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By Nina Derham in London—
London is a costly city in many ways, but public transport prices are really ludicrous. For Londoners and commuters alike, January is an especially sore point and outrage spreads on an annual basis when the January 2nd price hikes come into force. 2012 is no exception, as this year the already barmy prices have gone up an average of 5.6%!
For most tourists, being charged over £4 for a single journey in central London is (understandably) a most baffling concept. While unfortunately I can’t tell you how to make travel on public transport in London cheap, here’s how to make it as cost-effective as possible:
1. Don’t rely on your walking shoes
If you’re planning to really explore all London has to offer, don’t make that common mistake of thinking it is a walkable city. It’s not and it never will be. With the exception of a few tube stops clustered around the area between Piccadilly Circus and Holborn, most stations are there because it would take a very long time to walk between them.
2. Make sure you have an Oyster card
The Oyster card is a small plastic card that can be topped up like a “pay as you go” phone (perfect for shorter visits), or used for weekly, monthly and annual Travelcards. Valid for travel on London Underground (The Tube), bus, tram, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), National Rail Service and London Overground, the Oyster card offers savings of over 50% compared to buying individual tickets.
You can get your Oyster card at Tube stops and Travel Information Centres by paying a £5 deposit. If you return your Oyster card when you are leaving London, you get this money back. However, if you are planning on returning regularly then it is worth keeping hold of your Oyster.
With “pay as you go,” a Zone 1 Tube, DLR or London Overground journey will cost you £2. Depending on how much you travel in one day, Oyster will cap your daily spend at £7 for off-peak travel and £8.40 for peak-time travel. Bus rides alone cost £1.35 each with Oyster. If you are staying in London for a week, save some pennies with a 7-day Travelcard to Zones 1 & 2 for £29.20.
Cheapo tip: Just remember to touch in and touch out on the yellow oyster card readers when you enter and leave stations – if you forget your Oyster card will be charged a penalty.
3. Ditch the tourist bus and take the RV1
When you’re out and about in London you may be tempted to give one of those open top sightseeing buses a go. Well, they’ll set you back a whopping £23.
So here’s an idea for Cheapos: One of central London’s public transport bus routes, the RV1, takes in an incredible number of sights and is a whole lot cheaper. Pay with your Oyster card (max £1.35 and less with a Travelcard) and bag a seat next to the window. This is a great option in the winter, as shivering in the rain on an open top bus is certainly not my idea of fun!
Starting in Covent Garden, the RV1 makes its way past Somerset House and across Waterloo Bridge onto London’s South Bank. It then stops at the Royal Festival Hall, the London Eye and the Oxo Tower before heading towards City Hall and the Tower of London. Spend the whole day hopping on and off and feel incredibly smug every time you see an expensive tourist bus pass by!
4. Cruise down the Thames with your Oyster
Another perk to using your Oyster card is that it includes discounts on Thames riverboat routes, meaning that you can opt for public transport and forgo the overpriced tourist boats along the Thames.
Oyster Travelcards will get you a 1/3 off any of the public boat services on the Thames, while Oyster “pay as you go” will get you a 10% discount just on KPMG Thames Clippers riverboats.
KPMG Thames Clippers are perfect for visiting some of London’s biggest attractions, from the London Eye and the Tate Modern, to cruising passed the Millennium Dome and enjoying a leisurely day out in Greenwich. Fares cost between £2.30-£5.40 depending on how far you wish to travel.
Also in our guide: Heading to London and looking for more ways to keep it cheap? Our editors have visited, reviewed and inspected great inexpensive hotels all over town. Read reviews and see photographs in our London guide.