Which London borough has the worst pubs? An important CityMetric investigation

Mmmmmm beer. Image: Getty.

There are countless ways of ranking different parts of London from best to worst: transport links, crime rates, does it have a Wimpy, etc. But only one truly matters: are the pubs crap or not?

To start this investigation, we need a list of all the pubs in London – and the Greater London Authority helpfully keeps a list of all 4000+ of the city’s pubs as part of its ‘Cultural Infrastructure map’, curated by the Campaign for Real Ale (well, just the pubs bit of it, I assume). The list doesn’t appear to be 100 per cent up-to-date, but to be fair, keeping up with pub closures and name changes would probably be a full-time job. But does allow us to get a reasonably representative view of how London’s pubs are distributed. For example:

Which borough has the most pubs?

Colour scale of ‘head’ to ‘beer’ where head indicates not many pubs and ‘beer’ indicates lots of pubs.

If raw numbers are what matters to you, Westminster is where it’s at, with more than 10 per cent of London’s pubs. Barking & Dagenham has the fewest, with just 29 to serve an entire borough.

Which borough has the most pubs per square mile?

Number represents the number of pubs per square mile in the borough.

If you break it down by area, The City – yes okay, not technically a borough, have a sweetie – stands out way ahead of everywhere else, packing over 200 pubs into The Square Mile. (It’s actually slightly larger than one square mile, explaining the slight discrepancy between the count and the count per square mile.)

Which borough has the most pubs per person? Or 10,000 people, for the purposes of this map?

Number represents the number of pubs per 10,000 people who live in the borough.

The City also wins on pubs per 10,000 residents, because only about four people live there. The inner London boroughs do much better here, and being in West London and on the river seems to help sustain a greater number of pubs.

Boroughs not specific enough?

Here’s the city broken up into square mile chunks that are coloured according to how many pubs in each one. Looking at this, the Thames also seems to help in southeast London to an extent – Greenwich’s pubs certainly seem to have clustered along the river.

(Note: this map is slightly unfair on places on the fringes of London where, plausibly, you might e.g. have several excellent locals that are in, for example, Essex. Well, some pubs, at least.)

But where are London’s shittest pubs?

Ah, some kind of “connoisseur” who doesn’t measure pubs by weight, is it? Taking the GLA’s list of pubs and matching as many of them as possible to reviews on Google and TripAdvisor, here is the average rating (out of 5) per pub in each borough.

Sorry, Barking & Dagenham, but you officially have the shittest pubs in London, at least according to the sort of people who review pubs online – 3.64 out of 5 on average.

To be fair, this doesn’t include the future shipping crate-based bars promised by the pictures on the website for the Barking Riverside development, which could turn out to be London’s most highly regarded drinking establishments, what with their excellent views of... erm, Thamesmead and Crossness Sewage works.

Lewisham, on the other hand, is the king of the boroughs when it comes to pubs, with 4.18 out of 5 on average. Although there’s always the possibility that people who go drinking in Lewisham just have really low standards.

Except, hmm. Because if we look at just the 1 star reviews, sure, Barking & Dagenham does have the highest proportion (15.7 per cent), and Lewisham has one of the lowest (7.7 per cent)

Numbers represent the percentage of 1 star reviews for pubs in the borough.

But there are a higher proportion of 5 star reviews to be found in boroughs other than Lewisham (46.1 per cent) – notably Bromley and Haringey which are both near the 60 per cent mark.

Numbers represent the percentage of 5 star reviews for pubs in the borough.

And B&D has far from the lowest proportion of 5 star scores, beating Newham, Enfield, Croydon, Hounslow and Havering.

So while you’re more likely to have a bad time in a Barking & Dagenham pub than anywhere else in London, you will have a higher chance of having a really good time than in say, Croydon.

They should put that on the “Welcome to our borough” signs.


 

 
 
 
 

The Réseau Express Métropolitain: the multi-billion dollar light rail project Montreal never asked for

Montreal from the summit of Mont Royal. Image: Getty.

The Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) is the 67-kilometre, C$6.3bn light rail project Montreal never asked for.

It is the single largest transit project in Montreal in half a century. Not since the construction of the Métro has there been as bold a proposal: an entirely new mass-transit system that would have the effect of radically altering the city’s urban landscape.

Conceived, planned and costed by the Province of Quebec’s institutional investor, the Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec (CDPQ), the REM is currently under construction and slated to become operational between 2021 and 2023.

Once completed, it is supposed to provide high-frequency, intermediate-volume light-rail service on a regional level: connecting suburbs with the city centre along three axes and linking Montreal’s central business district with its international airport.

The REM may even connect to an as-yet unbuilt baseball stadium, and politicians have even proposed extending it over hundreds of kilometres to provide inter-city service. Indeed, the REM has been strongly endorsed – by both the federal and provincial governments that back it – as a panacea for all of Greater Montreal’s transit and traffic congestion problems.

Since it was first proposed in 2015, the REM has been championed above all else as a guaranteed-to-succeed “public-public partnership”. A win-win, where various levels of government cooperate and coordinate with an arm’s-length government agency to produce much-needed new transit and transport infrastructure.

Unlike the more commonly known public-private partnership (of which there are some notable recent failures in Quebec), the obvious insinuation is that – this time – there’s no private interest or profit to worry about.

PR aside, the pension funds managed by the CDPQ are private, not public, wealth. The CDPQ’s entire raison d’etre is to profit. It has even gone to the lengths of “mandating” the REM to provide it an annual profit of about 10 per cent, a cost to be assumed by the governments of Quebec and Canada in the event the REM isn’t profitable.

The law that has made the REM possible has other interesting components. The REM is legally distinct from and superior to other public transit agencies and the extant regional planning authority. It has exclusive access to publicly-funded transit infrastructure. There’s even a “non-compete” clause with the city’s existing mass transit services, as well as special surtax on all properties within a 1km radius of each of the 26 proposed stations.

This latter element takes on a new dimension when you consider the CDPQ’s real-estate arm, Ivanhoé-Cambridge, has a near total monopoly on the properties surrounding the future downtown nexus of the REM, and is invested in suburban shopping centres that will soon host REM stations.

It seems that Montreal isn't so much getting a new mass transit system as a pension fund is using a new transport system to stimulate growth in a faltering if not moribund commercial and residential property sector.

Quebec’s public pensions have historically invested in suburban sprawl. As this market becomes increasingly untenable, and populations shift back towards the city centre, the REM is supposed to stimulate growth in “transit-oriented developments” centred on its future stations. The new surtaxes are likely intended to force sales of land for immediate redevelopment, so that new homes are ready to move into as soon as the system becomes operational.

It’s important here to remember that the city of Montreal wasn’t given several billion dollars by the government with which to spend developing its mass transit system. Rather, Quebec’s former premier asked the CDPQ to come up with a way to integrate several long-standing yet unrealized transit proposals. These included a light-rail system over Montreal’s new Champlain Bridge, an express train to Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, and a dedicated commuter rail line for the Western suburbs. It was the CDPQ that proposed a fully-automated light-rail system that would use existing technology as well as some of Montreal’s extant railway infrastructure as an inexpensive way of uniting several different projects into an assumedly more efficient one.

So far so good. Cities need more mass transit, especially in the era of climate change, and Montreal contends with regular congestion both on its roadways and various mass transit systems. Moreover, access to the city’s already generally-high quality public transit systems is an important driver of property values and new residential development.

Considering the evident need for more transit, the REM theoretically provides an opportunity to kill several birds with one stone. Better still, the REM will in all likelihood stimulate the transit-oriented developments and re-urbanisation necessary for a more sustainable future city.

A map of the proposed network, with metro lines in colour and commuter rail in grey. Click to expand. Image: Calvin411/Wikimedia Commons.

The REM is the business “test case” on which two new government entities are based; the CDPQ’s infrastructure development arm, and the Canadian government’s infrastructure development bank.

The REM is also intended to stimulate economic activity in important economic sectors – such as engineering, construction and technology – that could soon be in high-demand internationally. Both the governments of Quebec and Canada see tremendous value in the economic potential of infrastructure mega projects at home and abroad.

This aside, the actual development of the REM has been complicated by what appears to be a bad case of over-promising and under-delivering, at least in terms of how seamlessly it could be integrated into the city’s extant transit and transport systems.

Though the train as originally conceived was intended to use an existing electrified railway line as the backbone of the network, it now appears that the REM cannot in fact be adapted to the line’s current voltage. The entire line, and the tunnel it passes through, requires a thorough overhaul, something that had last been completed in the mid-1990s. The new electrification, as well as the reconstruction of the tunnel, will cut it off from the regional commuter rail network. Rather than have different types of rail systems share existing infrastructure, the REM will force the premature (and unnecessary) retirement of a fleet of high-volume electric trains.

Consider that while the REM will connect the city with its international airport, it’s not planned to go just one kilometre farther to connect the airport with a major multi-modal transit station. Dorval Station integrates a sizeable suburban bus terminus with a train station that serves both regional commuter rail as well as the national railways network.

It’s difficult to understand how and why such an obvious and useful connection wasn’t considered. Given long-standing interest in high-speed and/or high-frequency rail service in Canada, La Presse columnist François Cardinal has noted that a REM connection between airport and a likely future rail hub would extend access to international air travel far further than just downtown Montreal.


The REM was also supposed to integrate seamlessly into the Montreal’s built environment, its promoters insisting construction could be completed with minimal inconvenience to current transit users. By the end of this year, REM-related construction will force a two-year closure of Montreal’s most-used commuter rail line, and sever the most recently-built rail line off from the transit hubs in the centre of the city. Tens of thousands of commuters throughout the Montreal region will be forced to make do with already over-saturated bus and métro service.

Though public consultations revealed these and other flaws, concerns raised by the public, by professionals and even some politicians were largely ignored. The REM also failed its environmental assessment. The provincial agency responsible for such evaluations, the BAPE, stated baldly that the project wasn't ready for primetime and lambasted the CDPQ’s lack of transparency. In turn, the BAPE was accused of exceeding its mandate. The REM made a similarly poor impression, with transit users groups, architects and urban planners criticizing the project in whole and in part.

The main points of contention are that the REM won’t do much in the short term to alleviate congestion across the city’s existing – and comparatively expansive - mass-transit network. Quite the opposite: it is already beginning to exacerbate the problem.

Because the REM was conceived without the involvement of either the city’s main transit agency or the regional transit planning authority, its progress is hampered by a wide-variety of problems that would otherwise likely have been planned for. And because it’s a mass-transit solution to what is primarily a political consideration, the REM will provide higher-frequency service of dubious necessity to the city’s low-density suburban hinterland, much of which already has ample commuter-focused transit service. The high-density urban-core, which is most in need of transit expansion, will benefit perhaps least of all.

While it’s unlikely the REM will fail outright, it’s also unlikely to stimulate much new interest in using mass-transit services: it will first have to win back those who may abandon mass-transit while the REM is being built. Providing higher-frequency service to suburbia is the kind of thing that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t respond to commuters’ actual needs. Arguably the REM’s best feature – its real-estate development potential – has been somewhat obscured from public view because of obvious conflicts of interest. The REM’s limitations – and there are many – will for the most part only become known once the system is operational, at which point it will be too late.

The REM provides interesting theoretical avenues worthy of exploration – particularly the potential relationships between new transit development and how it may stimulate new growth in the housing sector. But building a new transit system – especially one this large and complex – ultimately requires the fullest possible degree of cooperation; with transit users, extant transit agencies and regional planning bodies.

Ignoring the recommendations of experts, the public and government assessment agencies for the sake of expediency is never a wise idea. When it comes to designing and implementing the mass-transit systems of the future, the needs, wants and opinions of users must be paramount. In Montreal, it appears as though they were an afterthought and an inconvenience.

Whether Montrealers will be able to vote with their wallets remains to be seen. Under the specific conditions set with which to integrate the REM into Montreal's overal mass transit scheme, other types of transit have either been replaced by the REM or will have their routes and schedules modified to better serve it. The REM removes operational redundancy between different systems in an effort to be more efficient, but this will likely have the effect of forcing many Montreal transit users to use a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn't suit anyone's needs

It’s difficult to imagine how forcing people to use a transit system they never asked for will encourage greater use.