1a4adf676d35a210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2010-08Robbery in the City of London (by train ticket, that is)0a4adf676d35a210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____Robbery in the City of London (by train ticket, that is)Well, a word of warning. London might be one of the safest cities on the international tourist trail, but you'll risk being mugged before you've even checked in to your hotel.<p>Thinking of coming to the UK this summer? Perhaps to see the historic sights or take in a show, or even sample our world-famous fried breakfasts (so calorific as to be less a meal and more an extreme sport, which is perhaps why one restaurant I visited recently had coyly renamed it a "heritage platter")?
Well, a word of warning. London might be one of the safest cities on the international tourist trail, but you'll risk being mugged before you've even checked in to your hotel. I'm referring to the much-vaunted Heathrow Express train service.</p>
<p>I travelled on this jewel in the crown of the capital's transportation system last week after having returned from a brief holiday.
The appeal is obvious. The train ride in from London's principal airport to the heart of the city may be a bit pricey (about £15 instead of the six pounds it takes by conventional metro), but instead of a long and uncomfortable ordeal, you are whisked into the heart of things on a specially designated overground railway line - and in only 15 minutes to boot.</p>
<p>My wife and I were certainly happy to spend that little bit more to use the service, especially when a fluting voice on the station concourse announced over the tannoy: "Tickets may be purchased on board." That settled it. With a train already waiting on the platform, we leapt on board and settled down, our £15 at the ready.
But we were in for a rude awakening. A sheepish ticket collector arriving in our carriage revealed that the actual cost was actually nearer to £20. Heathrow Express, he explained, had recently introduced a new fare system (if that's not an unintended pun) by which anyone purchasing a ticket on board rather than booking online or queuing at the ticket office incurs a hefty top-up fee.</p>
<p>"I'm so sorry," he said as we handed over the best part of £40. "It's the regulations." He freely admitted that enforcing it was the most unpleasant part of his job: that, and scraping furious travellers off the ceiling once they realise they were quite literally being held hostage to fortune.
When I pointed out that the journey thus effectively amounted to over three pounds per minute, he smiled ruefully. "Don't quote me," he muttered under his breath, "but we've worked out that per kilometre it's more expensive to travel on this than it was to fly on the Concorde".</p>
<p>Having arrived at our destination, his apology continued. He led us to a gleaming automatic ticket machine located on the concourse at Paddington Station. "Look at it," he said. "Nothing. No mention of the difference in prices according to how you buy. In fact, no instruction whatsoever. It's daylight robbery."
And indeed, the front fascia of the machine was pristine and unadorned, save for a list of copious instructions on how to insert your credit card. That much, at least, the company was anxious to explain in minute detail.</p>
<p>Such furores fade from the memory of course, and apart from a note to self to always book online in the future, the incident will soon be no more than an after-dinner yarn. Nonetheless, it had ended our holiday on a sour note.
But with the 2012 Olympic Games fast approaching, this latest example of London's much-vaunted hospitality for foreign visitors will do little to enhance its reputation. Already, the metro is one of the most expensive of its kind in the western world. Taking a cab from the airport requires not so much a full wallet as a sympathetic bank manager.</p>
<p>But perhaps there's some hope on the horizon for the cash-strapped tourist. London's mayor Boris Johnson has launched the city's latest transport initiative - a park and ride bicycle scheme, which allows anyone proficient on two wheels to merely pick up a bike from hundreds of designated docking stations throughout the capital and set off, all for a couple of dollars an hour (at least until the cycles are all stolen).</p>
<p>Although it's early days, the scheme seems to proving popular with locals and visitors alike, with 6,000 separate journeys made on the first day alone. But after my recent experience, I'm reserving judgement. And if in a couple of months you find a man in a peaked cap with a ticket machine running alongside as you pedal along requesting an extra fee for use of the brakes, you'll know where the idea came from.</p>
<p>In the meantime, unless something is done about transport costs in London, visitors to the 2012 Olympics may find they can't afford anything once they've got here. Not even the odd heritage platter.
<i>Michael Simkins is an actor and author based in London</i></p>