Using the Tube and Oyster Card System

London has a fantastic transport system, that through the wonders of modern technology only requires one ticket. Even if you’re traveling to London from overseas, you can pre-order an Oyster Card, loaded with as much credit as you desire, to use as your access pass to London’s transport network. Just go to the Transport for London website , head to the Oyster section and under ‘visitors’ you can order your Oyster card and have it delivered to your home before you even leave for the airport.

The Oyster Card can be loaded with either ‘Credit’ for “pay as you go” travel or a TravelCard. TravelCards give you unlimited travel everywhere between and within set zones, for a set price, for a set number of days. I personally prefer to use the “Pay as you Go” option as it works out cheaper and is far more flexible. After loading your Oyster Card with a set amount of money (an amount you set) either online via credit/debit card, or at a ticket machine where you can use either you card or cash, you’re away, you can ‘top up’ online or at a machine anytime. All you do is ‘tap’ your card on the yellow readers when you enter and leave a tube station, or when you get on a bus.

On the Tube, the fare is deducted when you leave the station, and is calculated based on the number of zones you traveled, starting at £1.90 (zones are clearly marked on Tube Maps). On the bus, you are simply charged a set amount around £2 depending on the time of day you travel. Pay as you Go fares are by far the cheapest on all services, and because its all connected you can use your Oyster Card on the Tube, Overland Rail (Within London), Docklands Light Rail, Buses, and certain River Ferries, all you have to do is have enough credit stored on your card and remember to ‘tap’ and you’re done! Oyster Cards cost £3, which is refundable, you can buy at any ticket office at any Tube Station or online. If you live outside the UK you will have to pay extra postage, also any credit you have left on your card will not expire so you can use it again and again on multiple trips to London.

London is famous for its underground train system, known throughout London and the world as just ‘The Tube’, the oldest of its type, its only rival for size is Shanghai. Thankfully, it is very easy to use to get around. The first thing you’ll need to get the most out of The Tube, is a Tube Map (free from all stations and online), the second thing to know is that its not actually a Map. The Tube Map is simply a diagram and is in no way to scale (if it where it would be indecipherable), that makes the system of lines and stations easy to understand. A common joke amongst Londoners is ”how to get from Covent Garden to Leicester Square?”, a look on the Tube map would have you believe you’d take the underground…but you’d be wrong, its not only quicker to walk between the two, you can also use them interchangeably to see both Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

All Tube Lines are colour coded in addition to having names, there’s the Circle Line (Yellow), Northern Line (Black), Central (Red), District (Green), Jubilee (Grey), Metropolitan (Purple), Hammersmith and City (Pink), Piccadilly (Dark Blue), Victoria (Light Blue), Bakerloo (Brown), Waterloo and City (Light Green). The Docklands Light Rail and Overland Train Network are also marked on the Tube map. Trains stop at all stations on the line, and you’ll rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes for a train unless its in the middle of night or there are maintenance works. Trains run in both directions along a line and are referred to by their terminating station, there are signs on all platforms letting you know the direction and also which stations will be stopped at, so its easy to confirm you’re in the right place. On board the trains there will be a map displayed of the line, and the name of the station will be announced. If you do get on a train heading in the wrong direction, don’t worry, just get of at the next station and switch to the correct direction.

The Tube gets exceedingly busy at peak times (officially 7am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm), often its standing room only and it is a tight squeeze. You should always allow people to get off the train before you board, never ever try and board or leave the train when you hear the loud high-pitched beeping as the doors are about to close. Drinking and smoking are forbidden on all services. Finally, when using the escalators at stations, stand on the right and walk up the left, Londoners are always in a hurry and like to move very quickly up the escalators.

Trains run from 5.30am to 1am every day, although maintenance is often carried out on weekends or overnight which does disrupt the timetable. There will be announcements made and signs displayed at stations, regular maintenance works will be mentioned on a recent tube map.

The Tube is a great way to get around London, yes its busy and a little complicated but don’t feel put off by it, its fast and reasonably priced, its also a London icon in its own right.

You can download a PDF Tube Map here .
You can download a PDF Oyster rail services map here .

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