Public Transport in London

What makes a city “Alpha++?” For GaWC, the influential think tank out of Loughborough University in the East Midlands of England that cobbles together the annual global city hierarchy, the data that determines whether a city is Gamma (ex. Rotterdam), Beta (ex. Auckland) or Alpha (ex. Mumbai) is all about the global economic system. How a city relates to and impacts it, in other words. For Alpha + capitals like Paris, Singapore and Tokyo, the answer is a big, fat, equivocal “quite a lot.” For the likes of Basel, Haifa and Minsk, however, the answer is patently “not so much.”

And then you have the ultra-exclusive Alpha ++ club. As in plus, plus. Think of the category as a members-only black card for world capitals that make the global economic system stand up and take notice.

This most restrictive of clubs has only ever had two members: New York and London. No need to pile on superlatives to explain why, presumably. But what gets lost in all the hubbub over the Big Apple’s and the Big Smoke’s financial bona fides is that without relative logistical competence, that Alpha ++ designation gets a downgrade – and fast.

One needs to get around efficiently in a city like London, in other words, because time, after all, is money. And for the flagship capital of the United Kingdom, a vast transport network is very much intertwined with the city’s economic fortunes (hence all the incessant gripes over London Heathrow’s lapses).

Happily, London is a metropolis that rewards first-time and frequent visitors with myriad ways to get from point A to point B. Here’s a big picture look at it all:


Heathrow – for better or worse – looms large over all other hubs in metro London. The international airport is the terminal of record for most passengers in the United Kingdom, let alone London, and serves over 70 million people per annum. Only one or two airports in the world top it on that score.

London Heathrow Airport

Gatwick Airport is one of the busiest airports in Europe, mostly on the strength of low-cost carriers to the continent and the Caribbean. The hub serves over 34 million passengers a year.

Stansted and Luton airports serve as hubs for multiple low-cost airlines like Ryanair and easyJet, while the Docklands/Canary Wharf adjacent City Airport provides convenient business travel access to boutique hotels in London.

London Subway


The London Tube, the world’s first underground railway, celebrates 150 years of service in 2013. Every bit of the underground system is iconic, from Paddington to Harry Beck’s now-ubiquitous stations map. Other than your own two feet, this is how to navigate the city. And with 11 lines and 270 stations, visitors can cover a lot of ground.

London Public Buses


The traditional Routemaster buses, alas, are for the most part no more but London’s buses make over 5 million trips every weekday. Commuters and tourists are spoilt for choice, with 700 different routes to choose from. Procure yourself an Oyster card and you can hop on and off at your leisure.


London taxi chauffeurs are rightly regarded as the best in the world (in one memorable U.S. news magazine television sequence, they made counterparts in Manhattan look absolutely foolish). Black cabs (not always black) are duly iconic but minicabs do the job in a pinch as well.


On the heels of a successful cycle hire scheme in Montreal, London got Barclays Cycle Hire (or ‘Boris Bikes’, after populist mayor Boris Johnson) in 2010. The network has a prolific 570 stations and hit a record 47,105 rides on one busy Summer Olympic Games day in 2012.

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