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I was inspired to write this review after reading the other reviews here. I notice that the common theme of British malcontent (which I suffer a lot of myself) when the general public think of transport. Since us, the British Public are, admittingly, proud and honourable (not to be stereotypical) we expect everything to be of high standard, affordable, robust, but most importantly, representative of what we can achieve with a stiff upper lip.
One of the biggest gripes in this country is transport. Along with most other people, I have found myself cursing, rueing and complaning about a train, the roads, namely the M25, prices, the taxi driver that turns up late and then doesn't stop chatting with his favourite radio station tinkering away in the background. The Underground suffers the same fate... it's stuffy, cramped, a little expensive perhaps, the trains aren't frequent enough at 3 minutes...
It's time to put things into perspective.
It's not until you leave the country, or even the region when you can trully appreciate the achievement of what the Underground is. I worked in New York for a few months and not only got to experience the NYC subway, but the rail system on the East Coast in general. The other reviews here are spot on, and very truthful, but I challenge them to write the same thing after going without the Underground or experiencing another country's attempt, especially the US. Try moving around London by car (nice day for congestion charging), by bus (run, catch it! oh.. it's quicker to walk anyway!), by bike (hope you have life insurance) or by taxi (hope you have a big wallet and a big mortgage...).
One thing I haven't changed my mind about the Underground and that's the price, is a little silly. £5.40 at the moment for a travelcard works out about US$10 at the moment. In 2002, and I'm guessing it hasn't gone up much since, the NYC travelcard for a day was $4 and a single journey from anywhere to anywhere was $1.50. But we need to keep the RMT members happy at £30k-odd a year... I spend a lot of time in London this summer, spent about £50 on the tube I'm guessing.
But moving on, for those who think the LU is stuffy, then the NY subway is like being strapped inside the canopy of an inflated hot-air balloon. I have never sweated so much in my life and thank heavens when I got onto a train, as most are air conditioned. At least the LU trains and tube stations are well ventilated and you are not likely to suffocate unless you are being sat-on, which, okay, might happen during rush hour. So avoid those times.
The majority of the time, the Underground runs almost like clockwork for a system of it's size and complexity. Think when you next look at the infamous electric-circuit style map that there are hundreds of trains running all at around a 3-5 minute interval. That's quite impressive.
I live just outside London, near Epping, which is the furthermost north-east corner of the London Underground network. I have often been from one end to the other, e.g. to Heathrow Airport. Although it's a long journey and you've had it when you get on the Picadilly Line and find all the seats are taken, you are sure to get there without being stuck in traffic or a power failure. The Underground is in my eyes, sufficiently reliable.
As a transport system, the Underground is old, used (over-used) and tiresome. But strangely, if you are a tourist, that is part of the charm. If you use it regularly, it is a pain in the backside.. literately with the seats...
But you are certain to get to where you want to go to with stops everywhere and trains frequently moving. The lines, the layout, the infamous map makes it so easy to get around, and even if English isn't your first language, you're unlikely to get lost. It is a tourist attraction in itself and those who mock it, end up using it anyway... that says something.
But I haven't finished yet... there's more to the Underground than just getting you from A to B via C... I've never exprienced a transport system that has it's own culture. People write stories and poems about the Underground, and have even found their true loves or soulmates on it. And I know of no other system that has it's own merchandise. Tube stop names are memorable like "Elephant and Castle" and the constant speaker voice of "mind the gap" actually never gets annoying.
The London Underground... use it if you don't have to.. just for the experience. Otherwise I know of one or two Londoners who are eternaly grateful, although still complain...! -_^