The Transit Tourist takes a look at other transit systems across the globe from the first person perspective of a visitor. What can Metro learn from how these other systems treat the uninitiated – and often bumbling – tourist?
Last month I took some time off for a jaunt across the pond to Europe – specifically the cities of London, Amsterdam and Paris. While strictly a pleasure trip, it’s impossible to visit Europe without finding yourself immersed in mass transit, and typically at a scale that’s all but unseen here in the States. For a transit blogger it turns a vacation into inspiration for a new series, one I’m calling The Transit Tourist.
Here’s the plan: whenever one of The Source bloggers takes a getaway – be it to the largest cities in Europe or to a small town in America’s heartland – and hops on board the local transit system, we’ll come back with a report of the experience and a some thoughts on what Metro can learn from how things are down elsewhere.
The tourist experience on transit is a unique but important one. Tourists generally have different needs than the daily commuter, but my feeling is that when a tourist’s needs are met a transit system is doing a good job at two things: providing an easy to use system that also serves many destinations. In other words, if a system works for an outsider, it’s probably going to work for local residents as well.
First stop for The Transit Tourist:
|Population: 7.5 million
||Transit Agency: Transport for London
||Miles of Rail: 250
|Density: 12,450/sq. mile
||Rail Lines: 11
||Bus Routes: over 700
|Area: 607 sq. mile
||Rail Stations: 270
||Budget: $14.2 billion
|Source: Wikipedia and Transport for London.
One of the most important transportation moments for a tourist is the airport transfer. You’ve just arrived to a new city after a long flight, how do you get to your final destination?
On this trip, I flew into Heathrow Airport, one of London’s five area airports (each served by some form of rail). The London Underground’s Piccadilly Line directly serves Heathrow with three stations at the airport serving the various terminals. It’s a feature that’s well publicized – and since the stations are inside the terminals, you’re not going to get lost looking for your connection.
London Tube map. Take note of the numbered Zones 1-9.
How long does it take to get from the airport to London proper? London’s transit system is divided into nine zones that radiate out from the central city. Heathrow is in Zone 6 and a trip to Zone 1 (Central London, aka the good stuff for tourists) takes at least 50 minutes. The distance from Heathrow to Central London is approximately the same distance as LAX to downtown L.A.
The zone system makes for an incredibly complicated fare system (take a look at this chart if you don’t believe me), but purchasing an Oyster card (London’s version of the TAP card, more on that later) greatly simplifies things. A trip to Zone 1 from Heathrow with an Oyster card will cost between £2.40 and £4.20 (around $4 to $7 respectively) depending on whether or not you’re traveling at peak hours.
In my case, I was actually going to be staying in a Zone 4 suburb called Hendon (if Central London is downtown L.A., then Hendon would be North Hollywood). This trip requires a transfer to the Northern Line in Zone 1 for a total trip time of about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Travel on the Underground from Heathrow isn’t neccessarily fast, but it is convenient and affordable.
Read on about London fares, the Oyster card, customer service and more after the jump.