For Londoners 277 is an important number, but most won’t have a clue why. It just so happens that 277 is the number of hours the average Londoner spends commuting to and from work each year. That’s over 11 days each year spent on London transport: buses, trains, trams and traffic jams. Each year the same amount of time as the Paralympic Games!
And these 277 hours doesn’t include ‘social commuting’, those weekends when you decide to shop at Portobello Road Market, lunch on the South Bank and finish with drinks in Hackney. For all the joys of living and working in London, the amount of time spent travelling from A to B via X, Y and Z is not one of them; and frankly it can be pretty dull.
So in an attempt to validate the saying that life is about the journey, not the destination here are some alternative wya of getting around london that may make those hours – if only a few of them – a little more enjoyable!
Over not under: Emirates Air Line
Having only opened in July, the Emirates Air Line is London’s first urban cable car. Connecting Greenwich and the Royal Docks, the newest edition to London’s transport system is proving as much a tourist attraction as a practical way to traverse the Thames. With spectacular views of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park and the Thames Barrier the cable car is great alternative to the Tube.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Descending the spiral staircase and entering the long, artificially-lit foot tunnel you would be forgiven for thinking you were in some kind of spy movie. It’s a place that reeks of illicit meetings and Instagram photo moments; the Tunnel is surely London’s most moody and atmospheric transport option.
One of London’s two public foot tunnels (there are a number of private ones!) under the Thames, it connects Greenwich, close to the Cutty Sark, with the Isle of Dogs. Opened in 1902, and repaired following WW2 damage, the tunnel may not be the most practical means of crossing the Thames these days with the DLR now offering speedier journeys, but for something a little different it’s hard to beat.
Too posh to take public transport but not rich enough to own a car? Then Zip might be the answer. Effectively a car club, Zip Car has hundreds, if not thousands, of cars and vans parked up around the city. You probably walk past a handful each day without knowing it.
Download the Zip Car app onto your phone and instantly you can access anything from a VW Polo to a brand new BMW to impress the new girlfriend. With vans also available Zip Car is fantastic when it comes to moving house or making the dreaded Saturday morning Ikea trip.
Pedal Power: Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme
The Barclays Bike Hire Scheme (better known as Boris Bikes) is not just about the A to B. In my opinion they should be viewed as great fun in their own right as much as a means of transport. But London’s roads are busy and for those uncomfortable cycling the experience can be daunting if not completely terrifying. If you can get through this initial fear however it’s more than worth it.
The bikes are often the fastest option for short journeys as well as the greenest, and provide another way to see the sights of London. Especially fun is darting in and out of the narrow streets of the City on quiet weekends when the bustle of the weekday suits has disappeared. There are some beautiful places just waiting to be found amongst the banks and insurance brokers.
The recently announced extension both South and West will be big boost to the scheme and for those commuting in from Zone 2.
Cruise the River – The Thames Clipper
The Thames Clipper is a passenger boat service that allows travel east and west, connecting Woolwich, Millbank, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, Embankment and Waterloo, to name just a few. The boat service has no traffic lights, faulty signals or road works to worry about; instead there are plenty of seats, brilliant views of London’s many attractions and a coffee shop.
You will feel like you’re somehow cheating, travelling from Canary Wharf to Embankment in the open fresh air on the Thames Clipper, sipping a cup of coffee and enjoying the sunshine (or at least watching the rain!). The alternative, a chewing gum-covered seat in the dark tunnels of the Underground, seems unthinkable.
Stretch Your Legs
Rushing around London is very much the norm, but if all you do is sprint between meetings, dart from bar to bar and risk life and limb to catch the tube – because the next one in three minutes just won’t do – you will miss a good part of what makes London special.
Travelling London by foot is the best, and possibly only, way you can ever understand how the ever-evolving jigsaw of culture and history are held together, how the city’s villages and communities interact and how historic events still define the fabric of the city. You could spend days or weeks, if not years, walking around London and each day still find something new.
The Driver’s Seat on the DLR
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is an automated railway that serves east London, including Canary Wharf and Greenwich. Being automated means that (for most of the time) there is no driver or indeed driving cab. At first I wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea of a train with no driver – it all sounded a little like my fellow passengers would be including Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and a series of loud explosions.
But automation means you can sit in the front seat of the train as if you were the driver. It’s a little kid’s dream, the consequence of which is that to get the drivers seat you might have to fight with a five-year-old. But sitting in the very front of the train, watching out the front window is a novelty, and the DLR, mostly an overground service, gives great views and an oddly unique train experience.
Written by Ben Wallace www.wherethatbenwent.com