Before you even fly to London, you should familiarise yourself with Transport for London (TFL), the official website that details everything that you'll need to know about public transport in the capital.
The cost of buying a car is much lower in London than back home. Two thousand pounds can get you a decent secondhand ride. A new car? Not very much more than that. But don't get me wrong, the cost of driving is comparable if not more expensive than in Singapore.
After the transport officials went over to Singapore to do a study of our ERP, London implemented a "Congestion Charge" in 2003. The higher costs of fuel in Britain doesn't help matters at all. Curiously, diesel cost more than petrol here.
As far as possible, don't try to drive in London unless you're really familiar with the roads. Even though the traffic functions on a right hand drive manner (like in Singapore), some roads can be downright confusing.
Stick to public transport for the time being. Trust me.
London Underground - The Tube
If you have taken Heathrow Connect or Express from Heathrow Airport, you would have arrived at Paddington Station. Go to the nearest ticket station and grab a "Tube map". Ask around if you can't find one.
The map is really handy and is of good size. I suggest that you keep one with you always. By the way, the cover design of the map changes every few months, so you can start collecting them the moment you touch down in London. Who knows? May be worth a fortune decades later.
Anyway, unlike Singapore's simple MRT network, the Tube consists of 12 lines, which is depicted by different colours. It serves a wide network (from zones 1-6, A-D). Zone D being the furthest away from the City and Zone 1 being the dead centre where all the happenning places are.
Unlike the MRT, the cost of travelling by Tube within the same zone requires only a flat fare. The fare differs once you cross a zone. For more information of tube fares, click here.
Before I forget, always, always get a stored value card otherwise known as an Oyster card. Unlike our Ezylink card that not only charges us $3 non-refundable deposit plus $7 refundable deposit, Oyster card requires only a 3 pounds fully refundable deposit and offers discounts to some attractions and restaurants as well!
Note that, without an Oyster card, the Tube fare is almost punitive at 4 pounds instead of 1.50 pounds for travel within zone 1.
Another point to note is that some stations' platform serve more than one line, unlike our MRT. So take note of which line the current train is running before hoping onto it.
Once you're on the Tube, you'll notice some things immediately,
- It's really narrow so people rarely stands in the centre of the train cabin. But if you're of a regular Asian built, it should not be a problem. Just shuffle in abit to make more room for the others, yah?
- It's really messy. There are newspapers strewn all over the floor and seats. Well, blend in with the locals, pick up one and start reading. Return it to its original position at the end of your journey for the next person.
- There are a number of free publications (like our 'Today') in London. The two main tabloids, which are freely distributed along the road after 3pm on weekdays, are London News and London Lite. Grab a copy and your journey on the Tube won't be that bad after all.
- The lights in the train goes off intermittently at some point in time. That's due to bad wiring. No need to get worked up over that.
- Most seats are cushioned, which of course is way better than those plastic hard MRT seats. It's only possible because of the mild (if not cold) weather in London and people don't sweat that much. Even then, those cushion seats are surprisingly well maintained.
Do check out TFL website before you leave your house for any delays or planned engineering works in the network that may require you to change your plans. Just key in the origin and destination on the right column and the travelling options will be displayed. There's even an advance options for trips to be taken a few days later. Neat eh?
The traditional London Bus (Routemaster) has been phased out due to its inadequacy in dealing with the increasing demands.
The buses that throng London streets now look very much like our SBS buses, only none of it is airconditioned. For most of the time, there's no real need to due to the cool ambient temperature. But it can get rather stuffy during summer.
The Oyster card works here as well. Working with the same 'tapping' mechanism, a passenger will need to tap only once when boarding. There's no need to tap again when alighting. Doing so will cost you another 90p, which is the flat fare for a trip regardless of distance.
Currently, a number of articulated buses (bendy buses) serve London. Note that you can board the articulate bus at any of its three entrances/exits. Just tap your Oyster card at the card reader placed prominantly near each doorway.
Buses in London are generally convenient with well served routes. You can't go far wrong with the bus and Tube. However, some bus drivers have got some attitude problem. So just keep your cool and don't get into an arguement with them. It's not worth it.
Black London Cab
The typical Black London Cab driver took four years to get his/her license. That's equivalent of getting a university degree. With "The Knowledge", the driver is supposed to know every nooks and crannies in London and will be able to bring you to the destination in the shortest possible time.
A cab ride doesn't come cheap though. But then again, nothing in London does.
Be sure to get the postal code of your destination ready. That'll enable the driver to pin point it much easier. Just sit back and watch the meter roll...
If you're uncomfortable about jumping into a cab without knowing how much it'll cost you, perhaps you can consider calling for a private cabs. These are licensed cabs out for private hire.
Try Addision Lee at 0207 387 8888 to get a quote. Try calling around 15min-30min in advance and get the postal code of your current position and destination ready before you call.