Mind The Gap ! All change, please. All Change!

If you come from the UK, London in particular, you’ll know exactly what the title means. For those unfamiliar with the phrase it is used on trains to alert people that the train they are on will be terminating at the station and everyone needs to get off! I miss hearing that but was delighted by the tales told by my Aunt and Uncle who had recently had a wonderful holiday in London and I think they may have fallen in love with it; when they arrived at their destination they were amazed by all the color and freshness that greeted them. I had to stop them and make sure they were talking about London, the actual city! Daffodils and Crocus were everywhere and they had sunshine and warmth nearly everyday. I was jealous, absolutely green with envy! They marveled at how easy it was to get around and loved the fact you could use one travel card for every trip. However they did laugh at how polite the underground system was; here in Toronto the TTC is bloody awful. Sorry, but it is. Apart from two bus drivers whom I have met in my nearly 8 years of living here, every single TTC employee is a Grumpy Gus. London Underground practically runs itself – automated EVERYTHING! I am going to try and explain the comparison between London and Toronto. Here goes:


Pro: To give the TTC it’s dues, $3 gets you anywhere in the city and as long as you have a transfer ticket it will let you travel between subway and above ground without having to pay more.

The subway system is very easy to navigate using the compass – there are only 4 lines, 2 of which are the main lines which run North, South, East or West. If you know whether you are heading downtown or uptown, East or West, there is very little to confuse you. Same with the above ground system. Buses and Streetcars operate East, West and in between. Click here to see a map.

Con: Nearly every employee is a Grumpy Gus and treats public like they are stupid (although I have seen times where it is justified!) I think there is a mutual dislike on both sides between public and employees.

Very little is automated and the fare process is very archaic. Exact change/tokens/tickets go into a little box outside a booth in which said Grumpy Gus is sitting before you push through a turnstile into the station. If you don’t have exact change you can either ask for change or for a token/ticket. For example I have a $5 note. I slip this under the security glass to Gus and ask politely, ‘can I have change back please?’ Gus will give me $5 back, in change, through which I will then need to pick out the correct fare ($3) and place inside the little box outside the booth. If I had asked for tokens, the same would have happened; Gus gives tokens + change, I give token back into the little box which Gus then collects back later on. He gives you money, you put into box, he takes back money…doesn’t that seem slightly…silly? Why not just keep the fare and return the change? I’m sure the TTC is being taken for a ride itself with the amount of people not paying properly. Incidentally if you are on a bus, even worse: exact change only. No exact change, no ride.  Yes, there are monthly travel cards but they are extortionate and they are only good value if you use the system a lot.


Pro: Go to machine, select destination, pay for ticket, retrieve ticket, go on fabulous journey. Even better than that – Oyster cards; Refillable travel cards. No messing around. Swipe the card in any station it will automatically deduct your fare, plus, those amazing beauties work on virtually any transport, even trains!! No more booths with Grumpy Gus’ inside.They went a long time ago. Once inside the station, you head to your platform and upon your trains’ arrival a wonderful, deep voice alerts you to, “Mind The Gap!” before you alight onto your carriage. Perfect!

The system is enormous so you can get practically anywhere in London by underground, even from the very outer reaches of the city. You can even get to the airport using the underground. Fabulous!


Con: To a newcomer the underground can be overwhelmingly confusing! It’s a puzzle of lines running every which way so if you don’t really know where you are going, it can be daunting. If you have never seen it before, look here

London Underground is also very expensive. The system is divided into Zones 1-8 with Zone 1 representing central London and Zone 9 is out to Heathrow Airport and Watford Junction. The further out you go the more expensive your trip gets. Zone 1 starts at £4.70 ($8.70) and if you are planning on going to Zone 9 you can expect to pay up to £12.50 ($23) If you are really intrigued to see the pay scale you can find the link here If you have the Oyster card the rates are lower but if you’re thinking of dodging the fare or ‘accidentally’ paying below the right fare, the barriers at your destination will not open to let you out until you have paid the proper fare through a little booth. Having said all that the actual service of said underground can be less than desirable at times, but then no service runs completely 100%.

Nothing is ever perfect but I did enjoy hearing the tales of adventure on the Underground! I’m hopefully heading to London in October and I will relish every moment I spend on the tube, regardless of how crappy the service might be!

{On a side note, as I write this glowing blog for London Underground, they have just gone on a 48 hour strike. That sucks. Sorry Londoners.}