, “greener and safer” version of the Routemaster serves route 38 between Victoria and Hackney. Its main merits are improved accessibility and use of the latest green diesel-electric hybrid technology.
Light rail services are a good alternative to the bus and the tube, especially if you work in the City or in the Docklands. There are many different lines and operators to connect those areas which are not within reach of the underground network.
Public Transport Tickets
The network is divided into 9 zones, and there are single tickets and day tickets for one or several zones, either limited to buses or valid for all means of public transport. The ticketing system is relatively simple thanks to the widespread use of the Oyster Card.
This smart card can be charged at every station and used either on a pay-as-you-go basis or in order to purchase monthly passes. For detailed information on timetables, tickets, a route planner and service updates, check the Transport for London website.
If you are thinking about owning a car while you're in London, be aware of the Congestion Charge, a road tax covering all of central London. Although it has helped to reduce traffic in certain areas, the center of London is still heavily congested, and driving through the city rarely makes for a pleasant experience.
Depending on where you live, parking might be an issue. Unless your house has a drive of its own, finding a space to park your car could be a challenge. You will need to apply for a residence parking permit at your local council.
One way of avoiding most of these inconveniences and still driving your own car is getting an electric car. Not only are they exempted from the Congestion Charge, but drivers can join source London, a public charging network, which for an annual fee gives them access to hundreds of public charging points across the capital.
A lot of businesspeople who do not wish to put up with public transport or the hassle of driving a car choose taxis instead. You have the choice between hailing a traditional black cab in the street and pre-booking a minicab.
Minicabs can be cars of any make or model and don't display the yellow taxi sign on top. Despite being common practice, it is illegal for a minicab driver to just pick people up from the street.
In general, taking a taxi in London is safe, but make sure to avoid unlicensed minicabs (there have been cases of sexual harassment by unlicensed drivers). Also, always check the meter. With minicab drivers, it is common to agree on prices in advance.
The articles in our Transport and Driving section have more tips on using public transport, driving, and getting a driving license in the UK.
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