The London public transport system known as TFL (Transport for London), can often seem confusing. As someone who grew up outside of the capital, I know what it’s like to step on a train platform and feel completely lost. Multi-coloured, intertwined rail networks on maps at every tube station can seem daunting at first but with time, travelling around London can become like second nature. Here, I’ll show you the four most important things to know when using public transport in London.
Know your lines
When travelling on the tube, it is important to understand that there are 12 London Underground lines. Each line has a corresponding colour which is shown on displays at the station and in the train. For example, the Piccadilly line is represented by the colour blue, while the colour red refers to the Central line. Trains will travel “eastbound” and “westbound” which is important because you want to make sure that you are going in the right direction. While it isn’t necessary to memorise the stops on each line, it is very important to be able to identify the direction that the tube is going in so that you can arrive at your designated stop on time.
Fares, Oyster cards and peak times
Now that you understand how tube lines work, you’ll need to know how to pay for your ticket. There are two main ways: you can top up your Oyster card, or you can use your contactless card at the barriers as you enter the station. An Oyster card is a specific payment card used only for travel on TFL services. A benefit of the Oyster card is that you can keep track of how much you spend getting around London. However, if you are prone to losing cards, it might be a better idea to use a contactless payment method on your phone, an option that many Londoners choose.
Before travelling, it is also a great idea to be aware of peak times. You will be charged more during peak travel times which occurs between the times of 6.30am to 9.30am and 4pm to 7pm. If you can avoid using the tube during these hours, you will save yourself lots of money and beat the rush of commuters, and most likely securing a highly coveted seat.
Have your Oyster card ready
Now that you’ve sorted out your preferred method of payment, make sure that you have your card ready before going on the tube or bus. Depending on the area and time of travel, your mode of transport will likely be very busy. It’s a good idea to have your card ready and at hand before tapping in, because people won’t want to wait behind you as you rummage through your belongings trying to find it. Once you’ve found your card, you’ll see a yellow circle at the barrier or where the bus driver is located. Tap the circle once and a light will turn green. The barriers will open and you can safely go through. Take note, if you use a contactless card, you won’t be charged immediately. Instead, TFL will withdraw the money from your account usually at midnight.
Stand to the right of the escalator
This final piece of advice is one of the most important steps to understanding etiquette on the London Underground. When travelling down the escalators on the tube, there is an unspoken rule that most Londoners adhere to. If you wish to be stationary, stand on the right of the escalator and you will avoid a rush of people trying to board the tube on time. This is advisable if you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. However, if you’re in a tight squeeze for time and you need to walk down the escalator in order to get to the tube, travel on the left hand side of the escalator, where you will be with fellow walkers and runners.
With this in mind, you have a great foundation for getting around London. Don’t forget these tips and you’ll be able to navigate any transport system in the city with ease.