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This article is aimed at the independent traveller contemplating
a visit to London and eager to use London's excellent public
transport system as their main mode of transportation. A simple
guide to using the buses and trains and perhaps more
importantly, the vast array of ticketing options.
The London public transport system is for the leisure visitor,
one of its great assets and opportunities. An organisation
called Transport for London coordinates the various transport
options on offer, namely buses, underground railway, overground
railway, Docklands light railway and river transport. This
network covers the whole Greater London area with a
comprehensive network of services. The only airports within this
area are Heathrow and London City Airports.
The area is organised in six circular zones which ripple out
from the centre. Nearly all the places visitors want to travel
to and nearly all hotel accommodation is in Zones 1 and 2,
though Heathrow is in Zone 6. For the sake of simplicity we will
focus on this inner area, zones 1 and 2. Public transport here
is dominated by the London Underground and London's famous red
You cannot board any bus or train without pre-purchasing a
ticket. The single fare on a bus is a flat fare however far you
travel. The London Underground fare is determined by the number
of zones you travel through on a journey. You can switch trains
between the various lines within any single journey. At
Underground stations there is always a manned ticket office and
automatic ticket machines. At bus stops there is a ticket
machine where you can purchase bus tickets.
All underground lines and bus routes operate between about 05:00
and 24:00. There is also a worthwhile network of night buses,
especially in the centre of London which for the night owl are
both frequent and comprehensive enough to be of real value.
Nearly all travellers on London's public transport system do not
pay for individual journeys though. Instead one of the
multi-trip passes is used. The fares set by Transport for London
make it much cheaper to purchase one of these cards than to pay
individually for each journey. For the visitor the easiest place
to purchase any of the passes is a London Underground ticket
office or a local retail ticket point. You will see signs in the
windows of many shops, especially newsagents, advertising that
they sell the range of ticketing options at the same price as
from the Underground Stations.
The most popular option for the visitor to London is the one day
or three day Travelcard. This covers all public transport
options within set zones. The Heathrow Express train is not
covered by the pass. For the vast majority of visitors to
this means a Zone 1 & 2 Travelcard. During weekdays there are
two fare options, you have to pay significantly more if your
Travelcard is used before 09:30 during the week. Children, (less
than 16 years old) travel free on the buses. You can also
purchase a Travelcard for children for just 1 pound sterling
covering all zones. If you purchase a Travelcard for just zones
1 & 2, you can use it for the buses on all zones.
On buses you just show your card to the driver as you board. If
you board one of London's long single deck 'bendy' buses get on
through any entrance and be prepared to show your ticket for
inspection. Hit squads of inspectors descend on a bus sealing
all exits and will demand a valid ticket to be shown. On the
Underground you will have to insert your ticket into a barrier
on entering and exiting stations to gain entry and exit.
You will also see many references to the 'Oyster Card' scheme.
These are really aimed at residents of London. You will see
yellow pads on buses and at the ticket barriers at Underground
Stations. Oyster Cards are credit card sized cards that can be
electronically loaded with electronic money or a season ticket.
For example you can load say 10 GBP onto your card, when you
swipe that card to gain access to a bus the fare is
automatically deducted from the 10 GBP value on your card. The
big attraction is the sizable discounts on individual journeys
purchased this way. Most Londoners will have season tickets
which are also held in the Oyster Card. The product most
attractive to visitors is the 7 day Travelcard. You cannot
purchase a 7 day Travelcard without having an Oyster Card.
The feature of Oyster Cards which discourages most visitors,
especially overseas visitors, is the fact you have to pay a 3
GBP refundable deposit for an Oyster Card. When you no longer
require the Oyster Card you hand it in and fill in a form. You
do not receive any money there and then, instead a sterling
cheque is sent to your home address at a later date.
Current fares and maps are available at the url's listed below.
The following pages detail current fares, maps and pictures of
using London's public transport system.
on Underground - Fares, Maps and Travel Passes
Buses - Fares, Maps and Travel Passes
About the author:
Bob Handford is an expert about his city, London and is the
owner of the website London Hotels Toolkit
that aims to provide practical information for independent
visitors to London. You can contact Bob direct at the web site.