Subway Showdown

· New York Subway vs. London Tube ·


Ah, public transport. A necessary evil in any city dwellers life, it tends to hold an inordinate amount of power. It can get you to work on time, or make you so late, you get fired. It can help you meet a friend or make it impossible to arrive. It can take you to a concert/event/show, or keep you from getting there at all. To Londoners and New Yorkers, it is all-powerful.

As two of the world’s largest cities, New York and London have some of the most comprehensive transportation networks. Both the London Underground and New York’s Subway system got their starts in 1863 (although underground operation in New York didn’t actually start until 1904), making them the oldest systems in the world. As such, there are no two better to compare.


Via NY Mag

In terms of numbers, New York has London beat across the board. While London only has 11 lines, New York has 36. And along those lines, New York boasts a whopping 425 stations compared to a measly 270 in London. But if that’s true, why does it feel so much harder to find a station in New York??


tube map
Via Transport for London

Perhaps New York has so many more lines and stations because it serves, on average, one million more people than London every day. Daily ridership for New York comes in at 5.7 million with only 4.8 million riding the Tube daily.


14th Street Station in New York

When it comes to hygiene, however, neither is a winner. Tube stations (overall – there are exceptions) feel much cleaner than Subway stations, but the Subway’s plastic seats feel like they don’t hold in the filth and germs like the Tube’s fabric ones.


South Kensington station in London

London may be strict on the “Stand on the right, walk on the left” rule, but at least they have escalators. Many of New York’s Subway stations are a maze of stairs, making it an accessibility nightmare. Meanwhile, most of the Tube’s stations have escalators and elevators, and the maps make clear those that are “step-free” and otherwise.

Slightly related, can we talk about how New York’s entrance and exit turnstiles are one and the same?? The separate turnstiles on the Tube make for a much more civilized and organized process.


These signs are all along the wall facing the exits of the train so that you know which way to go immediately after exiting the train

Speaking of, the Tube’s signage and communication make for a much easier journey. From clear signs at the entrance of each line that show, logically, the station you’re currently in at the top with each station the train will subsequently stop at (along with connecting lines and stations), the Tube makes it easy to get where you need to go. Once on the train, clear announcements tell you the next stop and then where you are at each station. It tells you, in a lovely British accent no less, what attractions are on the stop, as well. On the Subway, the conductor shouts mumbled stations over the garbled system and you have no idea what they’re saying.

But most importantly, signs tell you, straight in front of you as you exit the train, which way to go for the exit and connecting lines. In stark contrast, on the Subway, you must fully exit the train and look left and right to find your way in an unfamiliar station. Thus, London stations are relatively orderly and flow more smoothly. It helps visitors to feel confident and a little less lost in a big city.


The differences are endless: the Tube is quieter, more updated, and orderly while the Subway is loud, dirty, and chaotic. You can’t go a day on the Subway without a beggar or performer on your train while it’s unusual to see one on the Tube. The Subway is less expensive. But no matter what, it’s unavoidable in either city and in the end, it (almost always) gets you where you need to go.

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