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Top 8 Annoyances on the London Underground

Posted by on March 14, 2011

The London Underground – or ‘The Tube’ – the oldest underground system in the world, and still going strong. Love it or hate it, there are some activities or frustrations that starts your blood boiling when they happen. In my fourth year on this system, here are some I’ve seen and heard:

Stand on the right
Before I moved to London, I did what any self-respecting geek does – I read it up on Wikipedia and Wikitravel. One of the first amusing points I noted was that everyone stands on the right on escalators. “Like that would ever work, ” I thought to myself.

Turns out that yes, it’s very, very true, and you fast find yourself becoming frustrated as you speed down or jog up the left side, only to find some tourist or couple standing nattering while blocking the left lane. “Excuse me,” you say, indignantly, and wait for the look of confusion or mumbled apology. It’s funny how simple a rule has become so standard that you even start noticing that it doesn’t happen in other countries, and become frustrated at the mess of people you have to navigate charging up the escalators in Barcelona or Budapest.

Loud earphones
I personally don’t use a music player when travelling – I prefer to be able to hear what’s going on around me. The downside of course, is that you get to listen to other peoples’ music. The irony here is that most often, when someone is playing their music so loudly you can hear it down the other end of the carriage on the noisy Picadilly line, is that all you can usually pick up from it is some electronic beat, or just the bass – and it certainly doesn’t pass as ‘music’.

Can you Hear Me Now?
One of the great excuses for missing a call in London is ‘I was underground’. Sadly this is going to change next year if Boris the mayor has his way, as they install mobile phone reception on the Tube. Now at first this would seem to be a good thing – after all, many other cities around the world – even in Siberia (Novosibirsk) or South America (Santiago, Buenos Aires) they have reception on the tube. However with the noise of the underground, the screeching of the tracks and the constant announcements – as anyone on the partially-overground District Line can tell you – you don’t want to add phone calls to the noise of the Tube.

Impatient boarders
When the door opens, wait for the people onboard to get off first. THEN you can get on. Try and get on first, and you may find an accidental elbow in your ribs, or worse. I’ve seen this happen!

You need your ticket
You’re on the Tube, going up the escalators or stairs towards the barriers. This means you got in through the barriers at some point, and therefore have a ticket. Get. It. Out. Now. Those barriers can handle up to forty people through a minute on Oyster. This system breaks down fast, however, when you stand there fumbling through your pockets or bag for your card you probably only put away ten minutes ago when you came in. 10 seconds of fumbling = 6 people behind you. Think about it.

Addendum: This also applies when waiting to buy tickets – get your wallet out before you get to the front.

The Freeze of Success
There are small challenges on the tube system. These include going up escalators. Walking through ticket barriers. Walking through a tunnel. Not big problems, to be sure, yet upon successful completion of these many people seem too taken by their success, and freeze on the spot, unsure as to what to do next. This then causes a challenge for the people behind them – how do you get off an escalator when there’s a frozen person blocking your exit? Do you jump the wheelie-bag sitting in your way having its handle extended? Step to the side, then think!

The Toothpaste Tube
The doors open. Simultaneously, passenger behind your left shoulder pushes past, and passenger behind your right shoulder shoves harder past. Result? You get horribly squashed in the middle like a tube of toothpaste, and probably get a rude word for your troubles as one of them thinks you weren’t moving out of their way for them.

Hold my train!
Rush hour, fifty extra people have pushed their way into an already over-full carriage. The beeps start, the doors close and … wait a minute, they’ve opened again. Someone has managed to dive at the train, put their hand inside and force it open. Thanks man, you’ve saved yourself two minutes, but delayed and angered several hundred people in the process.

On a lighter note I’ll include this video by Amateur Transplants (WARNING: language may offend!), first played for me ironically in Ireland (hat tip to Dave and Katie):

On the upside, the Tube has provided me with many lighter moments over the years, especially the great quotes from some of the drivers / platform announcers:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologise for the delay to your service. I know you’re all dying to get home, unless, of course, you happen to be married to my ex-wife, in which case you’ll want to cross over to the Westbound and go in the opposite direction”.

“Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The good news is that last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. The bad news is that there is a points failure somewhere between Stratford and East Ham, which means we probably won’t reach our destination.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for the delay, but there is a security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore stuck here for the foreseeable future, so let’s take our minds off it and pass some time together. All together now….’Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall…..'”.

During an extremely hot rush hour on the Central Line, the driver announced in a West Indian drawl: “step right this way for the sauna, ladies and gentleman… unfortunately towels are not provided”.

“Let the passengers off the train FIRST!” (Pause …) “Oh go on then, stuff yourselves in like sardines, see if I care – I’m going home….”

“Please allow the doors to close.Try not to confuse this with ‘Please hold the doors open’. The two are distinct and separate instructions.”

“Please note that the beeping noise coming from the doors means that the doors are about to close. It does not mean throw yourself or your bags into the doors.”

“We can’t move off because some idiot has their f****ng hand stuck in the door”

“Please move all baggage away from the doors (Pause..) Please move ALL belongings away from the doors (Pause…) This is a personal message to the man in the brown suit wearing glasses at the rear of the train – put the pie down, four-eyes, and move your bloody golf clubs away from the door before I come down there and shove them up your a**e sideways”

“May I remind all passengers that there is strictly no smoking allowed on any part of the Underground. However, if you are smoking a joint, it’s only fair that you pass it round the rest of the carriage”.

For more quotes, see

What’s your biggest frustration or annoyance when using the London Underground?

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13 Responses to Top 8 Annoyances on the London Underground

  1. Lizmo

    The “Freeze of Success” is my personal dislike coming off the escalators – and that stage of carriage filling when nobody will move away from the door and into the aisles so that I can get in! But then us Moffatt’s have a great phobia of getting our heads crushed by the doors closing… as if that’d ever happen!

    Great quotes, I’ve only ever had angry drivers complaining about rubbish left in the carriages.

    • marksmayo

      But of course 😉 Yes the moving down is frustrating, but then when it’s that full at least you have the ‘option’ of avoiding it by waiting for the next train. Unless a Chelsea/Fulham game is on the District line!

  2. Kevin Mills

    I hate it when people detonate IEDs on the underground. That really makes my goat boil.

  3. Karen

    Haha, really enjoyed this post. Totally agreed on the Freeze of Success, particularly when it means large crowds coming to a dead halt where the walkway meets the platform. Also, I’m with you re: cell service on the tube. It’s not necessary and is going to make the journey more unpleasant for everyone not on their phones.
    Karen recently posted..Finding the World of Harry Potter

    • marksmayo

      Hi Karen, thanks for posting, so very true. While personally I’d like cellphone data on the trains, I certainly don’t want calls available anytime soon!

  4. Scott

    Very interesting post Mark, from someone who has never been to London, many of your frustrations could be applied to the airport, which I am much more familiar with :)

    The most interesting one for me is standing on the right at escalators. I’ve noticed that when walking along footpaths, most people tend to walk they way they drive. In NZ, if you approach someone coming towards you on the footpath, people will usually step to the left to pass each other. In the US and South America, I’ve noticed that people move to the right (which caused me, at first, to be at fault for a few near collisions or that awkward moment where both people move the same way). If you are walking faster than someone in front of you going the same direction, you tend to pass them on the left in the Americas / right in NZ, again, just like driving. I think it is a subconscious thing, as I never noticed it before I went overseas, but when I got back to NZ I sure did. It’s not a fool proof rule, but it does apply most of the time.

    Now I’ve never had these courtesies extended to escalators in any country that I have been in, but it seems to me that, were a unwritten rule to be applied, I’d expect it to follow the same logic. Which would be standing on the left in the UK so that people can pass on the right, as they would in their cars. So I’m very interested in why this is not the case. Any ideas? Or is it simply that some administrator put up a “stand on the right” sign and it’s been that way ever since.

    • marksmayo

      My suspicion is that it comes down to two things:

      1) There are signs all over that say ‘stand on the right’. People obey signs.

      But of course there still needs to be some logic behind it. Which brings us to :

      2) You walk on the left, as you said. So on escalators, it can be seen as if you want to just stand, do so on the right, out of the way of people walking. That way, walkers can continue to happily charge up or down the left :)

      I agree, I totally noticed what you mention on sidewalks and in shopping malls etc in the US, Europe and South America (and returning home), and some of it is probably subconcious -we have to try and anticipate movement ahead of us, and so we get these awkward moments in a new situation! :)

      • scott

        That is a pretty good point. The fact that there is no possibility (apart from kids playing) of someone coming towards you negates the need to pass people coming the other way. So it could be as you said, people just want to walk on the left. We need another city where escalators are so orderly that drives on the right for comparison. Depends on what comes more naturally, walking normalcies or passing normalcies. My gut feeling that this subconscious behaviour is not very strong anyway and would easily be over-ridden by a placing a lot of signs.

  5. Nadia

    I’ve been living in London for about four years, and try to avoid the tube at all costs: taking a bus is cheaper and much nicer (you actually get to see the city). If you can afford to, wake a little earlier in the mornings and take the bus. Though this is not the most practical way of getting round the city for visitors (perhaps try one of Boris’s bikes? Cheaper still?).

    Avoid the Central Line like the plague during rush hour.

    • marksmayo

      Thanks for commenting Nadia. For sure, above ground is almost always better. Used to be able to use the overground, what a difference it makes! Of course there are also problems with that, and buses, haha – perhaps a future blog post…

  6. Sarah

    This is brilliant! Every single on of these is true and on a daily basis it all adds up to being a distinctly uncomfortable experience. I live on the Central Line and the awful experience that is my commute is a major factor in my choice to leave the country!

    And I can’t believe you didn’t mention people who lack basic personal hygiene I am a short-arse so I always end up facing some body’s armpit. It’s called washing people!
    Sarah recently posted..Preparing to Launch- T-minus 2 weeks

    • Mark Mayo

      Thanks Sarah. The Central Line is certainly a rough ride in rush hour – the crowds and heat only make it worse. I didn’t mention the hygiene tho as I have a secret weapon – I have no sense of smell :) Apparently it comes in handy a LOT in summer!

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