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.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

All map clips courtesy of Transport for London.

 
 
 
 

Podcast: Beyond the wall, with John Lanchester

A sea wall in Japan. Image: Getty.

This week it’s another live episode, of sorts. In early April I was lucky enough to chair an event at the Cambridge Literary Festival with the journalist and novelist John Lanchester.

John was mostly there to promote his latest novel, The Wall, a “cli-fi” book about a Britain trundling on after catastrophic climate change has wiped out much of the planet. In the past he’s also written about other vaguely CityMetric-y topics like the housing crisis and the tube - so he’s a guest I’ve been hoping to get on for a while, and was kind enough to allow us to record our chat for posterity and podcasting purposes.

Incidentally, I didn’t find a way of turning the conversation to the tube. We do lose ten minutes to talking about Game of Thrones, though.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

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

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.