London v. New York – a biased competition, entry 1

London v. New York – a biased competition, entry 1

We’ve now been in London for just over two months. And I have to admit that there are many many fabulous things about this city. And sure, everything can be compared but herewith a series on things that I find worthy of comparison

first up

NYC Subway vs. The London Underground

I’m starting with a tough one. The London Tube has train trackers in every station, missed your train, check out this digital sign that actually works and tells you when the next train is coming AND the one after that.

There are handy “way out” signs everywhere in the tube so you always know how to get out of the station along with helpful signs directing you to any other train line within the same station AND signs that list all the stops along the line. And the turnstiles are designated enter and exit so you don’t have that annoying, I’m just trying to get in but there are 500 people coming out so I guess I’ll stand here and wait.

And the trains don’t make that ear splitting screech when they come in the station, which I suppose could be found endearing by the most homesick of New Yorkers, but I’m not there yet.

Also the platforms and trains are free of trash as they have designated staff going around and picking up any trash that may be left behind. They also have people on the platforms during rush hour with little megaphones telling you to stand back and sorry, guys this train is too crowded you’re not getting on.

And I haven’t seen any rats on the rails. I haven’t been looking, but honestly I don’t actively look for them in NY either.

The majority of the seats on the Underground have arm rests, which is sort of handy because it means everyone has to sit in their designated seat and there’s no chance of man spread, but it also means there is nowhere to put your grocery bags. And as there is only about 2 feet of space between the rows of seats facing each other if you do put your bags under your feet it means anyone trying to move to the center of the train is stepping on your bags. But that doesn’t really matter because nobody moves to the center of the train. Ever.  Probably because there’s no room for anyone to actually stand. And I get it, when the trains were designed there was no expectation of what ridership could be, but holy hell, these trains are sure crowded.

And then there’s the cost.

London is a zoned city so it’s more expensive the further you travel, stay within your zone, 2.40£, leave your zone, it could be as much as 6£ depending how far you travel. BUT if you don’t have your Oyster card (which costs a non refundable 5£ to purchase) then each ride, one way, within your zone is 5.40£. For REAL. I forgot my card one day and didn’t feel like walking all the way home to get it, and cough cough, 5.40£ later. AND on that day the train stopped working while we were on it, still in the station and when we were told to leave that this train wasn’t going anywhere I went to ask the station manager what I should do about the 5.40£ I just spent on my ticket and his advice was to walk to the next station (in the rain) and explain to that station master what happened. OH, is that what I should do. Thank you for your help.

I guess we now know how they can afford to pay for all those rat free subway stations.

To be fair there are weekly passes that save you money, but the ride to ride cost is off the charts.

And yeah, it’s ridiculously expensive to ride the NYC subway (where’s my old lady voice, I remember when it used to cost 75 cents), but at least it’s all the same price – Coney Island to Morningside Heights, $2.75. Forest Hils to the Lower East Side, $2.75. Cheaper if you have an unlimited. PLUS there are free bus transfers. No free bus transfers here.

Also the tubes are all carpeted, which is gross, because throw up, and they’re short because I guess whoever designed them hated tall people, because they’re not just regular short, but super short, like, if you’re six foot tall, you will have to bend your neck to get in to the car.

And the Tube trains aren’t air conditioned, so you’re dealing with crowded trains and the humidity of underground and there’s just a little window on each side of the car to let air pass. It’s brutal.

There is no panhandling in the tube, probably because the panhandlers can’t afford to get on the train, but also no performers, no SHOWTIME, no mariachi bands or a cappella groups of old guys and their amplifier singing Good Night Sweetheart. The Underground does have performers in some stations, but you have to apply and audition and get a license, and which may mean you might actually be talented. Be that as it may, there are no sweet Jehovah’s Witness ladies working to convince me the end is nigh, or creepy Scientologists with their e-reader and free Dianetics.

The tube stops running. Like, at night. Like, oh, it’s late and my flight was delayed and I didn’t get back to the airport til 1am. Sorry sucker, guess you’re going to have to cough up 85£ to get home in a cab or sleep here for the next four hours til the trains start up again. What the hell people. It’s a mass transit system. You are a major international city. Keep your trains running. I know I know, it’s going to happen. At some point. In the future. But I won’t be here. And in the meantime, I’m still out 85£ because I wanted to get my family home from the airport in the middle of the night.

Ugh, and then there are the transfers within the station. Y’know how in NY it’s annoying because sometimes you have to walk up or down a bunch of stairs to get your transfer and how on a hot summer day you consider how you might actually die if one more sweaty person touches you or one more tourist stops at the top of the stairs to take in the sights and there’s always something gross left by some gross person on the steps, leftover chicken bones, 40 oz with maybe leftover beer but also maybe pee.

And I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’d take that any day over the ridiculous transfer situation in London. It can take what feels like forever to change trains… after you go up the endless escalator, take the moving sidewalk, walk up another two flights of stairs only to get to the second moving sidewalk that takes you to the escalator down the landing where you turn the corner and take two flights down to the platform.

And hopefully it’s not one of those trains that goes in a circle or splits while going in the same direction but makes different stops along opposite sides of the river. Because that’s a thing. It doesn’t make sense. I can not write it out to make sense, because there is no sense to be made of it.

And while London loves their escalators because these trains are DEEP, some stations don’t come equipped with escalators so you either have to wait for the lift with the masses or you can take the stairs, which if you don’t pay attention to the cute little sign that says how many stairs there are, could be as many 193 stairs (aka 15 flights) so y’know, make sure you don’t have kids or shopping bags or anything when you’re just trying to bypass your fear of crowds and/or elevators.

So it’s a close one. Each system has their good and bad, but given that they’re both way too overcrowded, I’m giving this one to NYC due to the ride to ride cost and free bus transfers and air conditioning. Good job you guys.

This article has 1 comment

  1. The 24 hour thing is maybe a deal breaker for me. I don’t know how I would have survived in NYC in my 20s without 24 hour subway. I can afford cabs now, but I still don’t take ’em…

    You only have to make the 195 stairs mistake once…

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