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Using the London Underground could only really be described as an ‘experience’. I doubt anyone would/could find any other form of public transport like this one. Although I don’t live in London, I have used the Underground on a fairly regular basis for many years, so hopefully can offer you some sensible advice on how to make the most of your journey.** The London Underground comprises a network of thirteen different railway lines which run across the length and breadth of London. Each of the lines has a different name in order to identify the different routes more easily. Most of you will be familiar with the multi-coloured map of the Underground - remember that the map is topographical (i.e. it is to give an idea of layout only) and that it is not set to scale. Most (but not all) of the lines in Central London run underground as you might expect, but there are also significant lengths of track in middle and outer London which run over ground as per a normal train service.
** The Tube system is divided into a number of zones. This is intended to make purchasing tickets much easier – rather than a raft of different fares from one station to another, tickets are simply sold based on the departure and arrival zone. There are a number of different tickets available – choosing your ticket will depend very much on your journey requirements. Single adult fares range from £1.50 to £5.30, but British Rail tickets into London will normally include a journey on the Underground inclusive of the ticket price. Travelcards are by far the most economical option – these offer unlimited travel in a set number of zones for a set period – one day Travelcards range from £4.00 to £6.50 – weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual options are all available. Over recent years, it has become common for ticket touts to collect discarded Travelcards and then attempt to sell them back to customers below the cover price. Whilst this may be a tempting way to save money, you’re only looking at a saving of a couple of quid – get caught and you face a penalty fare of considerably more. Similarly, always make sure that you have a valid ticket – entrance to most stations and platforms is through an automatic barrier – no ticket = no entry.** Much of the rolling stock used in the London Underground is quite old. Few of the trains offer any more comfort than simple seats and dangly things to hold on to if you have to stand up (which you invariably will). Passengers may not move between the carriages (unless in an emergency) and none of the trains are air-conditioned. The London Underground can be extremely claustrophobic – not just because it is underground, but simply because of the volume of people that are often crammed into a small space. If at all possible you should always travel outside the rush hour when the Underground will be unbearably busy. At peak times some stations and platforms are closed off until the volume of waiting passengers has reduced significantly. In Summer take a small bottle of water with you, and avoid carrying anything unnecessary – you’ll quickly become hot and irritable as it is without carrying loads of junk.
** Navigating the London Underground may appear a daunting prospect when you first see the mass of coloured lines and junctions – the network is certainly not simple. Take time to familiarise yourself with a map before you travel if at all possible (most diaries and filofaxes will contain one or look online). Make a mental (or physical) note of your route – namely the name of the line and the direction of travel. Most stations will repeatedly show this information throughout, and it is much easier to look for “Northern Line – Southbound” than it is “the brown line across town”. All Underground stations offer supplies of pocket maps – an invaluable tool for a new or seasoned traveller – always have one handy in case you do inadvertently get lost. One thing to look out for – some stations are not open at weekends or later in the evening – find out before you travel to avoid a nasty surprise!** Sadly, customer support is not a term with which London Transport is familiar. Most staff will speak little English, let alone be courteous, and I would not bother asking for help. There is an information help line (020 7222 1234) and a web site (www.thetube.com) but for queries once you get there you may find other passengers more helpful than the fruits in suits. Tickets are most easily purchased through the electronic vending machines, but for customers with card or cheque some stations offer a ticket office, where a hoodlum in a shirt will grunt at you and throw your ticket out a window if you so choose. Some stations now have ticket offices outside the station, so keep your eyes peeled!
** The Underground has a reputation for being fraught with dangers. Whilst this may be something of an exaggeration, travellers should always keep their wits about them. Pickpockets operate frequently, and single passengers may choose to travel by other means late at night. Smoking is no longer permitted on the Tube due to fire hazards and there are no public litterbins in light of the potential for suspect packages. Make sure you stay well clear of the platform edge – whilst it is not clear whether electrocution or being squashed would get you first, one of them certainly would. The Tube is also awash with escalators, lifts and the steepest staircases you may ever see so getting drunk is not an option. Don’t be nervous though – millions of people travel on the Tube every day without any problems.** There is a general etiquette to follow when travelling by Tube which makes life a little easier. When walking along corridors it is expected that passengers stick to the left-hand side – this ensures an even flow of traffic either way. When on escalators, you are requested to stick to the right so that people in a hurry can leg it past you on the left. Oh – and eating smelly food or putting your feet on the seats is a no-no as well!
** Enjoy the history and style of the Underground. Whilst it is essentially a form of transport some of the stations and lines in London are quite curious – the Docklands Light Railway is probably the line with the most to see. Many stations in the centre of London were constructed in Victorian days and you will see all sorts of curious variations – I like Baker Street – straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel! Furthermore, everybody has a tale about the Tube that starts with Did You Know? For instance, did you know that the steepest escalator in Europe is at Angel station? Most men will already know this, and will flock there in summer when skirts are shortest....
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