Crossing London with a pushchair is many parents’ idea of a nightmare. Having previously worked at a busy mainline London station and seen many a frazzled parent emerging from tube, train and bus, I knew first hand even before my daughter arrived just what a challenge crossing London with a baby can be.
Travelling across London with a pushchair is perfectly possible though, as I discovered on a recent trip into London when I tested out buses, trains, taxi, underground and boat. Just grab an Oyster card for discounted and easy travel across London and its many transport types and enjoy taking your baby for free (travel is free for under-11 year olds). If you position your Oyster card strategically in a sleeve, bag or wallet you can even scan in and out of barriers without stopping to get it out!
Having survived and in some cases positively enjoyed my journeys across London with a pushchair, I’d like to share the following tips and information to help other parents tackling the capital’s transport system with a baby in tow.
- Sling and go: If you are going to be travelling a lot in London and don’t absolutely need the pushchair then a baby carrier can be a life-saver. With baby strapped to your front or back, you can hop on and off of any bus or tube you choose. Please take care and hold on when travelling on escalators though – that extra weight can cause you to unbalance.
- Small is easy: For tube and bus hopping Mums and Dads, leave the super-sized baby chariot at home and get something cheap, compact and easy to fold. Believe me, it will make life a lot easier when you have to boot baby out to tackle an unexpected flight of stairs or to fit on the bus and you will be on the receiving end of fewer glares from London’s less tolerant travelling public.
- Check before you go: Just because London is a hustling, bustling metropolis and Olympic Games host extraordinaire does not sadly mean that you can roam free and easy on public transport with your pushchair. It pays to do some homework to avoid the headaches. Make the Transport for London Journey Planner your first step – you can customise it to find pushchair friendly routes avoiding steps and escalators. For some stations, accessibility varies depending on which line you are taking and whether you just need to change lines or get up to street level. Sometimes you may need a ramp or to use a certain carriage (marked with a wheelchair) in order to avoid an excessive gap. It can be very confusing so if in doubt, ask at the station entrance before you go through the barriers or contact TfL before you leave. Finally, if you do get stuck, smile! Many of the people charging by are also parents and know what it’s like to get stuck at the top of some stairs with a pushchair. Chances are one of them will be kind enough to help lift your pushchair to where you need it.
- Avoid rush-hour: Unless you really, really have to, avoid travelling on the bus and tube between 0700-0900 and 1600-1830. It is still technically possible to negotiate your way across London with a pushchair but it will cramped, hot, you will probably have to fold up any pushchair and will not be a pleasant experience for you or for baby.
- Don’t under-rate the bus & overground train: With dedicated wheelchair and buggy spaces and much easier street-level access, travelling by bus or overground train during off-peak hours is often easier and more flexible than using the tube. Additionally, with the bus and its extensive network it is more likely you can be dropped closer to your final destination. You can find details of bus routes on the Transport for London Journey Planner, or for iPhone users NextBuses and S&E Traveline apps are both pretty handy for telling you your real-time transport possibilities based on your current location. Be aware that if you are travelling by bus at peak time however or it’s busy on board, you may be expected to collapse your pushchair or asked to wait for the next service. For train services, check the National Rail website for timetables and accessibility information.
- Use lifts, not escalators: It can be tempting to make the most of escalators when travelling on the underground in London with a pushchair. If you don’t know where the lift is, ask a member of staff at the entrance to the station. Please never use an escalator when travelling alone and I would personally discourage you from doing so even when travelling with a companion to help. As a former Duty Manager at a busy London station, I have seen first hand the horrific accidents caused by people falling on the escalator and a large proportion of them were caused when members of public were travelling on the escalator with additional luggage and overbalanced or lost grip.
- Boating with baby: Whilst the world and his wife fight their way onto an over-packed tube, if your journey takes you east or west along the Thames then why not sit back and relax on one of the frequent ferry services? With ramps for your pushchairs and friendly staff to assist, you can hop on and off with your Oyster card and pushchair and enjoy the view of London’s famous landmarks from the water. What’s more, baby will love it! Visit Thames Clippers website for timetables and departure points for the fast ferry service or you can take a more leisurely cruise to major tourist hot spots with Thames River Services. Taking the boat is more expensive than other options but is fast, frequent and enjoyable with a pushchair and those with an Oyster or Travel Card can get a discount.
- Pushchair friendly taxi: If you really can’t face the bus or the tube with a pushchair and the boat doesn’t go there, then hop in a London Black Cab. The hackney cabs can carry a pushchair with baby strapped in – just wheel it in, put the brake on and hop in yourself to take the stress out of travelling in London with a pushchair. This is definitely the most expensive option but you shouldn’t be asked to pay for help with the pushchair or luggage – journeys are calculated by three standard tariffs depending on time of day, distance travelled and time taken. For an approximate guide to fares, check out the TfL taxi fares page.
- Keep calm and carry on: Journeys in London do not always go to plan and missing drivers, late running transport or all manner of calamity can cause unnecessary disruption. Packing some entertainment and snacks to while away the time is advisable and please take plenty of water if travelling in the summer or during peak hours. The underground particularly can become overwhelmingly hot. In winter it’s a good idea to dress baby in layers so you can peel some off whilst on the tube. Finally, don’t forget your street map – if all else fails you can take to the streets.
- Walking can be quicker: Don’t assume that just because it has wheels or an engine that it must be quicker. Quite often and particularly in central London, walking can be as, if not quicker, than taking public transport, especially travelling with a pushchair. It is also less crowded and a generally altogether more pleasant experience. What’s more, walking routes are now simply and easily signposted throughout most of London thanks to the Legible London project. Walkit.com is a useful website for estimating journey times, directions and even calories burned – they also have an iPhone app.