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Tuesday, 31 July, 2001, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Around the world by subway
London's mayor has lost his court battle to shape the future of the capital's Tube system. In his judgement, Mr Justice Sullivan called the network "chronically overcrowded and notoriously unreliable". But are the users of underground railways in Tokyo, New York, Barcelona or Paris any happier this summer?


Author David Peace has just returned home to Tokyo, and its immaculate subway system, after a European tour to promote his latest book, 1980.

After spending the summer using the London and Paris subways, it's come as a great relief to be back on the Tokyo one.

Japanese soldiers conduct a safety exercise
Tokyo's subway runs with military precision
The city's subway is extremely clean, fast and efficient. It is also, like many things here, not as expensive as you might imagine: a 30 minute ride is about £1.30 and the trains leave every three minutes.

You run no risk of being mugged (except possibly by drunk American GIs). There are no buskers or beggars, and it is only during the winter that homeless people use the station entrances for shelter.

However, during the rush hour you will generally have to stand and, more often than not, cheek to jowl - or worse if you are a woman.

Much is often written about gropers (or chikans, as they are called in Japan), however these tend to be more prevalent on the longer overground commuter lines.

Japanese commuters wilt in the summer heat
Some like it hot, but not on the subway
You do though stand the outside chance of becoming the victim of arson; some of the trains at present are plagued by a series of mysterious fires.

The culprits might actually turn out to be just trying to keep warm as the subway is ice-cold during the intense summer heat.

This in itself is not unpleasant, but the constant moving from one extreme of temperature to the other not only causes your glasses to steam up, but also leads to heavy colds and the use of face masks.

New York

Literary agent Katherine Fausset rides the once infamous New York subway to work everyday.

The subway stations are so hot in the summer, hotter than any other part of the city. While you're waiting for the train, the sweat just drips down your body.

A New York subway train
Fingers crossed for air-con
Most of the subway cars are air conditioned, which must be part of some crazy plan to kill old people. You step from the heat into the cars and they're freezing.

One in twenty cars still don't have air-con. If you get on one of those it feels like you've picked the short straw, everyone just lets out this collective groan.

They have these new silver super trains. They talk, have these digital display boards with the time, lots of bars to hold on to. It's like getting glasses for the first time. People get really excited when one pulls in.

It can get crowded, with everyone just squashed up together. There are occasionally some wandering hands, but New York women are pretty tough and soon put a stop to that kind of thing.

The ride is pretty smooth and in the last four years I've only been on three trains that have broken down.

A rat
At least real rats can keep their hands to themselves
I've seen rats as big as cats down there and it smells in patches - where the homeless people live. There are quite a lot of police so those trying to sleep in the cars or panhandle for money get moved along quite quickly.

I like riding the subway. It's so loud you can't hear the people around you. That kind of good white noise is perfect for me when I have to catch up on my reading.


Economist Fabią Gumbau is a native of Barcelona and a veteran commuter on the Spanish city's metro system.

The subway is quite colourful in the summer, thanks to the influx of tourists. The visitors don't really cause any overcrowding. Since most local people leave the city on holiday, it's more like a substitution.

Linford Christie at the Barcelona Olympics
No need to run, the metro was improved for the Olympics
It's actually much quieter in the mornings, around eight or nine, because tourists don't tend to get up that early.

Since some of the subway workers are on holiday too, the service is a bit slower in the summer. The air conditioning is very good, so I have no real complaints.

The trains are fairly reliable, though some lines close to the sea occasionally flood.

Although most of the lines have been there for a long time, parts were improved for the 1992 Olympics and extra parts were built. The city sees the metro as an important part of the image it wants to project to the visitors.

Julian Lloyd Webber in a tube station
"Can you hear in the front carriage?"
What's most annoying is the PA system through which they pipe classical music. Even when you have headphones on, you can still hear the music they want you to hear.

Pickpockets are a real problem in the city, and there are a few metro stops in the centre where you really have to watch your bag.


New Zealander Seamus Kearney works for a French radio station in the centre of Paris and has mixed feelings about his adopted city's Metro system.

I've recently stopped using the Metro to get to work. I've found it's quicker to ride my bike there than take the train. Though I still use it for all my other journeys.

Tour de France riders approach Paris
Faster by bicycle?
During rush hour there are just too many people - especially on line 4 which serves two major railway stations. The trains are so packed you have to wait for ages for one to arrive on to which you can squeeze yourself.

Ventilation on the trains is certainly not the best and during the summer I always get off dripping with sweat.

The Metro is pretty reliable, with cleaner and more frequent trains than I remember London having. The Metro doesn't seem to put much stock in communications systems. If trains do stop, nothing is said and you just have to sit and wait for them to get going again.

There are also very few staff on hand. Late at night you'd be hard pressed to find anyone at all to help you at some stations.

A Paris Metro train
Avoid le crush, travel off peak
The number of beggars and homeless people sleeping in the stations seems to have noticeably increased in recent years, though there has been a crackdown on buskers.

Since lots of workers go on holiday in the summer, that's when lots of disruptive maintenance work is carried out. That's a real pain.

Your notes from the underground

Under Stalin, Moscow's subway was an example to the rest of the world. It was efficient, cheap and clean. If anything broke down the person responsible would be shot as a warning to others.
Vladimir Dirizevsky, Moscow

Believe or not, some subway trains in Seoul come have onboard entertainment, such as small TV screens.
Son, Byung-Gak, Korea

The Mexico City tube is modern and quiet, but lacks loos.
Joe Roberts, USA

Sao Paulo's metro system - clean, cool, modern, frequent and cheap - is a pleasant surprise in a congested and dirty city.
Chris Damandl, USA

I used BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco a few years ago. The trains are fast, clean and reliable and have a kind of funky 70's space age feel to them.
Mark Robertson, UK

Let's not forget the excellent metro in Kiev, Ukraine. The service must be one of the few things that worked properly during Soviet times! Clean, cheap and lots of statues of Lenin to take you back to the good old days! Best of all are the digital displays that tell you the precise time that has elapsed since the last train has departed! Very handy!
Tristan Lermitte, England

Lisbon's subway works fine. Nice stations, modern trains that are not too crowded, cheapish tickets (less than 40p per trip). The only problem: it's very short. Unless you live downtown, it's totally useless.
Pedro Ribeiro, Portugal

All these positive stories... I guess you better skip Amsterdam's underground: dirty and badly lit stations, filthy trains that stop running just after midnight and take you to parts of town you don't wanna go to.
Enrico, Netherlands

I like the sounds of the Helsinki metro trains. During acceleration they make a whirring sound that increases as though they're saying "I'm speeding up now". As they cruise they hum nonchalantly and as they slow down their whine drops in pitch, as though relaxing and falling. The station announcements are in a reassuringly soft and clear female voice. The stations are great caverns blasted out of the granite bedrock. It's a pity the seats are hard plastic.
Robin, Helsinki

The best underground network I have been on was the one in Sydney - not only were the trains double-decker but they were also early, never mind late!
Isabelle, UK

Stockholm T-Banan is clean, pretty fast and runs until 4am on the weekends, and it's only £35 a month for unlimited travel.
Alan, Sweden

Let's not forget the East. Budapest's and Prague's metros are both very good and relatively cheap, and very roomy. A friend who visited from Bucharest in Romania couldn't believe how small Tube trains were.
Ric Euteneuer, UK

Surprising to see that your report does not look at Berlin's public transport system. German punctuality and cleanliness makes using the U-Bahn a pleasure.
PK, Germany

Washington's Metro is great - very futuristic! But top prize has to go to Singapore's underground - totally clean, totally safe and air conditioned everywhere. And they use reusable tickets rather than discarding thousands of silly cardboard ones!
Tim Collins, UK

Recently visting Taipei. There's strictly no eating or drinking at the stations or on the lines. However, mobile phones are fully functional in the system. This may please a lot of business types but isn't it nice to have 15 minutes of complete uncontactability?
Daniel Bradley, UK

Despite being the city that invented the car, Stuttgart has liberated the city centre for pedestrians with its twin underground systems (S-Bahn and U-Bahn). Fares are about a quarter of what I'd pay in England.
Steve Bacon, Germany

The clockwork orange in Glasgow is as good an example of a quick clean efficient system as your likely to find. It could be expanded to the east end of the city but in general its a great service and in the winter its always nice to get out of the cold and into the warm underground!
Gordon Masterton, UK

The T in Boston is the best I've seen. It's quick, reliable, cheap and above all comfortable.
Connor Murphy, Ireland

On my visits to Malaysia, not only was I pleasantly suprised by the underground system, which is air-conditioned, quite, inexpensive (around 80p on average) but was shocked to learn from one of their inspectors that they trained in London for a year.
Brian Douglas, UK

Montreal has the very best subway system. Quiet, fast and clean.And great street musicians - I have heard them applauded by subway riders.
Freeman Payne, USA

Beautiful marble stations. Air conditioning. Clean trains that run on time. Not bad for a Third World country ... although the locals can't afford to travel on it!
Richard Barber, Cairo, Egypt

Actually at around 5 cents a ride, every Egyptian in Cairo can ride the subway, which is definetly one of the better government-run facilities.
Ashraf Moftah, Egypt

Come to Brussels this summer and experience an excellent metro system. The stations are clean, well-lit and generally well decorated.
John, Brussels

The Toronto subway is quick, clean, cool and plenty of room to sit down. The staff were friendly and most helpful. And you don't get off feeling like you just stepped out the bath.
Mark Smith, England

Why isn't the London underground more like Newcastle's Metro?
Liam Hearne, England

I used the Paris Metro one summer, and while it was very cheap and quick, the map is impossible to use. They should adopt the plan schematic that we use on the Tube.
Paul Voller, England

The most impressive underground system I have travelled on is the MTR in Hong Kong. It's fast, clean, efficient and cheap.
Chris Hustings, UK

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