When Linda and I first visited London, before we met, it was those dark pre-Internet days when trips were hard to plan and information was difficult to come by. Now, the opposite is sometimes true: there’s so much information, one becomes bogged down in all of it.
In the old days, then, I had pretty much mastered the whole Underground thing, because there was one great map from which you could figure out how to get from point A to point B quite easily. That map still exists, along with all kinds of other Internet-enabled information sources. But now the same kind of info is available for the buses.
Previously I had avoided buses, except when recommended by a human, because there was no easy way to look up their route. Now there is. And that is important for two reasons: more direct routing, and price. Also, relatively few are fume-spewing diesel models; most are hybrids or run on LNG.
We found from our hosts in London that there was a bus stopping just two blocks away that would deliver us directly to the museum area in Kensington. It took about 40 minutes. Buses are slower, make many more stops, and are subject to traffic delays. But when there is a bus from A to B, and A and B aren’t too far apart, they’re definitely the say to go.
As I had read before arriving, you need to get an Oyster Card to use public transport. While it is possible to ride the underground for cash, they charge you twice as much or more for not using the card! You can get the card from one of 2000 shops, or at any underground station. There’s a £5 deposit, and you can add various amounts of stored value to them. We loaded £20 onto each for our week in town. If you have funds left over, amounts under £10 (plus the £5 deposit) can be refunded from a machine in an underground station. Larger amounts can be reclaimed by mail, but they’ll send you a check (sorry, cheque) in pounds that will cost you more to cash in the US than its value.
You have to have an Oyster Card to ride the bus, as that’s really the only way to pay unless you have a UK bank card. The nice thing about the Oyster Card is that your daily transit expenses are capped. If you only use buses, which are £1.50 a ride, the cap is £4.50. If you also use the underground, it’s something like £6.50, which is less than the cost of three rides. (Buses in London have no zones. You can ride anywhere for the basic fare. But there are no free transfers, so if you need to use two routes you pay for each. That’s why the cap is nice. The underground has a zone system. Most of the places tourists go are in zone 1 or 2, and the basic fare is £2.40 after 9:30am. You tap your card at the entry and the exit, and it figures out what to charge you.)
Incidentally, while buses in London don’t take cash, ones in every other city we’ve visited in the UK — and some in Italy and Spain — still do. In fact, it’s the norm in the UK, and the driver may have a whole tray of coins behind his plexiglass window. (In Edinburgh, they accept cash but don’t make change… the money falls into a lockbox.)
Besides the underground and buses, there are several other modes of transit in the TFL (Transport for London) system There’s an “overground” system they absorbed in 2007, and the Docklands Light Rail (DLR). And where parts of the national railway system run in London, they are part of it too. More on trains in a later post.
And don’t forget Uber. Before leaving for Paddington from our place in Kennington, I checked the Uber app and found about six cars nearby. I summoned one and it arrived in three minutes. The trip was just under 5 miles, about 30 minutes, and cost £14.