Saturday, July 14, 2012

Surviving Tube in London Olympics 2012 - 5 tips to rough it out

Image by Stuck in Customs

As if a warning of things to come, it seems that the breakdowns in London Underground is getting more frequent as London Olympics 2012 draws closer.

While there are still are still jests made whenever the light in the carriage flickers or the train simply stops in the middle of stations, one thing is clearly on everyone's mind - how can the Tube cope with the massive crowd that will descend on London for the Olympics?

Some companies have plans to have staff work from home, others are looking into staggering work hours. But the majority of London's workers, many of whom are in the service industry, are still heading into central London during the Olympics.

For those coming to London just for the Olympics, public transport is going to be a nightmare no matter how you look at it. The Tube is already almost buckling under the peak hour traffic on a day to day basis. It's not going to be pretty when the visitors who aren't familiar with the route add to the chaos.

While being squashed between the door and a chap who should really be using a deodorant in the Tube one fine morning, I've come up with some tips on travelling on Tube during Olympics and here they are.

1. Top up Oyster card online or use a Travelcard

By the looks of the queues at ticketing counters, few of us bother to go top up our Oyster cards online. The usual cautious approach against direct debit applies - Can I cancel it? What if I can't cancel it? Would there be fraud? To be honest, I don't suggest you do an auto top-up; having a mandatory minimum sum of £8 in your Oyster card is a bit too much if you are based in central London. Else, there's the option of topping up online on a pay-as-you-go basis. The point is to avoid queuing at the ticket counters.

For visitors to London during Olympics, please go for a Travelcard (check updated prices) regardless of the number of trips you take. There's really no point doing your sums. It's either a difference of a couple of pounds or your sanity. Your pick. If you haven't already, you can get your Travelcard in advance or get it at the first chance you have at any Tube station when you reach London. The good news is that if you have an Olympic ticket, it comes with Travelcard valid for the day when the event is held.

2. Keep a Tube map handy

I know where the train goes. Or so I would like to believe. To be more precise, I know at the back of my hand the route to and fro my home to my workplace. Surely, I don't need a map for that. In case trains break down, which they almost certainly would (likely due to signalling problems), it's always prudent to know what the alternative routes are. Keep a Tube map handy.

If you are visiting London, have one with you at all times. Scratch that. Grab a handful. They have a habit of slipping off your back pocket when you need them most. At the very least, Tube maps make brilliant souvenirs.

3. Agree on a contingency plan

There's always this issue about getting split up when travelling in a group. Whenever we are travelling via the subway in a foreign city, we normally agree on a spot to link up if we got split up. It can be the nearest telephone booth outside the exit gantry, the ticketing office or even the locality map that is should rightly be at each station.

If we happened to be split up while boarding a train, the person who got onboard will simply alight at the next station, stay put at the same spot on the platform and wait for the rest. Not exactly the most sophisticated plan but it works.

4. Keep to the sides

Come Olympics, there are plans to implement one way systems along corridors leading to the Tube's platforms. You would find the normal route that you take suddenly become inaccessible. Instead of standing in the middle of the corridor figuring out which way to go, stick to the sides to avoid clogging up the traffic and being shovered around.

5. Access Virgin wifi in Tube stations

It used to be that once you are in London Underground (and I mean being properly underground), you are in an internet free zone. Even simple emailing or texting is out of the question. No longer. Virgin Media has installed wifi in Tube stations and it will be available free of charge to the public (at least for this summer) in at least 80 stations by end of July.

End are the days where your mobile phone because good only for offline games when you are in the Tube. You are now connected. This is great news if you are visiting the UK for the Olympics - you no longer have to subscribe to expensive data plans. Just enable wifi on your smartphone and that's it. To reach your pals who are stuck in the other end of the station, just use Whatsapp. Better still, use Skype to have free Skype-to-Skype calls.

Yes, with the cracks in M4, Crossrail incomplete, Tube system overloaded, transport is going to be a major issue in the next few weeks. Despite that, after all the hype for the past couple of months, I am really looking forward to London 2012. In case you're wondering, I'm staying put in London during the Games. Seriously, why would I want to be anywhere else when the greatest show on Earth is going to be at my doorstep?

If you are visiting London, check out Covering London in a Day or simply download my London in a Weekend guide

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