Map: Which languages are spoken at different tube stops?

Image: Oliver O'Brien.

We probably don't need to tell you that London is a very diverse city. At the time of the last census,  37 per cent of the population were foreign-born and over 250 langauages were spoken within city limits. For around 1.7 million Londoners, English is a second language. 

To visualise quite how linguistically diverse the city is, Oliver O'Brien, a researcher at UCL, used 2011 census data to map the most common language besides English spoken by those living within 200m of London Underground, Overground, DLR and future Crossrail stations.

Here's central London (you see an interactive version showing the whole network at Tube Tongues):

The size of the circles represents the percentage of people who spoke the second most dominant language. To give you a rough idea, in Shadwell, the largest visible circle, 32.8 per cent of census respondants spoke Bengali.

The dominance of French in Soho, Marlybone and Mayfair is a little surprising – though, as you can see from the size of the circles, the percentages weren't actually that high (around 5 or 6 per cent); the emphasis on French in the UK education system may also have something to do with it. Bengali dominates in east London, and Arabic in west. Unsurprisingly, there's a clutch of Chinese-dominated stops around Chinatown.

In fact, language communities seem to group around certain areas: very few of the stops are dominated by a language that doesn't dominate another stop nearby.

Another trend is that, for the most part (with the notable exception of the Gujarati speakers in Willesden and Wembley) the circles tend to get smaller as you move out towards the ends of tube lines. This implies either that the city's ourskirts are less diverse, or that one language doesn't dominate. On the Central line, it seems to be the former. Here's a breakdown of the languages spoken in Epping, up at the northernmost end, compared with Leytonstone, just a few stops down:

The most linguistically diverse stop of all was Turnpike Lane in northeast London, home to 16 languages. We propose a name change to "Babel". 

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.