Every time I get to a city with a great public transit system, I get slightly depressed thinking how public transport in the Seattle metro is so insufficient. We have a bus system that is sad with some routes that are reliable enough for commuting, and some that are not so much. The buses themselves (especially the King County Metro buses) could use some major upgrades. We have the Monorail, which is essentially a tourist trap. And we also have the Light Rail that only goes from downtown Seattle to the airport.
Dragging our exhausted selves and luggage, we got on the train from Heathrow that will take us to central London. We figured out that we would need to transfer to the Northern Line that would take us to the neighborhood where our rented apartment is located.
The automated lady announcer came on: “This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters.” I immediately thought of my friend Alex exclaiming, “That’s what she said!” This thought made me chuckle a bit.
Then I noticed how clean the train is. It wasn’t loud either. The doors automatically closed and opened at every station we stopped. This is noteworthy because the Paris metro ones don’t; you’d have to manually open the doors to get out. The London subway cars are well lit, have seats that are in good condition, and most of all, they’re well ventilated and do not reek of BO.
And then there’s the awesomely convenient Oyster Card. It’s a plastic card with a magnetic chip – not some little paper ticket with a magnetic strip. Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Paris all spit out flimsy, easy-to-lose tickets. It may not be the case for the local commuters, but visitors would also appreciate having a card that’s not easily ruined or lost. The ticket for the Paris metro is especially small.
When you buy an Oyster Card, you just put however much money you think you’ll need. When you run out, you just top up using one of those automated machines or at a ticket counter. You just tap your card at the entrance and tap again as you exit and the exact fare will be deducted from it. If you happen to glance at the display just before walking out, you will see your remaining balance. How’s that for straightforward!
I’ve never felt so safe using the subway. I went out by myself a couple of times and I was not worried about getting mugged or some other crazy thing to happen to me. The map illustrating the tube lines routes and stops are easy to follow. In no time, I was transferring trains and changing lines like a pro. I have also learned to appreciate the constant reminder to mind the gap. Why, yes, I will definitely mind the gap!
Chicago, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Manila, and Paris: those are the cities with some sort of railway commuter system that I can compare with London’s tube system. It’s by no means an extensive list, but I would say it’s enough for a fair comparison. Say what you will about the British and their funny hats and for driving on the left side of the road, but in my book, they totally nailed this whole tube system down. And yes, how I really do wish we had something remotely close to this in Seattle. Based on my personal experiences, London’s Underground is by far the best subway system that I have ever used.