The best public transport system in the world? Tell that to London's long-suffering commuters

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The Independent Online

Commuters struggling to get into London yesterday could be forgiven for thinking that the capital's public transport system had made it one of the most chaotic cities in the world.

There was a strike on one of Britain's busiest rail networks, which runs into Waterloo - with threats of further walk-outs in September - and engineering work on the Tube disrupted the link between central London and Heathrow.

To add to commuters' discomfiture came the rather surprising news that London had been voted the best city in the world for public transport. The survey extolling the virtues of the capital's transit system prompted amazement among commuter groups and the people they represent.

Brian Cooke, chairman of London's transport watchdog TravelWatch, said: "I don't see how you could vote London the best until you take cost into account. And I don't see how it could be the best when it is among the most crowded - the two don't go together." Mr Cooke said that many cities in the world were better. While they were smaller, Lisbon, Porto and Melbourne had better transport systems.

Stephen Joseph, of Transport 2000, pointed out that Paris and Barcelona offered deals including transport discounts with lower admission charges to attractions. He said tourists' experience of the city's transport network was different to that of commuters.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said that, while it may be great news that London won more votes than Paris and New York, there remained "considerable room for improvement".

London was voted best by a quarter of respondents in a survey conducted by the TripAdvisor company. It was followed by New York (16 per cent) and Paris (12 per cent). Los Angeles came bottom. Nearly a quarter of the 2,000 respondents, and 62 per cent of Britons polled, voted London transport the most expensive.

London cabbies topped the poll as being the best, while New York, Mexico City and Paris were considered to have the world's worst taxis. Nearly three in five claimed to have been "taken for a ride" during their travels by taxi drivers overcharging them or taking them on a wrong route.

TripAdvisor's director of communications, Michele Perry, said: " London's public transport service gets a lot of bad press but it seems that the international travelling community think it's the tops all round, even taking into account that it is also thought to be the most expensive."

The capital continued to get a bad press yesterday when a strike by train drivers left thousands of commuters facing travel chaos on the first day back after the August bank holiday break. South West Trains cancelled most of its services across southern England and into Waterloo station, running 300 trains instead of the normal 1,700.

Members of the train drivers' union Aslef staged the 24-hour walk-out and are planning two further stoppages on 8 and 11 September unless a dispute over safety is resolved.

The company normally transports 400,000 passengers a day including 350,000 in to and out of Waterloo. The London Chamber of Commerce said the strike had caused "misery" for thousands of commuters as well as costing the London economy millions of pounds. Keith Norman, Aslef's general secretary, accused managers of using passengers as a "punch bag" in the dispute.

The row started earlier this year when SWT allegedly restricted the use of taxis by Waterloo-based train drivers, but escalated when the company drafted in managers to drive trains to cover drivers on strike over the issue. Stewart Palmer, managing director of SWT, said: "What the unions call strike-breaking we call customer service."

How Britain's transport system measures up

* British cities have the lowest levels of investment in public transport, typically a tenth of Vienna and Munich

* They compare poorly with overseas cities in actual provision of public transport - Manchester has the lowest supply of timetabled services per capita and also has the lowest take-up of services

* They have the lowest provision of reserved routes for public transport, such as bus priority lanes - Munich has three times as much as Manchester and Stockholm nearly double Glasgow's

* British cities have among the highest provision of central area parking. Manchester has 348 spaces per 1,000 jobs in the central business area and Glasgow 230.

* The most expensive public transport fares are found in British cities, especially London

* British cities have among the lowest costs for car travel - Glasgow has the smallest cost differential between using a car and using public transport

* Glasgow has highest volume of car travel per capita, despite having the second-lowest car ownership levels

* Stuttgart has particularly low emissions from all sources, including transport - 1,255 tons of sulphur dioxide per year, compared with 3,067 tons in Bristol and 5,352 tons in Edinburgh; 8.7 tons of lead in Stuttgart compared with 9.5 tons in Bristol and 10.5 tons in Edinburgh

* Manchester and Glasgow have lowest levels of travel on public transport; (Manchester 535 km per person, Glasgow 876km, Stockholm 2,294km, Munich 2,428km)

* Glasgow has highest levels of walking trips, although it has the lowest levels of cycling as does Manchester - a fraction of countries with similar climates and geographies such as Copenhagen and Munich

* A monthly travel card in Barcelona costs £25 compared with £60 in London, a single ticket is 50p compared with £1.50 on London Underground

* Public transport in smaller cities such as York, Brighton and Stoke-on-Trent is around twice as costly as in Graz in Austria and Terni in Italy

* Car ownership in Bath is at a mid-ranking level among "same size" areas overseas with York, Brighton and Hove and Stoke-on-Trent among the lowest. Car ownership has risen by 33 per cent in York over the past 10 years

* Brighton and Hove has the largest number of parking spaces, almost twice those in Bath and five times as many in Umea in Sweden. The highest parking charges are in Bath and York

* The UK a smaller supply of roads - Oulu in Finland has 7,628 metres per 1,000 population, compared to 2,330 in Brighton.

Source - Commission for Integrated Transport

Traveller's tales

Tom Lockwood

24, Graphic Designer, From Hackney, London

"The London Underground is ridiculously expensive. Money from the congestion charge should have gone to lowering the price of Tube tickets."

Alex Dawson

51, Manager, From Monmouth, Wales

"I travel by train a lot and I never cease to be amazed at how horrible the transport system is. I find it dirty, expensive and overcrowded - it's terrible."

Steve Pagett

57, Civil Engineer, From Croxley, Hertfordshire

"I'd say the service is pretty good. I commute on the Underground and you just have to accept any problems as they arise."

Helen Barker

22, Student, From Nottingham

"I wouldn't say that London's transport system is as good as France or Italy. There they are more prepared for the hot weather."

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