Using Public Transport To Get Around London
If you’re moving to London and have never lived here before, you might want to know about the various ways of getting around. This is certainly something you should think about when deciding whereabouts you’ll be living as commute times can vary considerably depending on where you’re coming from. As you’d expect, the public transport system in London is facilitated by Rail (over ground as well as under ground), Road, and River. Read on for an overview of each.
If you plan to use public transport on a regular basis then you will definitely benefit from an Oyster Card which is a form of electronic ticketing. It’s valid for use on many forms of public transport across London such as Trains, Buses, Trams and even River Boat services. A standard Oyster card is a blue credit card sized contactless smartcard which passengers must touch onto an electronic reader upon entering and leaving the transport system. Cards can be pre-loaded with funds and topped up online. They can be purchased from any station, from many shops/’garages throughout London or ordered online. Here’s a link to Oyster’s webpage where you’ll find out everything you need to know. You can also use a contactless credit/debit card in the same way, and be charged exactly the same amount.
- London Underground
Commonly referred to as the Tube – it’s the oldest and second largest such network in the world. This rapid transit system serves most of Greater London and extends into Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. It’s by far the fastest way to travel if you need to cover a reasonable distance in London.
The Tube network is split up into 6 zones with zone 1 in the centre encircled by zone 2, and so on. The cost of your fare will depend upon how many zones you wish to travel through and when you wish to travel.
Some lines operate 24hrs on Fridays and Saturdays:
- Victoria line
- Central line
- Jubilee line, Northern line
- Piccadilly line (introduced in December 2016)
There are plans to expand the night time service to parts of the Metropolitan, Circle, District, and Hammersmith & City lines once Transport For London’s modernisation programmes are complete. Additionally, services could operate on parts of the London Overground in 2017 and the Docklands Light Railway by 2021.
With the exception of the above on Fridays and Saturdays, each line starts and stops at different times but as a rough guide you should not expect trains to run before 5am or after 1am.
Map – Timetables
- Docklands light Railway
The DLR is an automated light rail system covering several areas in East London – it reaches north to Stratford, east to London City Airport, Beckton and Woolwich Arsenal, south to Lewisham, and west to Tower Gateway and Bank in the City of London financial district.
The DLR operates from 5:30am to 12:30am daily and you can expect a train every 5 to 10 minutes.
- London Tramlink
The tram network centres around Croydon in South London. Consisting of 3 main spurs reaching Wimbledon, Beckenham Junction and Addington, and includes a one-way loop going around Croydon Town Center where the trains arrive roughly every 1 to 6 minutes.Pay as you go for £1.50 with contactless or Oyster on all trams in London. Alternatively, paper single tickets are available from all ticket machines at tram stops and cost £2.60.You can travel on all trams if you have a:
- Travelcard on your Oyster card that includes Zone 3, 4, 5 or 6
- Paper Day Travelcard that includes Zone 3, 4, 5 or 6
- Bus & Tram Pass on your Oyster card
- One Day Bus & Tram Pass
Touch your contactless payment method or Oyster card on the yellow card reader on the platform at the start of your journey before boarding a tram. Do not touch out at the end of your journey, except at Wimbledon where you must touch out at the ticket gates when leaving the station.
- London Overground
London overground is a suburban network in London and Hertfordshire and currently consists of six routes:
- Richmond/Clapham Junction to Stratford
- Watford Junction to Euston
- Gospel Oak to Barking
- Highbury & Islington to West Croydon/Clapham Junction
- Liverpool Street to Enfield Town, Cheshunt (via Seven Sisters) and Chingford
- Romford to Upminster
Nowadays London Buses are no longer the bright red double deckers with a conductor that most people think of – they have now been replaced with cheaper to operate versions with no conductor.Pay as you go for £1.50 with contactless or Oyster on all London buses that display the red roundel sign. Touch your contactless payment method or Oyster card on the yellow card reader when you board the bus. Don’t touch out when you get off. You can’t use cash to pay for your bus fare.You can travel on all buses in London that display the red roundel (illustrated above) if you have a:
- Travelcard or Bus & Tram Pass on your Oyster card
- Paper Day Travelcard
- One Day Bus & Tram Pass
Double Deckers can be a very pleasant and scenic way to get around but be warned – during the morning and evening rush they can be painfully slow.
The regular red bus service runs from 6am till midnight daily – outside of these hours there is a restricted night bus service.
To catch a bus you should go to a bus stop on the correct side of the road for the direction you wish to travel. Many are “request” stops so you need to put out your arm to indicate to the driver that you wish to board, if you don’t the bus will drive on by.
There are many different routes serving the same stop so check the destination on the front of the bus and most importantly study a local bus map and timetable – these are displayed at bus stops. Here’s a link to a website where you’ll find all the routes, maps and timetables for buses throughout Greater London.
- Black Taxi Cabs
London is famous for its black cabs which are purpose built taxis seating 5 passengers. Most are black although they do now come in a range of colours – all will carry a yellow “For Hire” sign on the front and a white licence plate on the back. If the “For Hire” sign is lit then the cab is free – hold out your arm and gesture to the driver (we call him “Cabbie”) to hail a cab.
This is an expensive way to get around unless there are 3 or more of you to split the fare but the driver has to pass an exam called “The Knowledge” in order to get his license which means he should be able to find the quickest way to get you to your destination even without a sat nav system.
- Minicabs and Uber
A cheaper alternative to black cabs – Mini cabs cannot be hailed in the street but must be booked by phone or via apps. There is no official training scheme for mini cab drivers therefore no guarantee that the driver will be reliable, honest or know his way around although with Uber, where you can rate your driver, and your journey is logged – you are more in control. If you don’t use Uber, since minicabs don’t usually have meters the price to your destination should be agreed before starting your journey. All minicabs should be licensed, you should see a licence plate on the back of the car and the driver should display a photographic licence inside the cab. Beware of unlicensed cabs!
- BicyclesSantander Cycles is London’s self-service, bike-sharing scheme for short journeys. You can hire a bike from as little as £2. Simply go to any docking station with your bank card and touch the screen to get started. There’s no need to book – hire a bike, ride it where you like, then return it to any docking station.
If there are occasions when you need a car then Car Clubs are an ideal solution. Cars can be pre-booked or used last minute and are available by the hour, day or week. You just pay for the time you use the car and the fee includes everything such as parking (at marked bays), insurance and fuel.
There are now several car clubs operating in London. You need to register with a particular operator to use their cars. Here’s a link to the Transport for London website where you’ll find all the information you need, including where all the operators are located, which one is closest to you, how to register and anything else you might want to know:
- River Services
River transport is often overlooked as a means of getting around London. If your route follows the River Thames or you need to get from one side to the other then a river ferry or river bus can be a very pleasant way to travel. Services start in the early morning and run every 20 minutes until late evening. Five separate River Bus routes operate from piers between Putney and Woolwich, where the Woolwich Ferry crosses the river between Woolwich and North Woolwich. There is also the River Bus Express, which is a dedicated service running before and after events at the O2 in North Greenwich.
River Bus services are operated by MBNA Thames Clippers www.thamesclippers.com. Transport for London manages the piers and licenses river passenger services.