London’s Tube will have (some) air conditioning next summer

Londoners love to hate the Tube. The London Underground is said to be overpriced, overcrowded, and prone to breakdowns and strikes, but perhaps the biggest (and most valid) complaint is that on hot summer days the lack of air conditioning turns the cars into ovens. I’ve even seen people faint, either from the heat or the stink of sweaty bodies.

Londoners and visitors alike will have some relief next summer as the city introduces its first air conditioned subway car, which was delivered this week.

But don’t throw away your water bottles just yet. The first air conditioned car will only be on the Metropolitan line, and that line won’t be entirely air conditioned until 2011. By 2015, the District and Circle lines will also have air conditioning.

That’s a long wait, and the nine other lines will have to wait even longer, perhaps forever. Some, such as the heavily used Northern and Piccadilly lines, are too deep in the earth to easily expel warm air. The Piccadilly is the one that goes to Heathrow, so you can have a nice sweat after several hours of cramped seating and airline food.

Oh, and there’s more bad news. Since this is part of a major revamping of the Tube system, prices will go up 3.9 percent, and bus fares will also go up 12 percent. The fare hikes will start in January 2012.

Travel quotations and underground philosophy

Travelers on the London Underground will soon get a dose of philosophy along with their overcrowding, noise, and proximity to body odor. The Evening Standard has reported that drivers on the Piccadilly line have been issued a book of quotations from famous philosophers to read along with their routine announcements. It’s supposed to make the journey go easier. Some of the quotes include, “Nothing is worth more than this day” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) and “Man is in a strict sense entirely animal” (Blaise Pascal).

Good choices, but they could have picked ones that were more travel-oriented. Here’s a sampling.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (St. Augustine)

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” (Lao Tzu)

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” (Seneca)

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” (Anatole France)

You can read more travel quotes at Quotegarden.

London Underground strike brings chaos

Londoners found themselves walking or taking crowded buses today as a strike continued on the London Underground, popularly known as “The Tube.”

The strike started just after evening rush hour Tuesday at 6:59 pm and will last 48 hours. Not all lines have been affected, but most have been and the remaining lines are filled to capacity. For up-to-date information, check Transport for London’s website.

This is just one of numerous strikes in recent years as the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union fights a longstanding battle for better pay and job security. Both sides in the dispute point the finger of blame at the other, but London mayor Boris Johnson insists they are close to an agreement.

Extra buses have been ordered, but traffic is heavy and travelers should expect delays. BBC has written a handy guide to getting around during the strike. The best option for visitors would be to walk, which is the best way to see London anyway. Here are five areas that make for an enjoyable stroll.

Bloomsbury. Lush parks and long lines of Georgian houses make this one of the most scenic areas in London. Exhibits at the British Library and the British Museum provide interesting places to hide from England’s nasty rains.

The City. The financial heart of London includes some of its oldest buildings, as well as remains of the Roman city wall. The Museum of London makes for a good stop, as do the many pubs.

Mayfair. Lots of high-end shops and fancy homes here, as well as Hyde Park on its western boundary. Good for cafe culture, fine dining, and generally pretending you’re a millionaire.

Westminster and Trafalgar Square. The Houses of Parliament and a short walk to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery are the big draws here, but also stop by the often-overlooked St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, a beautiful church with an inexpensive cafe in the crypt.

Islington. An up-and-coming neighborhood with lots of bars, clubs, and international restaurant. Check out Islington High St. for nightlife, and Caledonian Rd. for Ethiopian restaurants.

Getting around London is going to become even more expensive

You might have thought that London was already expensive, but next year you can look forward to budgeting even more money when visiting the English capital. Mayor Boris Johnson plans to raise London Underground train and bus fares next year by an average of 6% above the inflation rate.

What exactly does that work out to? The cheapest London Underground fare which you can get by using an Oyster prepaid card will rise to £1.60, or $2.85, in January from the current price of £1.50. That doesn’t seem like a huge change, but for people — and even tourists — who use public transportation on a frequent basis, it certainly feels like it.

The current London Underground cash fare for a ticket — £4 — is reported to be the highest in the world for a subway system; apparently the city really wants to keep its ranking.

Mayhem on London’s Underground as alcohol ban goes into effect

Labeled “Last Round on the Underground,” an orgy of drinking and merry-making yesterday throughout London’s famed subway network led to the arrest of 17 people and other dust-ups with local authorities.

Yesterday was the last day before a citywide ban on drinking alcohol on the Tube went into effect. At first, thousands of revelers gathered — many in costumes — for parties on the Tube’s many trains. But when police moved in to close things down, so to speak, things turned violent.

Besides the arrests, there were a half dozen assaults on Tube employees and police, the International Herald Tribune reports today, and several trains were so heavily damaged that they had to be taken out of service, sending significant delays rippling through a subway network that had 1 billion passengers in 2007.

Starting today, you cannot drink alcohol anywhere on London’s public transport system. While the move, meant to make the network safer for all travelers, has the backing of various alcohol-awareness groups, some of the people who are most displeased with the new law are not who you’d expect: The transport workers themselves.

Union representatives argue that their workers will be put in danger when forced to confront people breaking the alcohol ban, as is certainly likely to happen.