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London - London Underground vs New York Subway

I'm a mass transit geek, and one of the things I always pay close attention to is the mass transit system a big city has. London and New York both have great subway systems. But there are many differences between them.

The Underground is by far the oldest of the systems. It commenced service, as the private Metropolitan Railway, back in 1863. This was the same month in which Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, as the Civil War entered its second year.

The New York Subway is a comparitive baby. The first underground section of the New York subway opened in October 1904, the same year the Trans-Siberian Express opened. Like London's system, it began as multiple private systems that have long been brought into a government run system. How do they compare today?

Airport Service
London Airport Service
The Underground's Picadilly Line has served Heathrow Airport since 1977. It will take you right from the terminals into the center of town.

There is a faster Heathrow Express service. Its not part of the subway, leaves every 15 minutes, and takes you to Paddington Station in town in 22 minutes.

There is no underground service to Gatwick Airport. There is a fast train service though. TheGatwick Express
, similar to its Heathrow counterpart, leaves every 15 minutes and can take you to town ( Victoria Station ) in 30 minutes.

New York Airport Service

While London has more airports ( besides Heathrow and Gatwick, there are commercial flights out of Stansted, Luton, and City Airports ), New York basically has three- Kennedy Airport, LaGuardia, and Newark Airports. The New York Subway does not directly serve any of these airports. London wins this competition hands down.

JFK Airport
There is better service than there used to be, I will give them that. You can take the JFK Airtrain for $5, which can take you to a connection at either Howard Beach's A Train or Jamaica's E/J subway. It works for thrifty travelers like me, but it involves two trains to get to NYC, and that's one too many.

Newark Airport

You can take a NJ Transit train from NY Penn Station to a the " Newark Airport " station, but you must then change to the Newark Airport monorail. The monorail runs frequently, but the NJ Transit service is not that great. In the evening, there can be 45 minute gaps between NJ Transit trains. There is no dedicated place for airport passenger luggage. The service basically sucks and has not attracted large numbers of passengers.

LaGuardia Airport
You can take the N subway to the temptingly close Astoria Boulevard station, but must continue the trip on the M60 bus. Supercheap, aince this counts as one $2 or less fare, but not a good option if you have any luggage to speak of.

Advantage: London, hands down.

Fares and Fare Collection
The base fare of the New York subway is $2. The base fare of the Underground is 3 pounds, or $4.50 ( not a misprint ). Both can be reduced significantly by discounts, but London is much more expensive always.

New York's $2 fare applies to a journey of one stop or a long journey from Coney Island to the Bronx. The Underground has up to six zones, which are unduly complex. If you go from zone 1-6 on a weekday, the fare can run from 2 pounds to 4 pounds depending on whether its a weekend or not or how you pay. I like New York's simpler approach. One city, one fare.

How to Pay Your Fare / How You Buy Your Ticket
New York
New York got rid of its tokens a while back. Now, almost all travelers will pay with a MetroCard, an electronic card that you swipe through a reader that usually works but does not always.

You can buy a MetroCard at a " token booth " from a person at a " token booth " at most stations, but there are more and more automated machines that are very well designed.

After you swipe your ticket, no worries. You don't have to do anything when exiting the system.
They are transitioning from a paper ticket system. You can buy a paper ticket that you enter into a turnstile when entering the system. When you arrive at your destination, you enter that same paper ticket in the turnstile reader, which captures your ticket and lets you out.

The new Oyster Card is held over an electronic reader at your station of entry, and above another reader at your destination station. You don't touch anything. New York is believed to be moving to a similar system.

You can buy a paper ticket or an Oyster Card from an attended booth, or from a machine. There are long machines at the manned booths. And the automated machines are not as well designed as those of New York's.

Advantage: New York. Simpler fare system. Always cheaper. Better vending machines.

To be continued tomorrow. This subject is more complicated than I thought!

London Underground - closes around 1am. New York City Subway - runs all night. End of discussion.

When I was a student I came home (to the North Bronx) on the Number 1 train every weekend at an hour later than that which London considers too late for mass transit.

Great topic. I have bored hundreds with my interest in mass transit (and parking regulations).

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