01 May 2012

Olympics guide to London transport

This summer, London's beleaguered public transport system will be hammered as rarely seen before. The expected mass exodus of the natives to avoid the Olympics is unlikely to happen to any great extent, so millions upon millions of people will have to be squeezed on to our antiquated Underground. This will result in an awful lot of grumpy people (that'll be me, then) muttering in disbelief at tourists' inability to grasp the basics of travelling in London. Here are a few tips to reduce the grumpiness, if only by a smidgeon.

1. How to use the escalator in a Tube station
Patronising title, I know, but believe me, people still need a lesson in this. It all boils down to this: STAND ON THE RIGHT AND KEEP THE LEFT CLEAR FOR PEOPLE TO WALK. Wonderfully simple logic, I know, but hard for many to grasp. It's not just tourists who ignore this, of course. But, really, it's just good manners. That leads me to ...

2. Don't block the entrance
You reach the entrance, or the exit, or the ticket gates, or the train platform, and there they are – a cluster of people who arrive and just stop. And don't move. And then wonder why you're scowling at them as you try to get through the throng. Shuffling over just a few feet will make a difference.

3. How to board a train
More patronising tones, but I'm standing firm on this. A Tube train finally arrives and what do you do? We'll, what you don't do is stand in front of the doors and prevent people from getting off. Because this will just delay your chance to get on the train. Another simple piece of logic routinely ignored. And once you do board, bear in mind that there's a pretty good chance that someone will be behind you and will want to get on the train as well. This is not the signal for you to saunter on and just stand in front of the doors. Expect to get nudged forward, with varying degrees of politeness.

4. A couple of Tube tips
London Underground trains have buttons on the doors that indicate "open". They don't actually do anything. The doors will open automatically. Also, regular Tube passengers are accustomed to a juddering stop-start motion of the train as it tries to leave a station. This means people are leaning too heavily against the doors, which will prevent the train from leaving. So don't lean on the doors. Yes, it is your fault.

5. Other forms of public transport, namely Boris Bikes
London's bike-rental scheme has been a huge success – too much so for many people (yep, me again) who find it considerably more difficult to find a functioning bike now that everyone can rent one easily. The problem is that many people who happily hop on one of these things have no idea of the rules of the road. You wouldn't get in a rental car and blithely ignore the law, yet that's what people do with bikes. Not just naughty, but dangerous. Here are a few basics.

5a. We drive and cycle on the left – gauchesinistralinksizquierda – esquerdalevo – etc
That also applies to bike lanes. Do try to bear that in mind. And don't let your kids weave all over the path, even if it's within a park. You might think you're in a safe place, but there are plenty of speeding cyclists (this time not me) who are in a hurry and have little patience with people who get in their way.

5b. Know when to give way to oncoming traffic
When you come to a crossing or any sort of junction and you see broken lines in front of you on the road, that means you do not have right of way. Let other people – be they pedestrians or other cyclists – pass first. I really wouldn't ignore this rule. People will get hurt.

5c. Indicating when you're going to turn would be helpful now and again
Stick the appropriate arm out if you're turning left or right. We can't always read your mind. This inability to indicate applies to cars as well, but that's another story.

What all of these points boil down to is to remember that there are other people travelling with you – in London's case, anything up to nine million people. So take a moment to pay some attention to your surroundings and you might just keep some of the natives (including me) from growling too loudly behind you.

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