Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Take on Subways

During my travels, I try to take public transportation as often as possible. When I visit large cities, this usually means catching the subway, and I’m proud to say that I’ve ridden quite a few. Subways are an inexpensive way to get around, they are much more environmentally friendly than taxis and less frustrating than attempting to navigate a new city by car.

There’s something that I just love about subways. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in an area that didn’t have them or perhaps something in my brain switched on that time I fell asleep watching The Warriors. Whatever it is, I love taking the subway whenever I get the chance.
There’s always a slight learning curve while riding a new subway system for the first time. In addition to figuring out your route using an often complicated map which is in either tiny print or embedded into the wall (using either makes you look like a tourist), you have to figure out fares, transfers and how to get through the turnstile gate while carrying over 100 lbs of equipment without getting stuck, but maybe that last one is just me. Once all that is sorted, you have to find the right track, lugging said equipment up and down stairs if you can’t find an elevator.

After becoming oriented to it, the subway is an excellent way to get around town. While subway routes can be difficult to sort out, you can get a head start on the basics from the subway’s website. I usually investigate fares and print out a copy of the subway system map before I arrive at a new city.
Throughout the world, you’ll find subways in some of the more populous cities. While there are some vague similarities between them (you have to pay, they use trains and they offer excellent people watching opportunities) they are all different in ways that make them their own with architectural elements, artwork or something as novel as cleanliness.

Below is a list of all of the subways that I have ridden, along with a brief comment about each one:

Moscow, Russia: Beautiful Art Deco elements in some stations, interesting ring track around the city center.
Boston, MA, USA: Efficient and it goes to where I’ve needed to go. Just avoid it before, during and after the St. Patty’s Day parade and after the Red Sox lose a ballgame.
Philadelphia, PA, USA: I’ve only used this subway once, but they used tokens at the time of my visit.
Toronto, Canada: A great system that still runs on tokens, generally full of Canadians.
Washington, DC, USA: Slightly confusing with direction changes in the tracks, but pretty good at moving people around.
New York, NY, USA: Iconic, smells of vomit from time to time. Just watch out for roaming gangs of mimes.
Santiago, Chile: Cleanest subway I’ve ever seen.
London, UK: Mind the gap signs are plentiful here. You can buy T-shirts suggesting other things to do to the gap.
Paris, France: Beautiful Art Nuevo stations, very confusing to get anywhere.

There’s my brief take on subways. They may not be exciting to everyone, but I certainly enjoy learning a new system when the opportunity arises.

If I had to pick a favorite, I think that I would have go with New York on account of its tight links to American pop culture, but I think that the Metro in Paris could definitely grow on me once I figured it out. What’s your favorite subway system and why?

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  1. I have been on a few you have talked about. Boston is very simple and always interesting. The one in San Fran is nice but the most fun was the one in Seoul- I was so confused and lost but everyone was very helpful. The trains smelled like kimchi. At least the few I was on.

  2. I liked the London Underground. Simple to use and understand, but recently I worked out the subway in Vienna of all places. Easy peasy. I loved it!

  3. Definitely the Tube was the easiest. And I think you're right about Paris being the most confusing.