What to Expect on the Tube: Waiting, Sweating, and Shaving

What kind of Londoner would I be if I didn’t have a moan about the tube?  I come from Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city where the next bus is an hour-wait on ninety percent of the routes during off-peak travel times.   If it is winter, that means waiting out in weather that can be -15C with the windchill.  When my car broke down one February, the thought of having to take public transport had me in hysterics.

Not All Tube Lines are Created Equal

Arriving in London, a city where owning a car is more trouble than it is worth, with a transport system that includes buses, boats, trains, tubes, tram, DLR options, as well as night buses that could get you home after midnight, was all very exciting.  My first flat was closest to the Hammersmith and City line, and so my first lesson was all tube lines are not created equal.  This tube line can have up to a 15-minute wait between trains if you miss one.  This didn’t seem too bad at first when the weather was good and I wasn’t working.  However, when you are trying to get to work and it’s cold and rainy, fifteen minutes starts to become a problem. On the Hammersmith and City line, the wait was often longer than 15 minutes.  Transport for London, the governing body of the city’s transportation, offers refunds for train delays longer than 15 minutes, which I have taken advantage of.   On a good month, I got £28 back (if only the iPhone app, Tube Refund, existed back then, I could have easily doubled that).

Summer:  Some Like it Hot

When summer arrived, the next thing I learned about the tube was that it’s a good thing London doesn’t  hit 30C often.  When London gets hot, the deepest of the tubes can be over 40C with humidity.  (Keep in mind that the maximum  temperature cattle can be transported at is 27C!).  If you are unlucky enough to have to take one of the deeper level tube lines to work, cramming onto carriages like sardines with others who are hot and sweaty, it isn’t the best start to the day – yuck!

The Things People Do on the Tube!

Just when you think you have seen it all, someone starts doing yoga on the tube or shaving their legs.  The stories I have heard from friends and the things I have seen myself have been quite eye opening.  One evening on the way home, a girl sat next to a guy, pulled out a plastic shopping bag, held it out, and the guy next to her (whom she didn’t know) puked into it!  Turns out, she was a nurse and recognized what was about to happen. There is busking, impromptu singing, begging, but, heaven forbid, you make eye contact with your fellow passengers.

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Tube Entertainment

When taking the tube, I always make sure to have something to read, but if caught out, there are always the free newspapers, The Metro in the mornings and the Evening Standard in the afternoons.  Also good to have is a music player and some good earphones, just in case you have a heavy breather or some other annoying noise to block out.

There are also tube-related websites; a really interesting site is, Live Train Map of the London Underground by Matthew Sommerville.  It shows the tube lines on a map with the locations of each train in real time.



  • If you see “Mind the Gap” written on the platform, this is the place to stand as this is where the train doors will be .
  • To figure  out how long a journey will take add 2 minutes for each station you go through, 5 minutes for each change of line, and 10 minutes for getting in and out of the stations.  This will give you your total journey time.
  • The last thing worth mentioning is engineering work on the weekend. This has been going on for years, with no end in sight. Make sure to check what lines are down for the weekend before leaving the house Saturday or Sunday.  ( If there is strike talk, make sure to make note on your calender and don’t make any plans that day if you can help it.)

So if you find yourself in London, you now know what to expect from the tube! 

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