A week of public transportation…

I just got home from a whirlwind week in the UK to visit family, friends, and colleagues. I was struck by the fact that everything depended on a diverse network of public transportation, and I thought it might be amusing to document all of the services I used during that week. So here goes. (This is going to be long….)

Wednesday February 7: I flew from Portland (PDX) to San Francisco (SFO), and then on to London (LHR). To get from home to PDX I used a rideshare service (Uber); the only realistic alternative would have been to drive and leave my car at the long-term car park.

Thursday, February 8: I arrived at Heathrow around noon. Passport control was swift and self-service: “scan my UK passport, gaze into the camera”. No checked baggage to retrieve, so I headed to my hotel in Pimlico. There are several ways to get from Heathrow to London, but I chose the oldest and cheapest: Piccadilly Line tube from Heathrow to Earls Court, and District Line from Earls Court to Victoria. My hotel was a 7 minute walk from Victoria. As with all of my bus and tube travel in London, I used my phone to pay; I didn’t have to buy tickets, or even install a special app. In fact, I didn’t use a (physical) credit card or cash during the entire trip. And of course(?), for the various travels which I’d booked in advance – United Airlines to London, Eurostar to Paris, GWR to Oxford, Avanti to Manchester – all of my tickets/boarding passes lived on my phone, either contactless or QR.

Friday, February 9: I had a business meeting in Paris, and so I was travelling by Eurostar train from London St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. My train left at 7, but because of the passport control bullshit following Brexit you’re advised to arrive 60-90 minutes before your train. I could have used the Tube, but the service frequency at 5am is iffy, so I asked the hotel to call a taxi, which arrived in about 90 seconds. Sweet. Once I got in line at St. Pancras, I was invited to switch to the 6am train, which I did. Eurostar was very nice; I was traveling in Standard Premier class, and it was quiet and delightful.

Within Paris, I planned to take the Metro from Gare du Nord to Ecole Militaire using lines 4 and 8 (changing at Strasbourg Saint Denis). In preparation, I tried to set up for contactless payment, but this proved much more difficult than in London. (You have to install the IDF Mobilit├ęs app, which then asks you to install the My Travigo ticket management app.) The setup process failed several times, so in desperation I restarted my phone; that did the trick.

The return journey to London was uneventful, and I took the Victoria Line from St.Pancras to Pimlico to get back to my hotel.

Saturday February 10: The main event of the day (and the ostensible reason for the whole trip) was a family gathering in Blackheath, in south-east London. The party didn’t start until 1, so in the morning I spent some time in my favourite parts on London. I caught a 24 bus (my first ride on a New Routemaster) from just outside my hotel up to Leicester Square, and meandered towards Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. Eventually I walked down The Strand to Charing Cross station and took a southeastern service out to Blackheath. After the (delightful!) family event, I walked back to Blackheath station and took another southeastern train to Victoria.

Sunday February 11: I may have been born in London, and have lived more than half my life in the US, but Oxford is one of my home places. So on Sunday I took a GWR train from Paddington to Oxford, to have lunch with an old friend and do a little shopping in Blackwell’s. I used the Circle Line to get from Victoria up to Paddington, which worked very well but triggered a momentary confusion, because I grew up in the era when the Circle Line was really a “circular” service, rather than today’s weird loop! The GWR service was on one of their 800-class bi-mode multiple units (it’s electric from London to Didcot, then switches to diesel power up to Oxford and beyond). The 800s are widely criticized; maybe my standards are too low, but I found it to be fast and comfortable. (It runs at around 120mph for much of the way, compared with 165mph for Eurostar.)

Monday February 12: I spent the day with my cousin, exploring the Victoria & Albert Museum and walking through Hyde Park.Travel was mostly Circle Line between Liverpool St and South Kensington, and bus from Marble Arch to Victoria.

Tuesday February 13: My plans for the day were straightforward: travel to Canada Water station (Victoria Line to Green Park, then Jubilee Line to Canada Water) to meet an old friend for lunch; then return to Victoria to meet a former colleague for dinner. I set off quite a bit earlier than I needed to, and as I approached Canada Water station I had an inspiration. I would stay on the train to North Greenwich, and then ride the cable car across the Thames. So I did. I can imagine that in good weather the views must be spectacular, but in the steady rain…. Definitely the weirdest bit of public transportation on this trip.

Wednesday February 14: Yet another “lunch meeting with an old friend” – but this time in Manchester. I took the Victoria line froim Pimlico to Euston, and boarded an Avanti Class 390 Pendolino for the 2 hr 6 min journey to Manchester. I decided to indulge myself by booking First Class, and the service was excellent. I met my friend at Manchester Piccadilly station, and since we are both transport nerds, we spent the time before lunch in a thoroughly appropriate fashion. We took a Metrolink tram out to Manchester Airport, and then rode on one of the new electric buses back into the city.

Thursday February 15: The last day of my trip, and there was one more transportation decision to make: how to get to Heathrow? There are three obvious choices: the Piccadilly Line (slow, cheap), the Heathrow Express from Paddington (fast, expensive), and the Elizabeth Line (moderately priced, new and interesting). I chose the Elizabeth Line, of course. I took the Circle up to Paddington and walked across to the new Elizabeth Line station. (I understand the infrastructure constraints, but the need to tap in and tap out twice seems less integrated than I’d expect.) The trains feel like an odd hybrid of tube and mainline design, with both longitudinal and transverse seating. But they’re comfortable and fast, and definitely better than the Piccadilly!

Then home. As on my outbound flight, the United 777 was only about half full, and I had a complete row to myself. Immigration was almost as fast as at Heathrow; I have Global Entry, so it was simply “look at the camera, flash my US passport to a human”. Parts of San Francisco airport seemed eerily empty. Since we’d got in quite early, I decided to try switch to the earlier SFO-PDX. I snagged the last seat – middle, of course, but at least it was Economy Plus. And then Uber home.

So that was the trip. Commercial air, Ubers at both ends in the US, one taxi in London, and otherwise 100% public transportation. (I think of all of the mainline rail services in England as “public transportation”, because even though some of the operators are commercial entities, they are required to operate in accordance with their franchise arrangements.) One minor ticketing glitch in Paris, but otherwise flawless. Tired, but happy, and so glad to have seen all my fiends and family.