In comparison to South Africa, where public transport has its very definite challenges, the London public transport infrastructure is highly developed, accessible and safe. Anyone travelling to London for the 2012 Olympic Games would be well advised to get to grips with the system as it will be enormously beneficial. Do bear in mind, however, that the city civil services will be providing extensive additional transport specifically for Olympic Games audiences and supporters.
This article is a brief introduction to London’s normal transport systems as, even though South African tourists will have access to Games-specific transport, knowledge of the wider network will be important if you intend to sight see and travel around visiting family, friends and other ex-pats.
The famous London Underground (local Londoners refer to it as “The Tube”) is without doubt the fastest way to whizz around the city. The Tube has a total of twelve lines on which trains run, and an infrastructure of over 400 kilometres of track. The Tube coaches are modern, well-kept and clean, but can become very crowded at peak times. Whereas locals are used to packing themselves into the coach in such close proximity, South Africans who enjoy the luxury of driving a cars everywhere might find the experience intimidating. The only defence against this anxiety is to continually remind yourself that “when in Rome, do as the Romans”.
Officials recommend the Tube to tourists as a primary means to travel the city as to avoid the frustrating and highly time consuming traffic jams typical of London roads.
The London City Transport system oversees 6 800 scheduled buses operated by private bussing companies. Intra-city buses can be used to travel short distances when bussing would be more convenient than the Tube. Busses also operate at night and are a safe means of travel. Whereas you’ll have to buy a pre-paid bus ticket from a pre-paid ticket machine for busses in Central London, other locales provide tickets directly from the bus driver. As a visitor to this historic city, you’ll probably want to take a trip on one of the iconic red, double decker busses just for the sake of being able to say that you’ve done it.
Unfortunately, travelling around the city is an expensive exercise: the Tube is more costly than bus fare, but Travelcards are available for those individuals who intend on using the Tube extensively over a period of a few days. For more information about ticket prices (in order to help you get an indication of how much you should budget for intra-city travelling) check out www.londontransport.info.
Black cabs are also very popular in London. They’re not an ideal option if you are travelling alone as it’ll be very expensive. If you’re travelling with some friends (the cab takes up to 4 or 5 adults), however, the fare will be divided and will be more economical. Although very comfortable, the cabs have additional fees if you pay by credit or debit card, and telephone bookings also carry an additional charge.
The last tip is to get a good, descriptive map of London: if you know exactly where you are going you won’t have to dole out more money for taking the wrong bus/tube etc. This might seem a small and obvious point, but a few wrong turns could turn out to be costly mistakes.