Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NYC Subway v. London's Underground

I was in London for a few days after Jam in the Dam (review forthcoming) and went on a 2 day sightseeing binge, taking the stupendous tube back and forth across the city many times in an attempt to cram every major sight into one short trip. Our Fodders guidebook encouraged the inevitable comparison to New York's subway system by claiming that some people actually prefer London's (what?!!!). Here's how it stacks up:

Ticketing: London's system has many more options for types of tickets that seem to be a lot pricier (the poor exchange rate doesn't help) and the daily use passes varied in price from one day to the next- perhaps time based? The lack of clear pricing and the daily pass being limited to certain zones, made the whole decision process confusing. The tickets themselves are paper cards with a magnetic undersides, inferior to New York's sturdy plastic Metrocard. Go America! Ticket machines were easy to use once you decided on a ticket type but there was often a line for the few machines that took credit cards. Advantage: New York City

Entry/Exit: Most stations had turnstiles close to the bottom of the entry steps. Usually the ones on the right side in a long row were designated as exit only (indicated by a pretty clear light) and we had to walk counterintuitively to the left side to enter. The machine sucks up your ticket and spits it back out at you to hold onto. The turnstiles are only chest high and could easily have been jumped over. Unlike New York you must stick your ticket back into the turnstiles to exit (it keeps single ride cards, gives you back multiples). Despite all the ticket sucking and spitting, there were few queues to enter or exit. Advantage: Draw (the ticket to exit is annoying but not as bad as "please swipe again at this turnstile")

Stations: The Underground's stations were waaaay underground; multiple escalators or stairs needed to access most. Most had lots of intersecting passageways with twists and turns. Exits and transfers between lines were clearly marked (their signs say "way out" for exit) but involved lengthy "are we there yet- it's got to be around this corner" walks. The platforms are very clean despite selling soda and cadbury egg products on the platform and not having garbage (rubbish) cans. Line maps make it easy to figure out which direction platform you need to wait on, their trains run on the left though so I was often looking the wrong way for a train. Londoners don't look over the edge to see if trains are coming as they have signs indicating how many minutes till the next. New York's stations are much more ornate & decorated. London stations are well marked from the street but are more difficult to find due to London's lack of a grid. Advantage: Draw

Trains: The trains in London are very clean and quiet. We were on a few different types of cars. Some of them are rounded like a bullet with low headroom near the doors- I had to hunch over slightly to stand near the doors. The tube's seats are padded, armrested, and comfortable. Announcements were as clear as the NYC 4/5/6 ones but were not always made. The trains in London have room for both maps & ads running horizontally along the top, so you can see the stops from any vantage point in the train. They did not have the digital stop display like some NYC trains have. Their bars to hold onto are painted so they don't feel as greasy and disgusting as New York's. London's train doors slide open dangerously along the outside of the car- watch your fingers! Advantage: London

Service: The Underground's trains run so frequently, less than 5 minutes every time. The lines criss-cross much more than New York's giving you more options. They do not run express/local service like NYC, it's all local. The stations & trains are equally as crowded as New York's- rush hour was tight, mid-day you could get a seat. The tube does not run 24/7 which is a huge disadvantage. Advantage: Draw

It looks like we have a tie. The only way to settle this is to send me back to London for a second look; I'm setting up the PayPal donation button as we speak. Or you could convince me with a comment.
category: nyc_