London Underground rules

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As we approach our last journey on the awful/amazing London Underground, we share a primer for the uninitiated…

Ah, so you’ve arrived in the City of London, the land of tea, crumpets and people who say sorry a lot. The land of Notting Hill and Love, Actually and bumbling gentlemen who blush when complimented. The city of Yeoman Warders and the Queen’s Guard, and quirky social rituals that are just so charmingly English.

What you don’t yet know is that we the English turn into demons on the tube. Decorum is defenestrated as we descend into the underground, replaced by a single-minded desire to get where we’re going and fast.

The London Underground is a minefield, and yet unsuspecting visitors are let loose with no primer every single day. Ideally, TfL would hand out a set of rules with every Oystercard and make available tick cards for use with rule breakers. Instead of passive-aggressively sighing or rustling a newspaper, we could simply circle the appropriate rule and hand the card over to the offender. In lieu of a TfL guide to civilisation, we’ve put together our own London Underground rules to help future travellers and natives alike.

Entering the station

Find your Oystercard before you get to the barriers. If you stop and root around in your bag, people will want to perform violent acts on you.

Touch your Oystercard on the reader as soon as the other person has been beeped green. Don’t wait for the barriers to close after them. If the 3 million passengers who pass through the system every day did this, the city would come to a standstill.

When you have been beeped green, take your Oystercard off the reader. You don’t have to give yourself a dislocated shoulder by keeping the card on the reader until you’re safely past the barriers. It may feel like a temple of doom but it’s just the tube, not an Indiana Jones movie : )

If your card beeps red, don’t bullishly try again and again. Take a step back to let the sensor reset and then try again. If it fails on the second attempt, try a different reader. If that doesn’t work, seek assistance as advised.

On escalators, stand on the right and walk on the left. This is the Holy Grail of rules and should be broken only at your own peril.

Getting on the train

Wait for people to get off before you get on. Simple.

If someone already on the train steps off temporarily to let people out, they take precedence when getting back on. Don’t push in front of them.

Don’t get on the train and then immediately stop. There are people behind you so keep moving – yes, even if your stop is the next one.

Don’t hold the doors open. Don’t be the selfish jerk that delays everyone.

If you find yourself in one of those golden, rare moments where there are lots of empty seats, don’t sit next to someone if there are seats available with empty seats on either side.

If someone is old, pregnant or disabled, they get the seat – not you.

Travelling on the train

Elbows and knees in the confines of your own seat please.

Don’t read someone else’s paper. Seriously, this is akin to stealing a first-born child.

Don’t make eye contact and don’t talk to anyone unless it’s after 9pm and one of you is drunk.

If you have trouble discerning if your music is loud, try placing your headphones against your knees to see if you can hear your music. If so, IT’S TOO LOUD.

The ‘overground’ parts of the underground are not there for your convenience so don’t use them to make just a quick phone call. Passengers are not interested in the minutiae of each other’s lives.

You see the poles in the middle of the carriage? They are there for passengers to hold on to so don’t lean your sweaty back on them.

If you have a big backpack on a crowded train, take it off and put it between your legs.

If we can hear you kissing that new girl you met at that thing, you’re kissing too loud. In fact, if you can hear your kisses, you’re kissing too loud. You know what? It’s just easier if you don’t do it. Not before lunch at the very least.

Speaking of lunch, nothing hot or smelly on the Underground please. A sneaky chocolate bar or a sandwich is acceptable. A burger is not.

No grooming. Ever. Don’t do it. This includes tweezing eyebrows, filing nails, clipping your nails, painting your nails. In fact, doing anything to your nails.


Take your rubbish with you. Yes, we know there aren’t bins on the underground (the IRA had a pesky habit of leaving unwanted gifts in them) but please take your trash with you. You can leave your newspaper on the train but anything else needs to go with you.

Don’t dawdle. People are waiting to get off the train so get off fast and keep moving. Don’t check your phone or read your Kindle or do anything else that will slow you to a subconscious crawl.

If you’re walking next to a person who walks at the same pace as you, get behind them instead of beside them so other people can pass you both.

Don’t pause at the top of the escalators to figure out where you need to go. There are people coming up behind you and the only place they can go is straight into your back.

We know that your kid is adorable when he wants to act all grown up and touch the Oystercard on the reader himself or press the call button he can’t quite reach, or walk down the stairs that are too big for him – but this is a surefire way to anger fellow passengers who just want to pass as quickly as possible. Don’t hold them up.

And, finally, if like a certain former army captain, you see a beautiful girl on the train, don’t expect to write a song about her and not become a national hate figure.

Safe travels!

Lead image: Dreamstime

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