Mind the Gap — 6 Reasons why the Tube is far superior to the Subway

In the past year I’ve courted two of the world’s most famous, internationally known cities: London, the sprawling city of history, arts, and literature; and New York City, the rigid grid of shiny skyscrapers, flashing lights, and capitalism. Both I love for their vast size, diversity of attractions, and –perhaps most importantly as a non-car-owner/non-drivers-license-holder — are the extensive underground systems that can get you to any part of the city. Below the colorful, blinding lights of Times Square and the flurry of Piccadilly Circus are my fast track to anywhere else in the city for a couple of dollars/pounds.


But as I wandered around NYC last week, I came very quickly to an important realization: The Tube kicks the Subway’s ass. It’s not even close.

DISCLAIMER: When I said I had courted both cities, I was fudging the truth a little. I was in a committed relationship with London for months. I had a huge crush, it got pretty serious, I even moved in. We were totally into each other and had the greatest relationship ever and circumstances tore us apart. (And the long distance thing was just not working) Sometimes I drunk call London sobbing about how much I miss it and how I shouldn’t have taken it for granted and to please please take me back.

 Me and London having a great time   252335_3508181180340_1087124828_n

New York on the other hand, is the new crush, the new interest, and there’s definitely some spark there. I’ve got to move on from London after all, and what better way than to find some new city to hang out with? But as I was getting down and dirty with NYC (riding the Subway of course) I couldn’t help but compare it to London, and it couldn’t even pretend to keep up with my beloved Tube.

Before I completely rip the Subway, I’ll say the one thing that’s better about it than the Tube: it can go all night. The Subway runs 24/7, while the Tube calls it quits at midnight and gets 5 or 6 hours of sleep. New York never sleeps.


And now, Sparknotes version for those with short attention spans or who are lovers of lists:

1) Cleaner, nicer, more artistic
2) More regular service
3) Easier to figure out
4) Easier to find
5) Easier to use
6) Safety

1) Cleaner, nicer, more artistic

You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but the Tube is way sexier than the Subway. You can expect a clean, newer look out of every Tube station and train. The Subway has a very dirty, claustrophobic underground feel. The Tube trains have shiny, colorful, uptech vibe. The Subway has a very metallic, train feel with a tragically ugly orange on the seats. The Tube trains, though more narrow, have bright, shiny seats and a cozier feel. The Subway stations are dirty, moldy, raw exposed concrete with some advertisements thrown up here and there.


Many of the tube stations walls are art unique to that station, giving each more of an identity and significance. Along all the escalators are colorful, electronic ads that go all the way up the ride, and the huge colorful advertisements are like art too. Some Subway stations have art, but it’s overshadowed by the grimy feel, and any attempt at art is the same in every station (the small tile, mosaic look). Which is hard to appreciate when you’re watching rats fight over trash on the tracks (this really happened)

While some Subway stations are more uptech and have electronic signs indicating when the next train is or what the next stop is, only a few do. And while there are of course more or less uptech lines in the Tube, once you’ve seen one, you know what to expect out of any of them as far as cleanliness, technology, and art.


2) More regular service

On the Tube, I never remembered waiting for more than 3 or 4 minutes max for the next train in the center of the city (some outlying stops or occasionally a later night train before it closed would be more spread out). Many stations had a sign that said which trains were coming next, and in how many minutes.
On the Subway, I’d wait 5-7 minutes on a popular Manhattan stop like Times Square waiting on a train (during rush hour), not knowing how much longer I’d have to wait on a train, or if the next one would even be the one I wanted. In some of the less popular lines in Brooklyn, a train would sit in the station for 10 minutes before going, waiting for more people to come and fill it up. Economically practical? Yes. Tragic for when you’re running late for a flight? Hell yes. (A story for a later time)

3) Easier to figure out

Ironically, NYC, which is a grid of streets, has a messy tangle of curving lines on its Subway map. Then London, which is a curving sprawling map of streets, has a simplified, organized underground map.
In London, there are huge maps of the line you’re at by any platform. Just as you think you don’t know where you’re going, you walk across a huge 5 foot tall map of the line. Once you got in the train, as soon as you looked up you saw the list of stops on the line.

TFL's Tube Map

TFL’s Tube Map

In New York, good luck trying to find a map, except maybe one down by the platform if you’re lucky. Don’t expect to figure much out on the train too, except for the one map that someone is sitting in front of, or the one map of the lines are one side of the car that you have to walk right up to to read. New York lines are also somewhat confusingly named with letters and numbers, as some letters go to the same places, but are labeled with different letters because they branch off to different places at some point.

MTA's Subway map

MTA’s Subway map

On the Tube, an recording (in a pleasant, British woman’s voice) announces what stop you’re and what stop is next. Some Subway stations do, sometimes the conductor mutters something inaudible through the Subway system, and sometimes there’s nothing at all. Which is a bummer, because many stops aren’t largely and frequently enough labeled in a way that can be seen from inside the train. Tube stations are very consistently, obviously labeled.

4) Easier to find

With exceptions like the entrances to the Times Square Subway stops (that are giant sparkling light up signs), Subway stops are usually just stairways down into the ground. It is marked, but not easy to see from a distance. To make matters more confusing, there are too often multiple exits from a station or multiple stations with the same name (or in the same place, that are different lines…), making it hard to get directions somewhere when you’re not sure what exit you came out of. The Tube stations are marked by the iconic light up signs that can be seen from further and are impossible to mistake.



5) Easier to use

If you’re hauling luggage or in a wheelchair in the Subway, sucks to be you. Most ways in and out of the Subway and to other lines are stairs, with some elevators in certain places. The Tube has a lot more wheelchair accessible stops and more escalators than NYC’s Subway.

The Subway will also have the entrances to a certain line be on opposite sides of the road, so that if you want to take the train going in the opposite direction, you have to go upstairs and around, then back down (and by then you’ve probably missed it, and possibly had to swipe in again and spend another $2.25) On the Tube, the platform is in the middle of the two trains, so you can simply turn around and walk up to the train to go the other way. Stops with multiple lines tend to be a mess of a lot of different entrances and stairways.


6) Safety

To be fair to my new romantic interest, the Subway is not as scary or dangerous as people say at all. But considering it runs all night with far more spread out stops, there’s definitely more worry for crime. The above ground stops (which are often in less desirable areas of town) are more worrisome. And while the Tube does have above ground stops in the outskirts of the city, there are also a lot more TFL employees around to help with a problem and likely CCTV, as London is a big fan of that in public places (different issue).

The Tube also just cares more about you : some stations even have a voice declaring the famous phrase “mind the gap” when the train doors open, in addition to the words printed on the edge of the platform, and other signs regarding safety. New York you’re more on your own.


Don’t get me wrong — I think New York City and I will have a meaningful and rewarding relationship that will make us both happy. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try not to, I’ll think about the Tube while riding the Subway. And would possibly dump NYC like last season’s shoes if London wanted me back…

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