Posts Tagged ‘buses’

Lesson 9: Ignore the signs

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The last few weeks have taught me one crucial lesson in settling into London: don’t follow the rules.

I’m not condoning a dramatic live-outside-the-law lifestyle here, but rather a slightly more pragmatic approach to signs, reminders and customs. In no specific order, here are the rules you can break.

The tube is a major case of questionable ‘rules’. Too often it’s crammed with visitors and newbies trying to navigate it and it’s usually a challenge to read a map or sign while six hundred impatient travellers are pushing you along. With that in mind, Transport for London (TfL) put signage up around the stations aiming to herd you, cattle-like, in less-than-efficient directions. Case in point: when I enter Kings Cross underground station from the mainline entrance, a large sign points to the right, telling me the Northern Line is that way. For a month I blindly followed this sign, angry at the length of time it took to reach the platform when compared to how quickly I could get from the platform back up to ground level.

It was then that I realised I could simply walk against the crowd and reach the other entrance to the Northern Line from the main station area. Sure, TfL don’t want you to go this way in peak time. But it’s open and available and gets you to the train several minutes quicker. This is common to any of the larger stations and every time you unquestioningly follow a sign, you’re being fed into the tourist trap, while all the locals walk past you like salmon swimming upstream, heading for the (hopefully grizzly bear free) stations ahead.

Still on the tube, some of the stations can only be reached by lifts (including my nearest station, Elephant & Castle). Once again, you’re herded into a large elevator like cattle (a pattern emerges) – you enter from one side and exit from the other, even though the platform is in the opposite direction. It was only when I noticed one cheeky punter turn and exit the lift from the ‘wrong’ direction that I realised the fallacy in walking all the way back around. Obviously there’s the risk of irritating the people about to enter the lift by leaving from their entrance and not your exit, but hey – you’ll get to the platform first. Commuting on the tube is an every-man-for-himself process – a thirty second headstart can make all the difference.

Lastly, a lesson learned the hard way. Maddy and I were waiting for a bus down the Old Kent Road to do our weekly food shop. The bus turned up, we got on, and were abruptly told to exit two stops later when a voiceover said “This bus’s destination has changed. It will now terminate here”. No warning, no refund, and we had to wait for another one (and pay again). Not much you can do to avoid this one, but at least knowing it’s a possibility in advance will mean you won’t look as confused as we did when it happens.

On the subject – when a London bus pulls up, if it’s a “bendy bus” with two entrances, both doors open. In some of the ones I’ve seen, the second set of doors (away from the driver) sometimes don’t have a scanner for your Oyster card like the main door does. I’m baffled about how this works and have a feeling that unscrupulous travellers simply board the bus at this entrance and get off again without paying. We were on a bus this weekend where an inspector came around scanning people’s cards, but this was on a quiet Sunday morning bus. Anything in the rush hour after work has barely any space for passengers, let alone inspectors, so you’re probably fine to risk riding for free.

So, keep an eye on how you’re being controlled, and don’t forget that not every sign or timetable is as accurate as you think it is, either. If they can lie to you, you’re allowed to bend the rules. Within reason.