Opinion

London Underground Vs Munich U-Bahn

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 21 months ago
London Underground Vs Munich U-Bahn

We've pitted the London Underground against subterranean mass transit systems in Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris and New York. Now it's time for an England versus Germany showdown as we test out the Munich U-Bahn.

We like the old school boxy trains. Photo: FloSch under a Creative Commons license

Size

London is way ahead of Munich in this round with 270 stations compared to Munich's 100. The Munich U-Bahn has 103km of track — around a quarter of the Underground's 402km track length.

But it's all fairly proportionate as London has approximately 1.2 billion passengers a year — three times the number that travel on the U-Bahn. Plus, Munich's population is a shade under 1.4 million, not even close to the population of London.

However, credit is due to the U-Bahn for running a service every two minutes at peak times (reduced to every 10 minutes at off-peak times).

Result: There was never any contest ... London wins.

The faux wood look inside the older trains gives them character.

Trains

Much like our own network, Munich has a variety of stock ranging from rather futuristic looking carriages, to the boxy, dusty older trains. We find ourselves charmed by these old trains with their faux wood interiors, cloth and wooden seats, and a big square window looking into the next carriage. We know not everyone will be a fan of the design, but they won us over — we'll even forgive their unhygienic metal handles for opening the doors.

Even the older U-Bahn trains have been retrofitted with display screens in every carriage notifying passengers what the next station will be. We're not just talking the dot matrix style Underground screens either; these are proper colour screens that even show the football league table.

Result: Munich wins.

The trains can get busy, but never rammed like in London. This one of the newer trains, which you can walk the length of.

Ticketing and fares

All the ticket machines on the U-Bahn are relatively self-explanatory — even with our terrible knowledge of the German language we managed, which is fortunate, as we didn't notice any staff to help us on our travels.

Munich, like most German cities, operates on the honour system with no barriers and random ticket inspections to catch any fare dodgers. So no faffing with barriers, just make sure you have a validated ticket so you're not caught out.

But what about price? Munich has a zone system like London and a zone 1 equivalent ticket is €2.80, versus £2.40 on the Underground. For a day ticket it's €6.60 on the U-Bahn and the Oyster cap in London is £6.50. Given how the pound has recently been falling against the Euro, Munich just edges it.

But given that London has more staff on hand to help, it's a close call.

Result: we're calling this a draw.

Navigation

Both networks are relatively straightforward to navigate, though Munich has fewer branching lines to confuse novice travellers.

One thing we've noted in U-Bahns both in Munich and Berlin is there's often no map at platform level. The display will show the final destination of a train but not if it's going to your stop, which isn't helpful for people unfamiliar with the network. There are pros and cons on both sides of this one.

Result: draw.

Most of the Munich stations are rather drab. Candidplatz is an exception. Photo: Martin Falbisoner under a Creative Commons license.

Decor

The U-Bahn has a lot less history as it opened in 1971, more than 100 years after the London Underground. But that's no excuse for the sterile station designs — many are austere and soulless. There are a few exceptions, such as the colourful Candidplatz and Konigsplatz,  a station close to many museums, with copies of famous works of art on the walls.

The U-Bahn cannot match the history, architecture and design of the characterful London Underground.

Result: London wins.

The Final Verdict

It's a 2-1 win to the London Underground. The U-Bahn has its charms, including some lovely trains but it can't match the London Underground's scale, lengthy history and great station designs.

Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 05 January 2017