10 August, 2010

TfL- Transport for London or Tiny, famous and Lucky?

I would like to say that this is a Kylie Minogue inspired blog post, but that wouldn't entirely be true, it just happens that she is playing on the radio right now.  I imagine that with her immense pop star status, she chooses not to take the Tube.  Maybe she drives or is driven.  As a result her travel costs are probably above average.  That's fine, though, because all she wants to do is dance.  But Kylie Minogue is not a student (as far as I know).  Being a full time student in London gives you the opportunity to use Transport for London (Tube, bus, river boat, tram and, soon, bicycles) for a 30% discount.  This discount applies to travel cards and passes, which allow unlimited travel within the zones you buy it for, lasting for a week or a month, depending on which you buy.  This means that your travel costs may be below average.  The card used for traveling on TfL is called an Oyster card (I think that the idea is that when you use this card, the world is your oyster. I can't verify that that's the meaning behind the name, though, it's just what I've heard).  It works on a system of tapping in and tapping out, so you need to present it at the beginning and end of your journeys on trains, though only on the beginning of bus journeys.
You might find this place good for night life. Sarah and Claire love it for its bus links!

Within the London Centre we all use different variations of travel cards.  At this point, not only do you know where we all live, but you also may have scoured the Tube map to answer Bill's quiz questions.  So it will mean something to you when I say that to get to work I take the overground train into Victoria and then take the District or Circle line to Gloucester Road.  My entire journey is within zones 1 and 2, so I buy a monthly travel card for these two zones.  I keep a little prepaid money on my Oyster card for times I travel outside these zones and need to pay the excess.  I know this seems like mundane information, but it may suddenly seem important when you go out to Richmond to meet Bill at a rugby match and realize that you don't have enough money on your Oyster to get out of the barriers.  Sarah travels on the overground from southwest London in zone 4 into Wimbledon and takes the District line to Earl's Court in zone 2.  Earl's Court is the second closest Tube station to the London Centre and is on the border of zones 1 and 2.  This saves her the fare into zone 1, making her travel card for zones 2-4 cheaper than mine for zones 1-2.  Though he's lived in London the longest, Bill may be the person who has paid the least amount of money to TfL.  He was a longtime cyclist through the streets of London, and now carries a Freedom Pass, which is like an Oyster card but gives free travel within London to people over 'a certain age'.  He picks up the bus in Stoke Newington and takes it to the Tube to travel into Gloucester Road.  Fred, our caretaker who retired at age 81 this past spring, recommended that I get a Freedom Pass, too, since it makes travel so cheap, but being in what I like to call my mid 20's, I told him that I'm not quite old enough for one yet.
Be sure to check out our emergency exit door downstairs when you get to the ICLC. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the decor at Putney Bridge station. This just happened to be our ex-caretaker's tube stop and he decorated our emergency exit for us.

With the freedom you have in housing yourselves, you will probably not know what mode of transportation you will be needing to get to the London Centre until you are housed.  Some of you may live close enough to walk and not want a travel card at all.  Others may find a direct bus route, a monthly or weekly pass for which costs less than a travel card which covers not only the bus but also the underground and overground trains.  When planning your journeys, there are a lot of factors to take into account.  Many classes meet outside of the London Centre, so you will need to find a way to get there.  Work placements are scattered all over London, so this will effect your travel needs, too.  Because the British universities start their autumn term later than the American ones, the earliest you can apply for your student Oyster card and get the 30% discount is September 1.  That means that for approximately the first few weeks you are here, if you get a travel card, it will cost you the normal rate that it costs everyone else.  I guess the moral of this paragraph is that your initial travel costs may be a bit unpredictable, but once you settle in you will also probably fall into a pattern and develop pretty predictable travel costs.

Obviously public transportation isn't the only way of getting around.  London is a lovely place on foot, as you may learn when you get here and go on Bill's walks.  Walking in London is one of my favorite things to do, though I admit that I do it more as a hobby than as a mode of transportation.  Some students have also found cheap second hand bikes to get around on.  Boris Johnson, the Mayor and a cyclist himself, has been endeavoring to make London more cyclist friendly.  TfL has recently begun a new scheme with public bicycles for rent located all around London, though it is currently only available to residents so far.  If I had to classify myself by a mode of transport I would be a train/Tube/bus girl.  The Tube can be a bit like traveling in some sort of space warp because it's so easy to walk into the station, take your Tube journey, walk out of the station at the other end and have no sense of the geography you have covered.  With the trains and buses, especially the tops of the double-decker buses, you get to actually see where you are going.  Rarely, I travel by taxi.  They cost more than public transit, but late at night when the Tube is closed and I can't bring myself to face the night bus, they are a good option.  Speaking of the night bus, I think I had one of my most positive bus experiences there.  Not many people can say that.  I was once leaving Balham in south London, heading towards Camden in north London around 1am.  The Tube was closed (since it does that at night in London), so I was walking down the road with a friend trying to find a bus stop that a northbound bus would be stopping at.  In the distance down the road behind us we could see a bus coming, and in the distance ahead of us I thought I could see a bus stop, traditionally, the only place a bus will stop to pick people up.  So, as glamorously as we could, my friend and I made a dash for the bus stop, hoping to catch this bus since night buses come less frequently than normal buses.  That very kind driver knew that we were trying to catch that bus, and just pulled over and opened his door, knowing that if he waited ahead at the stop he might be there for ages.  That was not normal night bus procedure, and I was soooooo grateful.
The person who locates where this exact sign hangs wins a prize, i.e.this is not any old Camden Town sign!

Something else that might effect your journey is weekend closures.  Most of the maintenance work on the London Underground happens at night when the Tube is closed and on the weekends.  I cannot think of a single weekend in the time that I have lived in London when all of the Tube lines have been open on the weekend.  The closures change each weekend, so you have to go to www.tfl.gov.uk to see what they will be.  The Jubilee line is partially closed a lot of weekends, and I have heard a rumor that this is to get it ready to bring people out to east London for the 2012 Olympics.  The Circle line is also closed most weekends, and I think this is because it is one of the Underground's oldest lines and often incurs 'signalling problems'.  I'm not totally sure what that means, and, again, this is an unverified fact.

I apologize for the longwindedness of this post.  I'm sure if Kylie Minogue had written this it would be a lot shorter, but that's probably because she has less personal experience with TfL (one more unverified fact there).  I could conjecture more on her thoughts on transportation, but it's vaguely related tangents like that which lead to wandering longwindedness.

Claire (and Elsie)


  1. Kylie Minogue was my favorite singer when I was a kid. I bet she uses the tube incognito!

  2. Greg, I didn't know you liked Kylie!