Why subways are good

Last updated 10:04 14/08/2012

They smell of urine, there's no natural light, they're stinking hot, and I've actually seen rats down there. But, man, subways are good.

For someone who has spent hours waiting for buses to get from Karori to central Wellington, the way these trains arrive every five minutes and whip you off to your destination seems like magic to me.

I'm nervous when it comes to public transport overseas. I hate not knowing where to put my ticket, where to buy my ticket, and which gate to walk through. I want  clear signs. Preferably in English.

My biggest fear is Nathan getting on a train, the doors closing, and me being left behind. That, and having those doors slam on me. However, so far, so good. I haven't lost Nathan, and have not been crushed.

I've made good use of Chicago's CTA, New York's Subway, and the metros in both Washington DC and Paris, and feel equipped to do a bit of comparison.

Washington DC was my favorite, I like the way it blended underground rail with open rail so when you went out into the suburban areas you had light and sights. It was also unbelievably easy to get around on because there were only five lines, and it was the cleanest. Apparently the newest too.

New York stations had to be the worst places to wait. Not only were we tolerating something like 40C heat down there, but one day I looked across the track and saw a massive rat running along the other side. Shudder. However, I'm not taking anything away from New York because the convenience of that subway was unbelievable. From Harlem to Statue of Liberty line in minutes, just crazy fast.

Chicago was great because it got us to the airport. Albeit we had to take a cab back for the passports, but we can hardly blame that on the train now, can we?

And now we're in Paris. Our stop, St Amboise, must have the most stairs of any station. It's like climbing Everest to get home each time we use it. (Okay. It's probably not like Everest, just Mt Cook or something).
Our line is also the dirtiest. We went on a number one line to get to Arc de Triomphe and it was a whole new experience, like coming out of the dark and shady ages into a sparkly, space-age clean world.

The Metro has also taught us a couple of important lessons:

First, do check when the public transport closes for the night. We went to a late show at Moulin Rouge and came out at 1.30am well prepared, knowing exactly which station to go to, and where to switch trains to get home. Unfortunately, the station was closed. Un taxi, s'il vous plait?

We also managed to get face time with the Metro police after accidentally buying half-price, children's tickets. Having had a couple of drinks, I was feeling outraged (despite that fact that, let's face it, we were in the wrong). My angry "but, how were we supposed to know? IT WAS IN FRENCH! I want to speak to your boss," pleas got us nowhere, and we had to pay 30 euros each to get out of the station.

(Incidentally, don't the words Metro police bring to mind images of uniformed cops filing their nails and moisturising?)

Heaps of locals I've spoken to complain about their various underground train networks. About breakdowns, overcrowding, how every third person on them had BO (actually, that could be true), but, from my perspective, these systems are truly awesome.

I wish Wellington had one. I can see how that wouldn't work - you know, the town only being about 12 streets, the fact that we don't have the population for it... But how awesome would it be to have Midland Park stop, Basin Reserve stop, Embassy Theatre stop? So cool.

Does anyone have a good subway story? I particularly want to know if anyone has actually had those doors shut on them.

Also, London's next ... Is the Tube something to look forward to or dread?

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46 comments
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Clare   #1   10:14 am Aug 14 2012

I love the tube! Once you get the hang on the basics (making sure you catching the right line in the right direction) it is super easy. Avoid it during rush hour until you are a bit more used to it, as it can be pretty daunting, especially with a pack!

danielle   #2   10:16 am Aug 14 2012

I agree...undergrounds are fantastic once you know what you are doing...the easiest one I have ever used...in Beijing! It is SO easy there. Wouldn't work in NZ though because of earthquakes...

Elle   #3   10:21 am Aug 14 2012

Totally agree about the difference between the older & newer lines - you'll find it's the same in London, but the newer lines tend to be deeper too, so again lots of escalators & stairs! I've only used underground in Europe - London, Paris, Rome, Munich, and they're all the same really. Not an underground really, but loved the Greenwich monorail in London, it was new (this was in 2000) and so zippy :-) Would love to try the new gondola in London someday

Cdrake   #4   10:28 am Aug 14 2012

The tube is awesome but avoid at rush hour!!! Buy a day ticket after 9:30am and it's much cheaper. Easy to use and goes nearly everywhere. Have fun!

Jeremy   #5   10:28 am Aug 14 2012

i know building a subway infrastructure is expensive... but has anyone in the Wellington council considered doing this in several phases?

How about first building underground pedestrian spaces, like the one below State Insurance buiding in Wellington? Council can let the spaces out to shops, and the rents can fund expansion of the underground into subway stations.

Once you get a few underground centres buildt, you can start connecting them together... and voila, you have a subway system that is utilised by the community because of the established underground stores.

David from Chch   #6   10:28 am Aug 14 2012

I agree with you - subways (or Metros in many places) are wonderful. London's are a mixed bag, as in Paris, because of the varying ages, but still - generally easy to get around. My favourites so far are Shanghai (effectively brand new - fast, easy, relatively cheap) and the BART (again, relatively easy and fast, but not cheap :-( ).

I grew up in Toronto - good but crowded and aging subway system.

Steve Withers   #7   10:30 am Aug 14 2012

I very much enjoy riding the subway trains in Toronto. There, the publicly-owned Toronto Transit Commission operates all buses, trams and subway trains. You can buy a weekly pass for all services for about $40. A monthly pass is $120. You jump on and off whenever and where ever and just wave your pass at the driver or ticket attendants. There is no value stored on them. They are just really cheap, dumb plastic cards with the number of the week (or name of the month) on them. No $100M HOP system to track who gets what because all the money goes to the same place: the TTC. Toronto's subway system was built when the population of the City of Toronto region was about 800,000 and the region had about 1.5 million people. Auckland would be ready for this now...and will desperately need it by the time there are 3 million people living there....in only 30 years.

Kirsten   #8   10:35 am Aug 14 2012

The tube is great. Truly loved using it and British Rail during my time there. So easy and versitile with one multi pass being used across tube/rail and buses. Made for easy travel.

rhiannoninthesky.blogspot.co.nz   #9   10:40 am Aug 14 2012

Sorry Amelia, no exciting subway stories from me...the only time I've used one was from Hollywood and Highland station to Universal Studios.

That said though, I love your blog and really appreciate the frequent updates...I'm traveling the world vicariously through you, so keep it up!

Sally   #10   10:43 am Aug 14 2012

Copenhagen's metro line was by far the nicest I experienced while travelling round Europe. The front and back of the trains have glass windows so you if you nab those seats you kind feel like you're on a ride :D They are also meticulously clean and worked like a well oiled machine! However, we did have a negative experience on the way to the airport when we left. Had purchased 2zone monthly passes and the airport was in zone3, we had used up all our kroner and decided to take the risk on the last section of the run :S Needless to say it ended in tears with a 800k fine! Moral of the story, if you have that little niggly feeling that "this isn't a good idea", go with it and do the right thing.


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