The 11 most irritating things about London Overground's London Overground map

Severe delays again. Image: Getty.

Here's a tweet I spotted on my travels earlier:

It’s a good point – a point, in fact, I was pondering on an Overground train only yesterday evening. (CityMetric never sleeps.)

And so, since it’s Friday, here is a litany of things that really irritate me about that map.

It's pointless

The Tube Map has a clear purpose. The Tube is London’s highest frequency, highest capacity railway, and the one that's most useful in central London. And  so, there's a reasonable chance that the Tube map will show your journey.

None of that is true of this map. Want to get from Cheshunt to Canary Wharf? Sorry, the latter isn't on there. Clapham to Camden Town? Well you could go all the way round the houses on the Overground, but to be honest you'd be better off getting the Northern Line. Trying to get almost anywhere in Central London? LOL, good luck.

What exactly is this map meant to be for?

The whole thing. Click to expand. Image: Project Mapping.

It's showing off

Mind you, it's only on trains anyway, not on platforms or apps or anywhere else you might go looking for a map. The odds of anyone ever being in a position to use this to plan their journey, even if they actually wanted to, are pretty minimal.

So why's it there? Presumably just so that TFL can show off how big its rail empire has got. It's the cartographic equivalent of willy-waving.

It's just far too orange

Depending on how you count, the Overground now has somewhere between six and 12 different routes in its empire. (I'd call it seven – East London, North London, Watford, Gospel Oak-Barking, Chingford, Enfield/Cheshunt, Romford-Upminster – but mileage clearly varies.)

Yet TfL are still intent on bundling them all together and calling the resulting mess "Overground". This not only makes the map hard to follow, and butt-ugly, to boot; it also means that you have no idea whether announcements about severe delays on the Overground mean a broken down train 15 miles away in Essex or "give up and hire a donkey".

More lines are meant to be joining the Overground over the next few years. For heaven's sake, TfL, find some other colours. Find some names even. Just stop pretending they're all the same thing.

It's also not orange enough

 

The tramlines as they appear on the tube map, contrasted with the solid colour of the District line.

Look, if you're going to force us to look at so much of one bloody colour, can't you at least fill the line in? Hollow tramlines get right on my nerve.

It doesn't show a change between Seven Sisters and South Tottenham

They're both right there, guys. They're a four minute walk apart.

You ever changed at Green Park? Did it take you more than four minutes? You're goddamn right it did.

Don't make me take matters here into my own hands here.

The way the shape of the map forces all the lines to run horizontally

Showing all the lines paralleling each other makes everything cramped. Showing all the lines paralleling each other makes the map difficult to follow. Showing all the lines paralleling each other also results in...

Its complete and utter lack of geography

Okay, metro maps generally throw geographic accuracy to the wind – that was Harry Beck's big idea, and well has it served us.

But this just takes the biscuit. West Croydon next to Clapham Junction? Cheshunt near Brondesbury? The two zone one stations so far apart they might as well be on different planets? It's madness. Utter madness.

It doesn’t show a change between Camden Road and Camden Town

Okay, there's a reason for this – Camden Town is so overcrowded it's a miracle TfL haven't started pretending it doesn't exist at all, just to stop people using it – but nonetheless it's the single most irritating absence on the map because that change would be really bloody useful.

The very fact of the Romford to Upminster line

Aww, look at the cute little thing. Which doesn't go anywhere, doesn't go there very often, and doesn't even bother to connect up with the rest of the network.

Once Crossrail comes in, it'll tie the network together a bit better...

...but at the moment it just looks stupid.

It has those confusing sword symbols next to London Fields and Cambridge Heath

The Lea Valley bit of the Overground is really two separate lines. One runs from Liverpool Street to Chingford; the other from Liverpool Street to Edmonton, with the trains then continuing alternately to either Enfield Town or Cheshunt.

The second of those sevices stops at every station on the way; the former doesn't.

Well maybe you need a better map then guys? Eh?

No really, it's pointless

Kind of repeating an earlier point here, I know, but seriously, what is the point of this thing? Why does it exist? Under what circumstances are we expected to use it?

What's it for?

Other than giving me something to moan about on a Friday afternoon.

Oh well, I guess that’s something.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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