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.

 
 
 
 

In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.