Chronicle of a Commute
I’ve gotten a few questions about my commute, so I thought I would post about today’s somewhat grueling commute while it was fresh. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to include because a) too crowded to get the camera out of your pocket much less take a picture, b) doubt staff or commuters would much appreciate me photographing them like a tourist, and c) I don’t actually have the camera with me!
Anyway, let’s start with the basics; it is 3.9 miles as the crow flies from our flat to my office. Typically, I take a round-about route that is less crowded and more comfortable, but theoretically longer (backtracking to Wimbledon, then boarding the District Line at the first stop and getting a seat for the long leg to the station closest to my office).
Today I decided to try the advertised fastest route – which I do often in the evenings, when I can make it door-to-door in 40 minutes or slightly less with manageable crowding. I only tried this way in the morning rush hour one other time, and it was in my first week or two when I was sick and it was terrible! Here goes:
7:45 – Depart the flat
7:48 – Train pulling in as I come up the stairs, I don’t rush – since the stairs are at the far south end of the station (back of the train heading toward London), it gets quite crowded there. It turns out there was no room, at least in the back part of the train, for me anyway, so I move along the platform.
7:51 – Standing by the 4th car (of 8). 2nd train pulls in, no room for me.
7:55 – 3rd train pulls in, it’s looking like I’m not going to make it, but two brash British young ladies belt loudly “Sorry, would you move down please!” and a handful of people in the train grudgingly move further in, away from the doors, so I squeeze in.
8:10 – Train reaches my stop, Vauxhall. Scheduled time is 8 min, so it took almost double that because of train congestion and extended dwell times at the intermediate stop, Clapham Junction, which as the busiest rail station in Europe has lots of ons and offs. I got uncomfortably squished into some folks as they got out, but then managed to get a seat for the second half of the trip.
8:11 – Swing by vendor in station underpass at Vauxhall to buy OJ.
8:12 – Reach the Victoria Line platform at Vauxhall. The platform is already quite crowded, so I move down a bit. The sign shows 4 min, 7 min, and 13 min. As the 4 minutes (or possibly more, I wasn’t watching but should have been) pass, a continual stream of people flow onto the small platform. I happened to be standing next to the platform attendant, who radioed to the ticket hall where the gates are that there is a 4-minute gap in service and they may very soon need to stop allowing people to enter the station due to overcrowding. A 4-min gap might be enough to close the station – yikes! The first train, needless to say, was quite full, but a few people did manage to squeeze in. The second train was also pretty crowded, but most of the crowd who was there before me got on.
8:22 – I then planted myself at the edge of the platform to be the first in the queue to enter the next train, which I did. Once on the train, it was a short 4-min ride to Victoria, although I got jammed in by more people trying to force their way in at the intermediate stop at Pimlico.
8:28 – Transferring at Victoria between the Victoria Line and the District/Circle Lines. Victoria Underground Station is the busiest in the entire system, with more than 120,000 people entering the station each day (plus many more transferring within the complex). However, a District Line train to Richmond was waiting for me at the top of the stairs with plenty of room – finally!
8:34 – Exiting the station at South Kensington, which is harder than it sounds because all nearly 50,000 people who enter the station there, and at least half of those exiting, currently have to use a single staircase that is comfortably 4-people wide but no more. This is worse than normal because escalator replacement works have shut down the escalator leading to the Piccadilly Line, forcing all of those passengers onto the already-jammed staircase that leads to the District/Circle Lines platform.
8:45 – At my desk in room 607! Luckily, the lift that only works about 50% of the time was working, so I didn’t have to climb 6 flights (of course, the lift only goes to the 5th floor, so I always have to climb up at least one).
Door-to-door time: 1 hour. I will say, the comfortable way takes about the same, maybe even slightly less on occasion, and a bus-only trip takes about 1 hour, 20 minutes (but is less crowded with virtually a guarantee of a seat the whole way).
The peak-hour crowding, and perhaps more important the lack of capacity to accommodate it all around, including stations, entrances, vertical circulation, and trains, is pretty nuts. I saw this morning how the slightest delay on the Victoria Line almost requires closing the station. There are higher fares in rush hour (£3.70 vs. £3.10) for that trip, but it obviously isn’t enough to dampen demand. As I said, though, the evening is no problem, as people go out, work late (or leave early), etc., but the morning is totally maxed out!