Riding the London Underground is a hectic business most of the time. Like all major cities, locals are in a rush, seconds count and everyone else is considered an obstacle to otherwise seamless travel. I recall getting onto a platform once to see the train leaving. I arrived alongside a man whose frustration at missing the train was obvious (and easy to hear). I looked up at the board, “next train in 2 minutes.” I have to respect someone whose day is so neatly arranged that having to wait two minutes for a train brings on that sort of rage.
In recent months a new dimension has been added to the general hubbub as Londoners are being invited to take up an online game, Chromaroma. All you need to play is an Oyster card – a pre-loaded travel card that you scan over the barrier on entering and leaving a station. You go online, sign up for one of the four teams and join in the fun. The game tracks your journeys, encourages the use of different forms of public transport and gives points for the variety of stations visited – encouraging off-peak travel, using a Boris bike or walking and generally adjusting the way Londoners travel.
Tasks are varied, you might need to get from one station to another in a certain time and there are record individual times for people doing a fixed route. Any Londoner will tell you that the key is not how quickly you move through a station, the real difference is knowing which part of the platform to be at so when the doors open at your interchange station you are near the right exit from the platform.
This is not the first underground game to be developed. People have played Monopoly on the system in the past as you race around the ‘board’ getting off at the required stations and the Tube Challenge has been attempted since the 1950s. In the past I have designed a competition for students on tour with me, based on the idea of the Amazing Race. I give the teams five places they need to find, no more information than this, they then need to either barrel off and see what they find or plot the most logical route and then get going – the best way lies somewhere in the middle. Members of the team work together to find the spots and it is a mix of using their travel cards and deciding if it might be quicker to just run above ground. The places they need to locate can range from the obvious to a few places they might not have otherwise seen. For seriously committed groups we do different races in different cities and have individual and overall prizes.
I know I have said it before but London Undergound really is more than just a means of getting from one place to another.
(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)