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Getting around London: Applications for Public Transport, Boris Bikes & Taxis

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Big Ben.jpgWhether you’re one of the 7.8 million people living in London or one of the 5.5 million spectators that are expected in London during the London 2012 Olympic Games, being able to get around the capital this summer will be important. Thankfully, there are a large number of different ways to get around London: from public transport options such as the Tube and bus networks to more personal modes of transport such as the “Boris Bike” cycle hire scheme and 22,000 black cabs.


In this article, we look at how your smartphone can help you to get around London. We look at the various modes of transportation within London and the range of smartphone applications that are available to help plan your journey. 


By Public Transport: The Tube & Bus


If you’re looking to get around London by public transport, there are a whole range of applications available that can help to plan your route, show you which buses you should take and what time the next Tube train or bus departs at.


Bus.jpgThe London Transport application (iPhone, £1.99) is one of the highest rated all-in-one applications for public transport in London. It integrates together easy access to the Tube map, a journey planner, live departure boards and the ability to see how much credit you have left on your Oyster card. The application has an extensive feature set – even extending to being able to view traffic cameras and cycle hire locations. For an all-in-one transport solution, this application can be a great choice.


If you tend to spend more of your time on the bus network, Next Bus London (iPhone, £1.99) could also be a good alternative. This contains additional features that are specific to travelling on London’s bus network: for example the “wake me up” feature that will automatically alert you when you’re approaching your destination bus stop. This can be incredibly helpful in letting you know when to get off when travelling to unfamiliar areas or unfamiliar bus stops. The application also features real-time bus departure information (“Countdown” information).


For Android owners, the built-in Google Maps application already works incredibly well with London’s transport system. Simply input your destination in the “Directions” feature and select “Public transport” as your mode of transportation. Using this information, Google Maps will automatically find the fastest route to your destination across the all of London’s public transport options. Information of any delays and travel disruptions is also integrated into the route planner.


London Tube.jpgFor real-time departure information on the bus network, the London Bus Live Countdown application (Android, free) is also a great choice.


Finally, London’s public transport network is run by Transport for London. Transport for London provides a smartphone-optimised website at that can be used on any smartphone platform including Windows Phone and BlackBerry. Alternatively for non-smartphone users, it is possible to access travel information from TfL via by text message. There is a charge of 12p plus your normal text message rate for this service.


As an interesting piece of giffgaff trivia, London buses make use of M2M mobile technology to report their location and to handle Oyster Card payments. And whilst it isn’t available yet, in the future you’ll also be able to use your NFC-enabled mobile phone to pay for your journey. One thing is for sure: London is a city that is embraced mobile technology incredibly seriously within their public transportation system.


By “Boris Bike”: London’s Cycle Hire Scheme


Boris Bike.jpgIf you’re looking for a fast way of getting around London which is green and good for the environment, London provides the “Boris Bike” cycle hire scheme, available for a small charge. Essential applications for users of the cycle hire scheme include Cycle Hire (iPhone, free), London Bike (iPhone, 69p) and Cycle Hire Widget Lite (Android, free).


All 3 applications make use GPS geolocation technology to show where the nearest cycle hire docking stations are and the number of available bikes and free spaces at each docking station. Making use of these applications should reduce the amount of time that you need to spend looking for an available space or looking for somewhere suitable to return your bike at the end of your journey. The applications can also give an estimate of how long your journey will take and how much you would expect to pay.


By Taxi or Minicab


Taxi.jpgWith their world-renowned knowledge of the London A-Z, the knowledge that London’s taxi drivers possess of the capital’s shortcuts and back streets can make them a useful ally in your quest to get across London. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find an available taxi or inconvenient to pay for a journey in cash.


The Hailo (iPhone & Android, free) and GetTaxi (free on iPhone, Android, Symbian and BlackBerry) applications can take the pain out of calling a cab. Using GPS geolocation technology, the two applications can find available taxis which are nearby. With the tap of a button, the taxi is called to your location and an estimate of the waiting time is presented. At the end of your journey, the applications also give you the chance to pay by credit card or debit card. This can be incredibly useful as it saves you from an additional trip to the cashpoint and worries of whether you have enough cash to cover the entire journey.


For a cheaper alternative to a taxi, a licensed minicab service could be a good option. Minicab operator Addison Lee has a minicab booking application available for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone which works in much the same way as Hailo and GetTaxi.


By Car


Congestion Charge.jpgIf you’re driving a private vehicle into Central London, it is worth noting that you may need to pay the Congestion Charge. There is a £10/day charge for driving into the Congestion Charging zone between Monday-Friday 7am and 6pm.


The unofficial Congestion Charge – Map Alert and Pay application (iPhone, free) makes use of GPS technology to notify you when you enter the congestion charging zone. With penalties of £120 for failing to pay the congestion charge, the reminder generated by this application can be incredibly helpful.


By Train


If you’re travelling on the railways either inside or outside of London, National Rail Enquires should be your first port of call for train times and service information. National Rail Enquires provides a smartphone-optimised site at which is free-to-use. The site includes train times, platform numbers, a journey planner, details of where to change and live information on delays and cancellations.


A range of applications will also be available from your smartphone’s application store but more often than not, these applications will cost money. This is because National Rail Enquiries charges application developers for access to their data. One free application that integrates train times is Google Maps for Android. Select the “public transport” option when planning your route to bring up the latest train times.


Your thoughts…


Multi Modal.jpgIn this article, we’ve looked at the numerous ways that you can travel around London and how your smartphone can help you get from A-to-B. Regardless of the mode of transport you choose around London, these applications can help you to get around capital with minimal stress and delay. The applications can also help to keep you moving during the disruptions and delays of London 2012.


Are you a Londoner? If so, do you have any top tips or travel advice for getting around the capital? How do you choose to travel around London? Are there any travel applications that you’ve found particularly helpful? Are you expecting there to be significant travel disruption during London 2012? We’d love to hear your thoughts: please drop us a comment below!


Ken Lo is proud to be a Londoner and is looking forward to welcoming the world to London 2012 this summer. He also writes about mobile technology at Ken's Tech Tips.

rocket scientist
thanks for this Smiley Happy gonna be useful for me as I live in London

we do need better transport, till then we have to make do with these apps i guess..


The cycle hire apps are pretty good Smiley Happy Actually the Boris Bikes are pretty much the only good thing Boris has done for London as far as I can see Smiley Very Happy



 love the new routemasters



I love the London Transport app! Fantastic app for well, using transport in London. And I love how you can manage your Oyster card on it!


Highly reccommended! 


The writer of this article seems to have ignored one VERY useful transport alternative, Motor scooters and motorbikes. I used to work in London and free m/bike parking was essential to my commute. I have not ridden for 10 years but now have bought a Vespa. I was surprised (very) to find on my recent trip to an address near St.Paul's, that there were almost NO m/cycle parking bays, free or otherwise. The scooter is free of conjestion charge, cheap to run and takes no road room to speak of. What happened Boris? Did Barclays and their "Boris" bikes take precedence becaus it makes money perhaps?

lol @ the lat post great post will b useful as i may b in london @ the tym
Please don't call it the misleading Boris Bike.

i have an interesting app (android) called bublmap, which gives a geographically accurate tube map for central london. can be quite handy sometimes


You should check out journey pro app for iPhone and iPad. Its great, featurs bus, tram, walking, under/overground, and national rail for london and the rest of the UK. Also a next train function for london stations. 


I think you have to pay for it now but its worth it.