5 more ways they should change London’s tube & rail map to make it less annoying to me personally

My eyes! My eyes! Image: TfL.

Right, where were we.

The zonal map is awful

I mean, look at it:

Who on earth looked at London’s tube map and thought, “I reckon what it really needs is more shades of grey than some badly written mummy porn”?

It was bad enough before TfL decided to put a whole bunch of stations in east London in both zones 2 AND 3 and had to come up with a third shade.

My eyes! My eyes!

And then there’s the fact that Tramlink fares work differently to tube and rail fares, but it’s still on the map, so TfL just pretends it exists in its own special weird green zone:

The thing that bugs me about it is how it privileges the fare zones above all else. The rail & tube map offers remarkably little information about, say, whether a station is a stupid place to even attempt to reach if you happen to be in a wheelchair, because you literally can’t get out.


But whether your journey ends in zone 3 or zone 4, and thus you have to pay an extra 60p? Well that’s something worth wrecking the entire map for. Just come up with another way to show this information, in the name of god.

While we’re on the zones:

The outer zone numbering system is really awful

Once upon a time, those few tube stations outside TfL’s domain were in unnumbered zones. You went from zone 5 to zone 6 to zone A, right up to D. Since numbers don’t go “5, 6, 7, A, B, C”, this was a bit ugly.

So as TfL has expanded its empire, it decided to replace those with zones 7, 8 and 9. Why there are three not four I have no idea, but in principle this is much cleaner – and, since cartographical cleanliness is next to cartographical godliness, I decided that I approve.

Except it doesn’t quite work. Look at this:

Look at the top right. That’s Watford Junction in its own special zone, known, off-map, as Zone W.

There’s a logic here – Virgin Rail doesn’t want anyone getting away with jumping on its expensive intercity trains to Birmingham and only paying a zone 1-9 fare. Fair enough.

Except because Watford High Street, the next stop up the line, is in zone 8, and since the system works on the principle of concentric zones, the cartographers decided to pretend that the train passes through zone 9, which just doesn’t happen to have any stations in it, even though Watford Junction is only about a kilometre away.

Unusually thin zone, zone 9.

Oh, and to mess things up further, Watford station on the metropolitan line is in zone 7, despite being obviously further from London than Bushey, which is in zone 8. The whole system is fucked.

Image: Google/CityMetric.

There’s a similar thing further east, where Cheshunt is in zone 8, but the next stop up the line, Broxbourne, is out of the zonal system, although this is more forgivable as it’s 4km away.

On TfL Rail, Harold Wood is zone 6. Brentwood, the next stop 5km up the line, is zone 9. Since the whole of Greater London is contained in the first six zones, we have to assume that zones 7 and 8 are both covered in the 2.4 km between Brentwood station and the county boundary, which is deeply aggravating and also silly.

It’s even worse further south, where Purfleet station lies inside the M25, yet has found itself placed outside zones 7, 8 and 9, which presumably are hard up against the Greater London boundary and are about three feet wide apiece.

I’m sure there are reasons for all this, probably involving TfL not wanting to stuff itself or a train operating company by massively lowering fares – but for the love of god, since zones 7-9 don’t extend around the whole of Greater London anyway, stop pretending that they’re there when they’re quite obviously not.

Honestly.

And then there’s Heathrow

What the fuck is going on here?

This looks like an attempt to communicate that Heathrow Express tickets are hilariously expensive, by showing the Heathrow Express running outside the zones.

There are three problems with this.

  • TfL Rail and Heathrow Express, despite what the map suggests, literally share tracks;
  • The Heathrow stations are still shown in zone 6, so one might naturally assume you’d pay a zone 1-6 fare, which you wouldn’t;
  • TfL Rail fares are two to three times as much as tube ones, a fact the map makes no attempt to communicate. (See DiamondGeezer for more on this here.)

What is the point of making the map this ugly in an attempt to communicate fare information, if it’s going to be completely bloody useless at communicating that information anyway? Just stop it.

Oh no, not part time services

Ewww.

Gah.

Aaaargh.

Do we really need to show these things? Do they really do any good? C2C has been diverting trains to Liverpool Street on the regular for years and they’ve never bothered illustrating the fact before. What’s the point in screwing up the map for it now?

Tell the TOCs to stick it

Many years ago, this forerunner of this map coloured its mainline rail services by terminal. North of the river this didn’t make much difference, but in the south it was really helpful: you could suddenly see the shape of the network, that trains from this bit of south east London ran to Victoria rather than Cannon Street and so forth.

Then those blasted train operating companies got involved. Communicating useful information to passengers went out of the window; brand compliance came in. Suddenly the entire south east London rail network is Southeastern blue, and you can no longer tell which mainline terminal you want for, say, Hither Green.

Once upon a time I thought this was done for the benefit of corporate shareholders, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they almost certainly don’t care because why would they. Instead, it’s done for the benefit of marketing managers who want to show corporate shareholders that they play a valuable function on the modern railway, and aren’t, for example, a waste of money and space. Alas, they have chosen to show this by making life very slightly less convenient for passengers.


At any rate: TfL, please tell the TOCs to go screw themselves at your earliest convenience.

There’ll be one more of these. Then I’ll stop. For now. Probably.

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

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All map clips courtesy of Transport for London.

 
 
 
 

“A story of incompetence, arrogance, privilege and power”: A brief history of the Garden Bridge

Ewwww. Image: Heatherwick.

Labour assembly member Tom Copley on a an ignominious history.

The publication last week of the final bill for Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge has once again pushed this fiasco into the headlines.

As well as an eye-watering £43m bill for taxpayers for this Johnsonian indulgence, what has been revealed this week is astonishing profligacy by the arms-length vehicle established to deliver it: the Garden Bridge Trust. The line by line account of their spending reveals £161,000 spent on their website and £400,000 on a gala fundraising event, amongst many other eyebrow raising numbers. 

Bear in mind that back in 2012, Johnson promised that the bridge would be entirely privately funded. The bridge’s most ardent advocate, Joanna Lumley, called it a “tiara for the Thames” and “a gift for London”. Today, the project would seem the very opposite of a “gift”.

The London Assembly has been scrutinising this project since its inception, and I now chair a working group tasked with continuing our investigation. We are indebted to the work of local campaigners around Waterloo as well as Will Hurst of the Architects Journal, who has brought many of the scandals surrounding the project into the open, and who was the subject of an extraordinary public attack by Johnson for doing so.

Yet every revelation about this cursed project has thrown up more questions than it has answers, and it’s worth reminding ourselves just how shady and rotten the story of this project has been.

There was Johnson’s £10,000 taxpayer funded trip to San Francisco to drum up sponsorship for the Thomas Heatherwick garden bridge design, despite the fact that TfL had not at that point even tendered for a designer for the project.

The design contest itself was a sham, with one of the two other architects TfL begged to enter in an attempt to create the illusion of due process later saying they felt “used”. Heatherwick Studios was awarded the contract and made a total of £2.7m from taxpayers from the failed project.


Soon after the bridge’s engineering contract had been awarded to Arup, it was announced that TfL’s then managing director of planning, Richard de Cani, was departing TfL for a new job – at Arup. He continued to make key decisions relating to the project while working his notice period, a flagrant conflict of interest that wouldn’t have been allowed in the civil service. Arup received more than £13m of taxpayer cash from the failed project.

The tendering process attracted such concern that the then Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy, ordered an internal audit of it. The resulting report was a whitewash, and a far more critical earlier draft was leaked to the London Assembly.

As concerns about the project grew, so did the interventions by the bridge’s powerful advocates to keep it on track. Boris Johnson signed a mayoral direction which watered down the conditions the Garden Bridge Trust had to meet in order to gain access to further public money, exposing taxpayers to further risk. When he was hauled in front of the London Assembly to explain this decision, after blustering for while he finally told me that he couldn’t remember.

David Cameron overruled the advice of senior civil servants in order to extend the project’s government credit line. And George Osborne was at one point even more keen on the Garden Bridge than Johnson himself. The then chancellor was criticised by the National Audit Office for bypassing usual channels in order to commit funding to it. Strangely, none of the project’s travails have made it onto the pages of the London Evening Standard, a paper he now edits. Nor did they under his predecessor Sarah Sands, now editor of the Today Programme, another firm advocate for the Garden Bridge.

By 2016 the project appeared to be in real trouble. Yet the Garden Bridge Trust ploughed ahead in the face of mounting risks. In February 2016, despite having not secured the land on the south bank to actually build the bridge on, nor satisfied all their planning consents, the Trust signed an engineering contract. That decision alone has cost the taxpayer £21m.

Minutes of the Trust’s board meetings that I secured from TfL (after much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Trust itself) reveal that weeks beforehand Thomas Heatherwick had urged the trustees to sign the contract in order to demonstrate “momentum”.

Meanwhile TfL, which was represented at board meetings by Richard de Cani and so should’ve been well aware of the mounting risks to the project, astonishingly failed to act in interests of taxpayers by shutting the project down.

Indeed, TfL allowed further public money to be released for the project despite the Trust not having satisfied at least two of the six conditions that had been set by TfL in order to protect the public purse. The decision to approve funding was personally approved by Transport Commissioner Mike Brown, who has never provided an adequate explanation for his decision.

The story of the Garden Bridge project is one of incompetence, arrogance and recklessness, but also of privilege and power. This was “the great and the good” trying to rig the system to force upon London a plaything for themselves wrapped up as a gift.

The London Assembly is determined to hold those responsible to account, and we will particularly focus on TfL’s role in this mess. However, this is not just a London issue, but a national scandal. There is a growing case for a Parliamentary inquiry into the project, and I would urge the Public Accounts Committee to launch an investigation. 

The Garden Bridge may seem like small beer compared to Brexit. But there is a common thread: Boris Johnson. It should appal and outrage us that this man is still being talked about as a potential future Prime Minister. His most expensive vanity project, now dead in the water, perhaps serves as an unwelcome prophecy for what may be to come should he ever enter Number 10.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.