London Transport

UK ARRIVAL GUIDE | Want to know all the ins and outs of transport in London? Get all the details and some handy information here.


UK ARRIVAL GUIDE | Want to know all the ins and outs of transport in London? Get all the details and some handy information here.

One of the most common conversation topics after the weather is transport. Knowing the best route from A to B using Y or Z is a sure sign of a seasoned veteran. This is because London has a thorough web of public transport, resulting in many options and routes to any destination.

Start by familiarising yourself with the tube map then graduate towards train routes and the bus system. It pays to know your way around above ground too, so spend some time exploring the city from the top of a double-decker bus (try the Number 14 from Putney to Piccadilly). You’ll see that it’s often quicker and easier to walk between certain stations than to connect underground – the tube map is not drawn entirely to scale.

Tickets and Travelcards
All the information you need about tickets (as well as a very useful Journey Planner) is on When you first arrive at the airport, buy a single tube ticket to your destination. Then, you are likely to explore the city in your first week, so the cheapest option is a weekly Travelcard for Zone
1 to 4. This gives you unlimited access to the travel network.
As soon as you settle in, you can save money by using an Oyster Card, which you can buy at most tube stations or off-licence cafés. You swipe the card at the beginning and end of each journey and the system works out the best rate and deducts it from your pre-paid balance. Oyster Cards don’t work on all forms of transport, but it’s worth having one even if you use the tube or bus system infrequently as it takes the hassle out
of queuing, finding change and working out the best route.

The Tube
The tube is the fastest, easiest and most tightly packed way to get from zone to zone. It has over 270 stations and 400 kilometres of track, of which about 55% is above ground. Recently, over one billion passenger journeys were recorded in a year. Rush hour means time to get up close and personal with your fellow travellers. However, at any other time of day it’s a pretty easy ride. Some lines are faster than others and there are always upgrades and improvements being made across the network, so delays and re-routes are common.

How to use the tube:

  •  Make sure you buy a ticket as you will get a £20 fine if you don’t have one. Remember, even if you can get in at one station without a ticket, you’ll need one at the other end.
  •  Once you’ve bought your ticket, you’ll need to put it through the machine to get through the barriers. If you’re just starting your journey, the ticket will come through and you’ll need to pull it from the top of the machine for the barriers to open. If you’ve got a single or return ticket and are at the end of your journey, the machine will retain the card and the barriers will open automatically. All Travelcards will be fed back to you to use again.
  •  Oyster Cards have to be touched on the reader at the start and end of your journey.
  •  The Underground services usually run from around 4.30am to 1am (with shorter services on weekends) – each station should list their first and last train times for the day.
  •  If your ticket doesn’t open the barriers or if you have luggage, there are TFL attendants to help you.
  •  It’s illegal to buy tickets from ticket touts.

National Rail
For timetables, fares and ticket availability, call National Rail on 08457 48 49 50 or visit National Rail trains depart from key stations throughout London taking you out of London, or to areas within London that the tube doesn’t service. You can use your Travelcard if you’re within your zones, or buy an extension before you start your journey. Main BR terminals include Waterloo, Paddington, Kings Cross, Victoria and Charing Cross.
London Transport: 020 7222 1234 or visit

London’s bus network has over 8 000 buses and 700 bus routes. Low emission double- and single-decked buses cover the whole city and there are plans for hydrogen buses with zero emissions by 2010. Although buses mostly take longer than the tube, they cover areas the tube doesn’t serve and some routes have a 24-hour service. Night buses run from midnight to 6am and have the letter ‘N’ before the bus number.
Bus tickets can be bought with cash on board most buses. Otherwise, pre-purchase your ticket from a ticket machine by the bus stop or from a ticket retailer. Bus fares are simple – all fares cost £2 (cheaper with an Oyster Card or Bus Pass). But be warned, evading fares is taken very seriously. The national bus and coach system is very good with most long-distance bus trips leaving from the Victoria Coach Station, which is situated near the Victoria Train Station.

Black Cabs
These vehicles and drivers have a good reputation. They’re a bit more expensive than public transport, but can carry five passengers and are economical if there are a few of you. The meter is clearly visible so you can keep watch of your fare. Tipping is expected (about 10%).
Unoccupied black cabs have the yellow light on their roof illuminated. To hail a cab just fling up your arm. All cab drivers and cars must be licenced under strict regulations – they must display their registration number clearly. Cabwise: Text HOME to 60835 to get the number of a taxi and two licenced minicabs, in the area.

Minicabs/private-hire Operators
These are independent taxi operators that run throughout London. Make sure you agree to the fare in advance as there isn’t a meter. It’s cheaper than a black cab, but you can’t hail one on the street – it’s illegal. You have to either call a licenced operator or go to the company’s offices. All minicab operators must be licenced by the Public Carriage Office and strict regulations have been introduced to licence all drivers and cars.

Cars and Driver’s Licences
Having your own car in London is an absolute luxury as it can be more hassle and expense than it’s worth. Renting a car for a weekend can be a good way to get out and explore the country. Policies vary with relation to age restrictions.
After you’ve been in the UK for one year you’ll have to apply to exchange your driver’s licence for a UK driver’s licence. If you’ve been in the UK for over a year and are caught driving without a UK driver’s licence, you are breaking the law. Use your local post office to get the application form D1 and send it in with required documents and payment (about £50) to the DVLA, Swansea, SA6 7JL. They will require your current driver’s licence, which they will send back to the authority that licenced you. When you return home, you can regain your original driver’s licence.

Congestion Charge
The London Congestion Charge came into effect to ‘help get London moving’. This means that every vehicle that enters a specified central London boundary from 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) will have to pay a daily £8 charge.

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