The spring equinox fell this week, and thoughts turn towards warmer weather (wishful thinking!), getting out more, and resurrecting our resolutions to do more exercise. In honour of 150 years of the London Underground we were asked if we would look at the question that all London commuters face at some time – whether to take the Tube or walk to get to the destination in the shortest time. There are many central London journeys that are actually quicker on foot. But how to decide?
The Tube map only tells part of the story
Well, one way to figure it out would be to use the Tube map. The iconic Tube map design has been rightly acknowledged as a great example of visual representation of the network, and understanding how to get from A to B. However one of its shortcomings is the fact that its design sacrifices accurate representation of the distance between stations. A 2011 study suggested 30 per cent of passengers take longer routes due to the out-of-scale distances on the Tube map. Harry Beck produced the well known Tube map diagram in 1931 while working as an engineering draughtsman at the London Underground Signals Office. He was reportedly paid 10 guineas (£10.50) for his efforts. To go some way towards rectifying this, revised versions of the Tube map that are more realistic in laying out Tube locations have been developed.
Online underground journey planners also show an incomplete story
So as the main Tube map doesn’t help, the Transport for London (TfL) journey planner comes to your aid telling you the expected journey time between any two stations. However this time is not a good comparison to walking time, because it doesn’t include all the steps from starting at street level and ending up at street level at your destination. To catch the Tube you need to get to the station, buy a ticket (if not using Oyster card or have ticket already), get down to the platform, wait for the Tube, ride the Tube (including changes), get out of the Tube and up to the ground level again.
For commuting from the suburbs to central London, unless you are planning to cycle or run (we’ll ignore the bus for this analysis), it will always be quicker to take the Tube, but what about travelling around central London – Tube or foot?
Capgemini’s London office is in High Holborn, with Chancery Lane as its closest Tube station. Let’s take the example to get from Bank station to Chancery Lane station, assuming you have an Oyster Card. As well as TfL for train times, we will use ‘What do they know” for the source of ticket gate to platform times. The estimated times are:
Note that the Tube ride is thus only about 30% of the total 13.5 min total trip time.
There are a couple of sources for estimating the walk time. According to Walkit.com, it takes 18-20mins to walk the 1.6km from Bank to Chancery Lane. Depending on where your final destination is, it may well be that Tube is not much faster than walking, and think of all the fresh air and exercise you get (as well as seeing parts of London). As it takes about 3-5mins to walk from Chancery Lane station to the office, the time is really about the same.
What are the general rules for comparing Tube vs walking?
Analysing all journeys, on average it takes about 3 min between the ticket gates and platform , which means 6 min per journey. Plus allowing for 2 minutes wait time for the train, that means 8 min of non-commuting time for every journey. By adding 3 mins at each end to get to and from the station, there is 14mins extra time for the walker. If the average walk speed is 5km/hr, and average Tube speed is 33 km/hr (including stopping in stations), then every minute the Tube travels 470m further than a walker walks. So by this logic, for Tube journey times of less than about 2.5 mins (i.e. around 1.4km), walking should be faster than the Tube.
So overall while in central London there really are many short journeys where not only can you get to your destination as quickly by foot as by Tube, you could also get your recommended 20 minutes of exercise a day at the same time.