I’ve lived in London for the past two and half years for my Journalism degree at the University of Westminster, but before last summer I hadn’t properly had the full London commuter experience.
Reporter: Jack Leslie | Sub-Editor: Joe Carey
That all changed from May to August when I completed various internships and work experience placements at several media companies dotted around London, giving me a brilliant chance to sample the British capital’s public transport.
Now I realise why everyone on the rush hour trains and tubes look so miserable. Commuting to and from the city centre to North-West London every weekday was an eye-opening experience and I definitely learned a lot. Here’s some (hopefully) helpful snippets of wisdom from my summer of travelling at peak time in London.
1. Apps are key
As a tech-savvy young person commuting in London, I quickly realised just how important transport apps were for organising my life and getting me to my internships on time. Phone apps like Citymapper, Bus London, Trainline and Tube Map proved to be the glue that held my life together through those hectic and nerve-wracking few months of work placements.
Because while transport services in London are usually pretty good, they can sometimes let you down. Busses can turn up late, trains can be delayed and you need to know in advance just what your plan of action is. Your phone has all of the answers.
2. Be a rebel
Many exits at tube stations, especially in the city centre, say you can’t go down them. It forces the crowds of people to all venture to one staircase and that can take ages. It’s claustrophobic and unpleasant, too.
More often than not the tunnels and stairs taking people down to the platforms are far quieter compared to the actual exit (or, on the odd occasion, exits) going to the escalators and ticket halls.
As long as you’re not rude about it, keep close to the walls and don’t barge past people trying to get to the platforms, you can leave through the “no exit” or “no entry” tunnels. They all lead to the same place and it could save you time, which is key in London – minutes cannot be wasted.
3. Buy a Travelcard
Even if you have an Oyster Card, you can add on a weekly or monthly Travelcard that’ll give you unlimited access to London transport (like tubes and busses). It’ll work out much cheaper as peak-time fares are pricy and it also gives you the freedom to take extra trips and go into the city on weekends knowing you’re getting the most out of your Travelcard.
Sadly, this is something I only found out about at my final internship. The weekly Travelcard cost me £32.50 and worked out a considerable amount cheaper than using my Oyster Card (which is a Student Oyster) like I normally do. I used it on weekends too, which saved me even more money.
4. You start to recognise people
London is a huge city but if you’re organised and get the same busses and tubes every weekday, you do actually start to recognise people. Well, I did, anyway. I seem to be quite good at identifying faces and the whole thing was a little strange.
Admittedly, I am quite an organised person and I usually stand at similar places when getting the tube, but it was still a funny experience. I’m not sure if they recognised me or thought the same, but it’s one of those things I never expected to happen when commuting in the city.
5. Walking can help
This is something that relates more to spring and summer. No one wants to be trekking through London in the rain. But I found walking before getting on the tube made my journey more seamless — It was healthier for me too. Most of my internships and placements involved sitting at a desk for long periods of time, so it was satisfying to see my step count go up.
But really I was just looking to remove a few stages in my journey. One commute into London involved getting a Metropolitan Line train from Preston Road to Baker Street, then switching to the Jubilee Line and getting the Central Line at Bond Street to get to Holborn. So, for my journey back home, I decided to walk 20 minutes to King’s Cross, skip the Central and Jubilee Line stints and jump straight on the Met Line. It made my journey much more bearable.
6. Keep your headphones close
Keep a close eye on your headphones, because they are the single most important part of a commute. I once forgot to bring my headphones and it made the whole thing an excruciatingly awkward nightmare.
With no music to listen to, what was I meant to do? What was I meant to focus on? There was no fun beat to calm me down, make me forget about my nerves and drown out the racket of the Central Line tube carriage. It was a tragic day and is why I always double check I have my headphones before leaving home.
7. Know your stations
Of course, this comes with experience, but try to keep note of what stations take the longest to exit and change at. There may be quicker ways to get to your tube platform at the station, like going down a certain exit at Waterloo, using the northern ticket hall to get to the Northern Line at King’s Cross or going down the northern exit by South Bank University at Elephant & Castle to get the Bakerloo Line. Time is precious in London and this can save a lot of faff, I have found.
8. Don’t join the crush
It seems to be ingrained in people’s minds that there is still enough room for them to cram onto the tube carriage, even when it is packed full. While you may want to get home as soon as possible or get that specific train, sometimes it just isn’t worth the hassle. For me, anyway.
You have to realise that there will be another tube coming in a few minutes. Even on lines with multiple end destinations, you really won’t have to wait long for the next one and you’ll be at the front of the queue, giving you the chance to find a space, make it your own and get comfortable. This is also prime time to take advantage of any free seats before they get snapped up.
9. Stay a little later
Whether it’s staying a bit later in the office to get some more work done, going for a walk or quickly grabbing a drink with a colleague, staying in the city for longer will make your journey home more pleasant. Peak times on the tube are between 5:30pm and 6:30pm, although it usually tails off towards the end of that window. So as I didn’t have much to rush back for, I’d sometimes wait a little longer before jumping on the tube – maybe going for a relaxing stroll or popping into some shops.
10. Travel alternatives
Even if you never have to use your alternative route home, it’s always nice to have a backup plan. For example, I knew that if something happened to the Metropolitan Line or there wasn’t an all stations tube for a while, I could just get the Jubilee Line to Wembley Park and get a bus.
Now my nearest station is Kenton on the Bakerloo Line but if there is a gap before the next train or there’s an issue, I can walk five minutes to Northwick Park and get the Metropolitan Line or bus it to Wembley Park for the Jubilee. So always know what you need to do if a curveball is thrown your way. There are always other alternatives and if not, get an Uber or cab.