The new Dublin Luas map is a crime against cartography

Abbey Street. Image: William Murphy/Wikipedia.

It can be reassuring, in the era of Brexit, to know that there are still some things which Britain has in common with its European neighbours like Ireland. For example: "Really, really bad public transit maps".

The Luas is Dublin's tram network, which first opened in 2004. It has two lines: the Green Line, which connect the suburbs of south Dublin to St Stephen's Green; and the red line, which connects the western suburbs to the docks.

What the red and green lines don't connect is each other because, look:

Well, I guess we’re walking. Image: Strikous/Wikipedia.

But Dubliners need not worry much longer – because the Luas Cross City project is extending the green line across the city centre and into north Dublin. It's due to open in December, and the city's transport authorities have just released this outstandingly abysmal map:

Click to expand.

In fact, it comes in Irish, too:

Cliceáil a leathnú.

I'm not familiar with the geography of Dublin – sadly, I've never been – so unravelling this map required spending half an hour clicking back and forth between this and a street map. I might be wrong about some of the details (in which case, write in), but I’ve found four big problems with the new map.

It shows the wrong number of lines

Luas Cross City is not a third, blue line: it's an extension of the existing, green one. You wouldn't know it from this map, however, which strongly suggests it's a whole new line, because:

The river is invisible

Transit maps don't tend to go for geographical accuracy – that's not what they're for – but they do often include big rivers and other major features of the landscape, just to give you a sense of the shape of the city.

Whoever made this map seems to have considered doing this, then changed their mind, then decided on a compromise option. And so we get this:

This best I can tell is the River Liffey which divides the two halves of Dublin. I can see a case for including this on the map (Helps with orientation!); I can see a case for not including it (Clutters up the map!). What I can't see a case for is replacing the river with a confusing dotted line.

The interchange is baffling

Okay: if you want to change from the red to the green (blue) line, you will get off at Abbey Street, and walk to either O'Connell-GPO (to head in one direction) or Marlborough (to head in the other). You can see that from this monstrosity of an inset:

But which stop do you want for which direction? If you keep squinting long enough you can sort of see that the left hand line is northbound. But it's not obvious on the graphical map, and the geographical inset doesn't bother to make it any clearer.

What the hell is an interchange anyway?

Some stops are marked as interchanges because they're the point where two branches of the same line meet. That's not an interchange in the same way as Abbey Street, but I sort of see what they're up to.

But why is Sandyford an interchange?

Why is O'Connell Upper?

You can probably find out with long enough on Google (I got bored and gave up). But the point is you shouldn't have to. It should be clear from the map. What is going on?

Really, Dublin, you’re the capital of a bloody tiger economy, the city that's threatening to steal London's crown. Is this the best you can do?


Anyway, I'm going for a lie down.

Update: A number of correspondents have been in contact on the last point: both Sandyford and O'Connell Upper will be where some trams terminate, so you have to change trams. Which seems a funny definition of interchange.

Also, I can't vouch for this, but somebody tweeted to say that blue is a standard colour in Ireland for stuff under construction.

Still, though:

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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What do new business rates pilots tell us about government’s appetite for devolution?

Sheffield Town Hall, 1897. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

There have been big question marks about any future devolution of business rates ever since the last general election stopped the legislation in its tracks.

Not only did it not make its way to the statute book before the pre-election cut off, it was nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, suggesting the Government had gone cold on the idea. (This scenario was complicated further recently by the introduction of a private members’ bill on business rates by Conservative MP Peter Bone, details of which remain scarce.)

However, regardless of the situation with legislation, the government’s announcement in recent days of a pilot phase of reforms suggests that business rates devolution will go ahead after all. DCLG has invited local authorities to take part in a pilot scheme which will allow volunteer authorities to retain 100 per cent of the business rates growth they generate locally. (It also notes that a further three pilots are currently in operation as they were set up under the last government.)

There are two interesting things in this announcement that give some insight on how the government would like to push the reform forward.

The first is that only authorities that come forward with their neighbours with a proposal to pool all business rates raised into one pot across a wider geography will be considered. This suggests that pooling is likely to be strongly encouraged under the new system, even more considering that the initial position was to give power to the Secretary of State to form pools unilaterally.

The second is that pooled authorities are given free rein to propose their own local arrangements. This includes determining, where applicable, a tier split (i.e. rates distribution between districts and counties), a plan for distributing additional growth across the pool, and how this will be managed between authorities.

It’s the second which is most interesting. Although current pools already have the ability to decide for some of their arrangements, it’s fair to say that the Theresa May-led government has been much less bullish on devolution than George Osborne in particular was, with policies having a much greater ‘top down’ feel to them (for example, the Industrial Strategy) rather than a move towards giving places the tools they need to support economic growth in their areas. So the decision to allow local authorities to come up with proposed arrangements feels like a change in approach from the centre.


Of course, the point of a pilot is to test different arrangements, and the outcomes of this experiment will be used to shape any future reform of the business rates system. Given the complexity of the system and the multitude of options for reform, this seems like a sensible approach to take. But it remains to be seen whether the complex reform of a national system can be led from the bottom up. In effect, making sure this local governance is driven by common growth objectives, rather than individual authorities’ interests, will be essential.

Nonetheless, the government’s reaffirmation of its commitment to business rates to devolution and its willingness to test new approaches is welcome. Given that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in the western world, moves to allow local authorities to keep at least some of the tax revenue that is generated in their area is a step forward in giving places more autonomy over how they spend their money. That interest in changing this appears to have been whetted once more is encouraging.

There are, however, a number of other issues with the current business rates system which need to be ironed out. Centre for Cities is currently working on a briefing of the business rates system, building on our previous work in this area, and we’ll be making suggestions as to how the system can be improved.

Hugo Bessis is a researcher for the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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