Beijing commuters’ hell is nothing compared to that of Londoners

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

When I left Beijing to return to the Motherland last month, there were many things I expected to miss about China’s dynamic (and in my mind, most dazzling) city – shopping and the sensational street food, being just two examples. But I never thought I’d find myself not only missing, but positively pining for Beijing’s subway system.

Pre summer 2011, the metro was definitely one of my Beijing bête noirs and, I thought, for good reason. The line up for the tickets is always long and when – after what feels like eternity – you do finally arrive at the front of the line, chances are you’ll be informed that you are not able to charge your card in this line, or can only charge your card (which isn’t helpful if you don’t have have a card).

Then there’s the headache of actually getting on the train. No matter what time of day you choose to travel, the trains are always, always jam packed with people and each new station has more people getting onto the train, than off. Cue much pushing and shoving as the doors open and the crowd’s surge forward, searching for that elusive seat. Once on the train, you’ll find yourself pressed up against a stranger (or three) and barely able to breathe until you reach your intended stop.

However having spent the last few weeks in London, I’ll never moan about Beijing’s metro again. Sure it’s far from perfect but, believe me: it’s one that the average Londoner would kill for.

It’s been a hellish summer for London commuters, particularly those forced to ride the Jubilee line (the silver one which, worryingly, is also the principle tube line for the 2012 Olympics, serving the stadium at Stratford). London’s larger than life mayor, Boris Johnson, has spent some £13 million on upgrading the Jubilee line: it hasn’t been money well spent.

The beleaguered line has suffered on going problems with the new computerised signalling system. In theory, it’s supposed to make trains run faster. In reality? It keeps breaking down, resulting in loss of connection between signal control and train on-board computers. The system then has to be rebooted, stranding the train – and its plethora of passengers, often in the early hours of the morning.

I know having been ‘one of them’ on more occasions than I care to count. Travelling ‘home’ after a recent evening out in London, I found myself trapped underground for 90 minutes at 12 midnight, before being told by the hapless London Underground staff to take a night bus to King’s Cross – which has just been named and shamed as the capital’s worst tube station for crime, with almost 200 offences committed there last year – and from King’s Cross another night bus, followed by a taxi. Grrrrr.

The price for my pain? £4 for each single journey. One word: ouch. Suddenly Beijing’s subway system doesn’t seem such a bad deal. It might be crowded, but the trains run like clockwork (I have never waited more than six minutes for a train), are clean and, crucially, cheap. My friends and family here in the UK invariably can’t believe it when I tell them that it costs just 20p to go absolutely anywhere in Beijing. What’s a bit of pushing and shoving in the face of such a bargain?

Boris, if you’re reading this, please do take note: the Olympics aren’t the only area where London would do well to take a leaf out of Beijing’s book.

For more on what I will and won’t miss about Beijing, don’t forget to log onto the CD Traveller website next week!

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