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Five reasons to love London’s public transport

10 April 2013 | Colin Brush

You might think public transport in London is unpleasant, demeaning and frequently inhumane but Colin Brush believes this is all part of its charm.

Whether we’re using bus, tube, train or even boat, there are days when it can seem as though Transport for London’s only purpose is to drive its users to distraction with its endless delays, ridiculous diversions, patent overcrowding and shutdowns which make it impossible to get where you want to go. However, if you can remove your neighbour’s elbow from your ribs long enough to take a deep, calming breath, you may find that there’s much that is uplifting about the system’s manifold failings.

You are not alone
Let’s face it, it is the public part of public transport that causes us most upset. You’re jammed up against complete strangers you’d ordinarily refuse to touch with a sharp stick. Your privacy is invaded: you’re forced to share personal space. But shouldn’t this be a positive experience? Many of us take annual holidays to exotic places to get away from it all. We hope to encounter something novel and eye-opening. Yet representatives from the world’s many diverse cultures have settled all over London. And there’s one place they all mix and come together. Take the tube to meet the world.

Delays
Knowing exactly when you are going to arrive is, frankly, boring. Useful for work yes, but any seasoned Londoner knows that when arranging to meet friends you build in a good half hour to an hour’s assembly time. If you’re going to the theatre, cinema, a gig, dinner, then you meet early in a pub or cafe nearby, get nicely lubricated and have a catch up before you catch the show. What could be more civilised than that? And it’s all thanks to London’s reliably unreliable public transport.

It’s noisy in here
You can plug in your headphones to drown out the noise but try as they might mere speakers simply can’t compete with the clattering, juddering, screaming of a tube train going at a dash. After twenty years, I still find that drawn-out, hollow howl as six carriages shoot through a twisting tunnel invigorating and haunting. It’s visceral and chilling, like a slightly dodgy but still quite weird special effect from a seventies horror movie. And the longer the gap between stops, the louder and higher in pitch it seems to get as if something dark and horrid is creeping closer and closer . . . Beats Alton Towers, any day.

Hot and cold – only more so
What is it about public transport and temperature? In summer it’s set to oven and in winter it’s dialled down to freezer. There’s no forgetting those early January mornings shivering on the upper deck of an unheated number 26, nor yet sweating extra buckets during a heatwave because the the 388’s ‘heater’s jammed on’. Ours is a temperate climate, meaning we rarely get to fully experience extreme seasonal temperatures. As a result we’re not very good with them. But because of broken heaters and terrible air-con we can shiver like a Muscovite in December or sear like a New Yorker in August. Thanks, TFL.

Germs
No really. One of the great things about public transport is that it is London’s very own incubator. There’s no better place to pick up a disease, squeezed as you are next to a dying stranger infected by legions of some horrifically monstrous microbe. But that also means there is no better place to gain immunity from disease. Picking up a little dose of influenza here, a bout of conjunctivitis there and your body’s immune system will soon grow powerful and strong (either that, or you’ll quickly sicken and die). The seasoned commuter has nothing to fear from swine flu.

Overcrowded, often delayed, terrifyingly loud, either too hot or cold and a transmitter of disease, public transport in London should, according to some, come with a stringent health warning. But for those of us still with beating hearts, such symptoms of an ailing transportation system are just as likely to be encountered at your average gig.

That’s right. I’m comparing using TFL to attending a Justin Bieber concert, only TFL does what it does with a lot more sincerity and charm.

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