LONDON ,Commuters on the crowded London Underground are accustomed to the “mind the gap” warnings from overhead speakers as trains pull into station platforms, but they recently got a glimpse of another change that infuriated many.
The world’s oldest subway system unveiled a trial last month to help tourists deal with the congested system: green-painted markings at King’s Cross station, a major stop to show where the doors open.
The green markings made veteran commuters see red. That’s because they learned through practice exactly where to stand to snare a rare seat — and now tourists would have the same advantage.
The reaction to the helpful markings, which may expand to other stations, underscores the growing friction between Londoners and the 19 million tourists who clog the city but also contribute $17 billion a year to the British capital’s economy.
“It’s unfair for us commuters because it takes all our experience away,” groused finance worker Beverley Nasmith, 43. “We commuters aren’t happy about the lines because we like to get our bit of space.”
“They have these backpacks. When they get on a crowded train, they swing and hit you,” added Nasmith. “Don’t (tourists) they know you’re supposed to take them off and put them between your legs (when you get on a train)?”
“I know exactly where I need to stand,” said Justin Berry, 44, a property developer, who bristled at the idea that the playing field between commuters and tourists should be leveled.
“If you can’t walk at 50 miles per hour, then I’m over you,” said bar manager Jack Barber, 23, reflecting on tourists who leisurely walk around London’s landmarks.
Each year, the Underground — which has been running since 1863, when Queen Victoria ruled — logs about 1.3 billion rides. That’s up 468 million annually from 20 years ago, according to Transport for London, the agency that runs the networks 270 stations and 250 miles of track.
More than 2.3 million Americans visited London last year, making them the biggest group of tourists to the British capital, according to Visit Britain, a national tourist agency. It estimates a 6% increase in total tourism this year despite a string of publicized terror attacks. One reason may be that the British pound is so cheap versus the dollar: $1.32.
While some cantankerous commuters might resent the visitors, Kiran Shah, 50, is thankful for them. He runs a leather goods shop around the corner from the British Museum, a popular destination for visitors. About 80% of his customers are tourists.
“Americans can come in here and two or three minutes later they walk out with a $300 or $400 purchase,” said Shah, noting that Chinese visitors also are big spenders.
So far the grumpy locals aren’t dissuading tourists. “I’ve witnessed some cranky commuters venting their frustration at some unsuspecting people that get in their way,” said American Justine Hausheer, 29, who lives in Denver.
“It doesn’t make me not want to come. You kind of expect some of this when you visit a big city like London. It’s part of the experience.”
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