Route Choice – Public Transport

I have recently found myself frequently discussing and giving advice to travellers in London, as well as planning my own journeys in a range of circumstances, primarily focussing on travel to or from all of London’s airports. This has brought to my attention the range of factors which contribute to the choice of journey we make and the challenge of catering to our needs in most journey planners, from the good old fashioned tube map, through TfL, National Rail, Google or even Citymapper, which is my go-to travel app.

I would like to argue that whether or not you’re travelling in a hurry or not, with or without a suitcase, on a familiar or unfamiliar system, can potentially have a huge impact on what is the optimal route you may wish to take. Let’s start with the obvious…

Time & Money

In general, time is considered the primary and most obvious factor in deciding route choice and indeed journey planners now often tell you at what time you need to leave to arrive at your destination by your desired time, even giving live departure times for buses and trains. You can get across most of London on a bus, but taking the tube is likely to be faster or even, if you happen to be on the right route, jumping on a train. The other side of the story, however, is cost. Getting the Gatwick Express can be only 2 minutes faster than taking the ‘normal’ train, yet cost twice as much, while the Heathrow Express might be worth it if you’re travelling to Paddington, but less so if you’re going somewhere else on the tube network (especially if you can just sit tight on the Piccadilly line for an hour). The most frugal travellers may choose to walk or cycle, of course, but as soon as public transport comes into play, so does cost. The difference between a single bus journey (£1.50) and tube (£2.40) may not be much, but over a week of commuting, it’s 90p x 10 = £9! But time is not always equal to money…


Whether or not you have heavy luggage can potentially have a huge impact on the route you take. Let’s take two hypothetical ways to get to the airport… route A: overground + tube + train, travel time = 45 mins; route B: bus + train, travel time = 60 mins. Route B is takes over 33% more time (15 mins), however route A requires you to carry a heavy suitcase up and down several flights of stairs, as some tube stations don’t have lifts. Since you’re presumably leaving with enough leeway to get to the airport, adding an extra fifteen minutes might well we worth the convenience! Similar factors apply to travellers with mobility difficulties, be it an elderly traveller, someone in a wheelchair or with a buggy.

Knowledge of the network

In this instance, ‘knowledge’ can be understood in a number of ways, depending on experience and exposure to the network, as well as the ‘savviness’ of the traveller. London is famous for its tube network and many visitors are still planning their route using a faithful tube map. For many tourists, a bus journey could be preferable – but I am yet to meet someone who thinks that deciphering London’s bus network is easy. Awareness of the entire network may not come readily, even looking at TfL’s website. If you’re travelling from West Hampstead to St Paul’s Cathedral, should you take the Jubilee and Central lines? No! Hop on a train and get off at City Thameslink – it’s faster and there are no changes required. A further element of this is the capability to extend beyond the public transport offering into the fringes of MaaS. Perhaps the quickest way is neither bus nor tube, but hopping on a Boris bike, an ofo or a mobike?


Whilst we might prefer to have the simplest/cleanest solution (“just get me from A to B”), knowing the context of the journey might be really beneficial despite our inherent defensiveness about apps or services knowing too much about us. Wouldn’t it be handy having a personalised guide who can differentiate between when we just need to get to a meeting as quickly as possible, or whether we have time to take a more comfortable journey with two heavy suitcases, as well as when we might save money from altering our trip by walking an extra 5 minutes to catch a bus?

Photo by Janis Oppliger on Unsplash

A4 Great West Road Consultation Exercise

It seems to be consultation season. Or maybe it’s just autumn; the days are getting darker and I have more time to give my views on consultations, particularly those regarding cycling. Last week, I answered the rather long consultation on CS9 (Cycle Superhighway 9 from Kensington Olympia to Brentford) and spotted a smaller consultation on “proposed changes to cycling facilities on the A4 Great West Road between Syon Lane and Boston Manor Road” – so small, in fact, that TfL only accept responses directly via email, rather than the usual forms for comments. But I digress. Here are my thoughts on the proposals…

Strategic Cycling Analysis Figure 1.2

The stretch between Syon Lane and Boston Manor Road is only a 1 km part of the local 44 route, which runs the full length of the Great West Road from Hounslow to Hammersmith over 12 km. As there is not really an apparent alternative route and the existing infrastructure provides suitable width on the side of the carriageway, I believe that this route could be a viable candidate for high quality superhighway-standard cycle infrastructure, depending on cycle demand and taking into consideration the busy nature of the Great West Road. In fact, the TfL Strategic Cycle Analysis (SCA) identifies the road as having top 20% potential cycle flows (SCA, Figure 1.2).

I generally approve of the idea of improving facilities for cyclists and pedestrians on the A4, however I note that this is a very busy road with high traffic speeds, therefore the infrastructure must provide safety for vulnerable road users along the full length of the route, or an alternative route should be suggested.

Build-outs and raised tables

My specific concerns over the proposed plans are the number of locations where the cycle path is converted to a shared pedestrian and cycle path. To maintain the continuity of the cycle route, I would suggest that a separated footway is preferable to a shared use footway. See right for the descriptions from the London Cycle Design Standards, Chapter 4.

Shared use footways (LCDS)

Some additional separation from the adjacent fast-moving traffic, over and above the kerb would be beneficial as the kerb is relatively low over long stretches of the route, giving cyclists little perception of segregation, as can be seen in the street view above. I very much approve of proposed build-outs to reduce vehicle turning radii, however these should be implemented at every side road, not just some, and be accompanied by raised tables throughout.

As mentioned above, the stretch under consultation is only part of a much longer route which would benefit from improvement and as such, a greater view should be taken of the corridor, to ensure both continuity along the route and connectivity with the surrounding area. I hope to see further consultations which build on feedback received to date.


Have you responded to this consultation or similar ones? What is the key thing which struck you about the proposal, either positive or negative?

Route Choice – Cycling

On this sunny Sunday morning, I decided to cycle along my current favourite route, heading south out of Birmingham towards Worcester. The first few miles are along the Birmingham & Worcester Canal towpath, recently refurbished through the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. I then switch to the NCN5, which initially follows quiet paths along the Rea River Valley, before moving onto residential streets in a suburban area. Moving further away from the city, the route takes less-used and narrow back roads out towards the countryside and continues in this manner into Worcestershire.

For a leisurely weekend ride, such routes are undoubtedly the best: quiet, scenic and above all traffic-free. They have their downsides though: cycling through a park requires a certain degree of skill to avoid dogs and children running across your path for a start and you will likely not be taking the shortest route to your destination. Sunday: fine; Monday, heading to work: not so fine. For the purposes of commuting, cyclists prefer a shorter, more direct, even if busier and more dangerous route.Continue reading

Free Public Transport

Have you ever been tempted not to pay a fare? I imagine this will largely depend on the nature of the transport system you are using. In Paris, the barriers to enter the Metro are full height, so no chance of dodging them. In London, Underground barriers are about chest height, so probably too high to get over. In Warsaw, on the other hand, the barrier is only a turnstile, which I have seen jumped over (or slipped under) many times. Would a simple solution such as broader barrier stop this from happening? I’m pretty sure!

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Why fly?

Seriously, why do people automatically assume that any journey between capitals requires flying? I will pick one particular example, a journey I have done several times and my choice has always been the same: going from Edinburgh to London, the best choice is always the train.

Q: Huh? Are you really advocating taking a train in the UK?

A: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Q: But how long will it take?

A: Less time than you think… in fact, just 4 and a half hours.

Q: 4h30? But a flight takes far less time: 1h30 at most.

A: Think again. The flight, perhaps; but did you take into account getting to the airport, on time, going through security, then getting to the city centre at the other end?

Q: Hmm, I guess… so even flying might add up to 4h, you think?

A: At least. Overall travel time is pretty balanced.

Q: What about cost?

A: That depends. In theory, it’s pretty even, but if you can buy in advance (even by only a few days), train fares are significantly cheaper. There’s also a range of railcards available, which give 1/3 off your fare and are often worthwhile buying even for one trip (when ticket price is over £100).

Q: Are there any other advantages?

A: Many, but my favourite is the fact that once you board the train, you can sit down and sit/sleep/work/read/listen to music/watch a film, undisturbed for the entire journey time, instead of having to check in, drop-off your luggage, drink all your liquids, strip off all metallic belongings, go through security, buy a new drink, find your gate, wait to board and switch off all electronic devices – and that’s before your plane has even taken off!

Q: You know what…?

A: I think I do. 😉

Borrowing Boris’ Bikes

For those not in the know, “Boris Bikes” is the popular name of the London Bike Hire scheme (officially “Barclays Cycle Hire“) which allows anyone to ride around London for free (almost). The basics are that you pay a £1 fee (by debit card) to gain 24h access to hiring bikes. You then insert your card again and obtain a ‘release code’ to take your Boris Bike from the stand. If you cycle around and return the bike within 30 minutes, you don’t have to pay a penny. And if you need to go further, just wait a few minutes, then get another bike and continue for another 30 minutes absolutely FREE. Docking stations are located roughly 300m apart, so you should always be within reach, both at your departure point and destination, of one of the 8000 bikes which form part of the scheme which was launched in the summer of 2010.

Having never lived in London itself, I have only used the bikes occasionally, but my experience has been positive and I think that the scheme is a fantastic idea, despite the criticisms which follow. 😉 The process of acquiring a bike could be made a little smoother (for those who don’t have a release key which literally frees a bike in seconds), as the touchscreens of the terminals seemed a little unresponsive – then again, probably a design decision to make them durable. The bikes themselves are heavy. Very heavy. Luckily, London is mostly flat so instead of complaining about the robust design, enjoy the wide saddle and thick tires, which actually make for a pretty comfy ride. My biggest concern remains London traffic, but as more Boris bikes are seen on the streets, drivers become more aware of them and safety increases in numbers. Meanwhile the mayor is doing his best to improve cycle paths and lanes, going as far as constructing “cycle superhighways” – arteries to connect outer boroughs with the centre.

Undoubtedly, bikes aren’t for everyone, but if you can see the benefits of picking one up to get from A to B instead of packing onto the ever-crowded tube, you can enjoy the sights above ground, save some money and feel good about getting some exercise.