Central Europe and London-Part 3 – London
Posted by Transit Action Network on October 24, 2011
London, UK- (city population 7.8 million, density 12,892 inhabitants/ sq. mi., metro population (mid-2010); 2.3 million -KCMO-density 1,446 inhabitants /sq. mi (2010))
We only had a short stop over in London to go to the theatre and see friends. Since we knew we were going to the theatre in the West End we stayed at a hotel on the Strand by Covent Garden so we could walk to all the theatres. This is a great location. Many of the best sites are in easy walking distance, such as the British Museum, the Tate Gallery, Tate Modern, National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye Ferris Wheel, Trafalgar Square, St. Martin in the Fields Church, National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, all the West End theatres and of course Covent Garden itself. Take a few minutes to visit inside St. Paul’s-Covent Garden’s parish church (fondly known as the Actor’s Church) – most people spend a lot of time in the square behind the church watching performers but go to the other side for a restful garden and the memorials in the church dedicated to many famous actors of the 20th century, including Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Gracie Fields, Stanley Holloway, Boris Karloff and Vivien Leigh.
We arrived at Heathrow Airport. There are multiple ways to get into the city center. Heathrow has a direct connection to central London on the Piccadilly Tube (subway) line, which goes right into the Covent Garden station. Journey time is approximately 55 minutes to central London. Heathrow is located approximately 20 miles to the west of central London. Leaving Heathrow to return home was a nightmare because the check-in and security lines took nearly three hours.
Of course you can come into London from Heathrow by taxi (cab) which is much more expensive but faster and direct to your hotel. The London cabs are easily identifiable with a specific design and most of them are black cars. Make sure you learn what they look like. On occasion, as in all big cities, people have been known to fake being cabbies for criminal purposes. London cabbies have to pass a grueling test to get a license. It takes between 2 and 4 years to pass this test. Anyone who can pass The Knowledge has a great memory and knows London forwards and backwards. It is the world’s most demanding training course for taxicab-drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve “appearances” (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination. London has the best cabbies in the world. I wish New York City would implement the taxi standards that London has. New York should consider implementing The Knowledge for NYC. Of course, new technology may make this level of expertise obsolete.
See Transport for London for all the transportation options in London. See Wikipedia articles about TfL and information on transport in London. Transport for London (TfL maps) maps cover the Tube, tram, buses, walking, river, rail , DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and red double-decker buses (many are diesel-electric hybrids) for London.
Although the Tube and double-decker buses are always great, the biggest transportation news in London is bicycles. Bikes are the fastest growing form of transportation in the city. Bike riders are a very diverse group. We saw a lot of people in spandex outfits with expensive bikes with all the bells and whistles but we also saw a man wearing a suit riding an upright one-speed bike with a wicker basket. Most people wear helmets.
With bikes come lots of bike parking spots. Approaching the main shopping area of Covent Garden is a bike park that is supervised by the police. Remember that most of London is covered by CCTV now. This parking area had signs warning of the police surveillance as well as a notice that the police will stamp your bike with a tracking number if you chose to park there. I spoke with a man locking up his bike and he said that the police come around regularly to make sure the bikes are stamped with a number. The police put the number into their tacking system and it is up to you to enter your information on the internet to register your bike. I asked if this had reduced theft. He wasn’t aware of any thefts at this location for the two years he had been parking there. However, the best part of the system is that the second-hand bike dealers that were notorious for selling stolen bikes are no longer in business. Good News!
London started one of the earliest bike rental systems in a major city. The bikes are mainly used for short trips. They are free the first ½ hour and only £1 for the next 30 minutes. Watch the video about how the system works.
About 10 am we passed the bike stand outside the Charing Cross Tube station close to our hotel and all the slots were full. People had either ridden the bikes to work, since this area is a major work location, or to the Tube Station. About 7 pm we passed the same location and only two bikes were left. On that day the bikes were really well used. The biggest lesson learned by the early adopters of bike rental systems was to have visually outstanding bikes. If they looked like normal bikes they often got stolen. A unique look equates to free advertising, too. Several cities in America have similar bike rental systems now and I look forward to Kansas City implementing Bike Share KC in 2012.
London’s Tube is a great asset. If you are going to be in London for a while, consider getting an Oyster Card. Oyster is a plastic Smartcard you can use instead of paper tickets. You put pay as you go credit on it, which you use up as you travel. It is valid across all travel zones and automatically calculates the best value fare for all the journeys you make in a single day. There is a Visitor Oyster card too. London Oyster cards can be used on all buses, trams, Tube, DLR and London Overground services, and nearly all National Rail services. You can buy an Oyster card online before you go. You can also use your Oyster card to receive discounted fares on TfL River Services.
If you are in the suburbs the London Overground consists of 5 suburban lines. Services have been upgraded and infrastructure improved since the government took it over.
Avoid driving in London since there are so many good transit options. Congestion charging in the central zone in another reason not to drive in the city. The congestion charge is the price you pay to drive into the central zone. The charge is £10 daily if you pay in advance or on the same day, or £12 if paid the following charging day. There are discounts available. Parking and gas (petrol) are really expensive too. There has been a six per cent increase in bus passengers due to congestion charging and by law, all net revenue raised by the charge (£148m in financial year 2009/10) has to be invested in improving transport in London. Of course you could consider renting an electric car if you need to go somewhere not easily accessible by transit.
Be sure to visit the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. It is in a wonderful steel and glass Victorian building, which used to be the wholesale flower market. Flower girls, like Eliza in the musical My Fair Lady, got their flowers here. Although the flower market has moved south, the London Transport Museum makes good use of this building. It is well worth a visit. There are great displays, information about how the London transportation system developed and historic vehicles. They have special exhibits too. When we were there “Under Attack” showed how the subways were used as air raid shelters during the blitz in World War II.
This article concludes reporting on this trip. I enjoyed sharing what I learned and experienced about transit in these three cities. The related articles are on Budapest and Prague. Hope you enjoyed reading them.
Photos by Janet and Bill Rogers except for the red hybrid buses, London cab and Trafalgar Square.