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

Charing Cross. This station has the WRONG NAME. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

You see, something people get wrong about me is that they think I’m a train nerd. I’m not, not really – I hardly know anything about how trains actually work, as should have been obvious from that embarrassing incident in which I accidentally published some pictures of model trains under the impression they were the real thing, and found myself being mocked on four continents. 

What I actually am is a map nerd, and metro maps most especially. I spend more of my time thinking about the Tube Map and the myriad ways in which the powers that be have been gradually ruining the thing than is probably entire healthy. 

But that’s not the only map of London’s trains. The Rail & Tube Services Map, which includes the assorted heavy rail services in the capital not run by Transport for London, shows nearly twice as many stations as the Tube Map. That just gives me twice as many things to get annoyed by.

So here, with no particular justification, are seven things I really wish they’d change, on one or both of those maps – things the authorities could change and which would, without spending a penny on new rolling stock, stations or track, make London’s railway network ever so slightly better.

We shall begin with some aggravating station names. 

The two Edgware Roads

An easy one to start off with.

There are two stations on the London Underground called Edgware Road. Unlike the two Hammersmiths (across a road) or the three West Hampsteads (across a couple of roads, but still basically adjacent), they’re not even slightly convenient for each other. Look:

Image: TfL.

Okay, that’s only about 200m apart – but there’s a bloody great urban motorway in the way. You are never, in a million years, going to change from one of these to the other, when you can make the same change much more easily one stop up the line at Baker Street.

Image: Google.

So why not give them different names? After all, the map has always shown them as separate, and other ridiculously close pairs of stations (Bayswater/Queensway, Cannon St/Monumnt, large chunks of the DLR) get different names. So why not here? Why not, eh?

The two Bethnal Greens

Okay, this one is the same and yet, somehow, worse. 

Partly that’s because they’re much further apart: this time, the walk is more like 500m. Partly it’s because the map.

Look at how the two Bethnal Greens are positioned here:

[

Image: TfL.

In the unlikely event you’d want to change from the Overground to the Underground, you’d head south, right? Ha, wrong. Look:

[

Image: Google.

For the love of god, rename one of those stations. 

There’s even the perfect alternative, just waiting: Bethnal Green Overground could be Weaver’s Fields. Isn’t that nice? It’s lovely. Don’t @ me.

Paddington

Okay, this one’s more complicated, so bear with me. (Bear with me? Paddington? Bear? Pah, I’m wasted on you people.)

So anyway, Paddington London Underground station is really two stations. There’s the bigger one, at the southern end of the mainline station, which is served by the Bakerloo line and by Circle and District line trains heading between Edgware Road and Bayswater. Then there’s a smaller one at the northern end of the station, which is served by Hammersmith & City or Circle line trains on the Hammersmith branch, and which looks more like a pair of mainline through-platforms, for the very good reason that it is. They even get numbered: lying beyond platform 14 as they do, they’re platforms 15 & 16.

The upshot of this is that while both are perfectly adequate changes for the mainline station, they’re of no use forever if you want to change from one to the other (if you were travelling from Westbourne Park to Bayswater, say). There’s no attempt to communicate this on either the Tube Map…

Image: TfL.

…or on the Rail & Tube map:

Image: TfL.

Once again – would some kind of way of distinguishing between them be so much to ask? You may think this is a minor issue, but I had a great aunt who announced her intentions to change trains at Paddington once, and we never saw her again. Goes to show.

Blackfriars

What’s this?

Image: Network Rail.

It’s an artist’s impression of the South Bank entrance to Blackfriars station. (It’s actually been open since 2011, but I was in a hurry and I couldn’t find a contemporary image. So sue me. Yes, I know it’s not the real thing, I’m not making that mistake again, no fear.)

The existence of this entrance is not currently communicated by the rail map, which acts like Blackfriars – which is unique in crossing the Thames – is still entirely on the north bank of the river. This, to me, feels silly.

The tube station is, admittedly, confined to the north side of the river, so perhaps the two need to be distinguished in some way. Blackfriars Bridge station has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?


Sorting out Charing Cross

The tube stations at Charing Cross and Embankment are such a mess that Jack May, late of this parish, once got about 2,000 words out of it.

The key thing for our purposes, though, is that the tube station now known as Charing Cross used to be two tube stations: Trafalgar Square (on the Bakerloo) and Strand (on the Northern). These were merged when the Jubilee arrived in 1979, but since it un-arrived 20 years later Charing Cross tube has just been an incredibly stupid place to change trains.

So, why not undo the merger? Go back to Trafalgar Square and Strand again, and put an end to the fiction that Embankment isn’t just as worthy a tube station for Charing Cross.

We can make a better world, guys. You just have to believe.

The Cannon Street link

Everyone knows about the escalator link between Monument and Bank stations, even if the trip I forced my granddad to make to show me it at some point in the late 1980s proved ultimately disappointing for all-concerned.

What you may not realise, though, is quite how close Cannon Street station is to Bank. Look:

Image: Google.

Since 2011, that’s even been an OSI – an out of station interchange, meaning that you can change from the national rail station to the tube at Bank and the ticketing system will treat it as a single journey. For commuters on the lines into Cannon Street, that’s often the best way to reach Docklands or the West End.

So why the big secret, TfL? What are you afraid of, hmm?

The horror of Canary Wharf

Okay, last one, for now. Canary Wharf tube station is separate from but sited between Canary Wharf DLR station and Heron Quays DLR station. Despite being called Canary Wharf, it is slightly more convenient for Heron Quays.

In four months’ time, Canary Wharf Elizabeth line station will open. This will be situated between Canary Wharf DLR station and West India Quay DLR station, but despite being called Canary Wharf will slightly more convenient for West India Quay.

Image: Google.

I haven’t seen the map yet, but... you can see the problem, right? Please tell me you can see the problem. Please tell me that it’s not just me. 

Please.

I realised halfway through writing this that it’s the first part of a series. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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

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What Citymapper’s business plan tells us about the future of Smart Cities

Some buses. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

In late September, transport planning app Citymapper announced that it had accumulated £22m in losses, nearly doubling its total loss since the start of 2019. 

Like Uber and Lyft, Citymapper survives on investment funding rounds, hoping to stay around long enough to secure a monopoly. Since the start of 2019, the firm’s main tool for establishing that monopoly has been the “Citymapper Pass”, an attempt to undercut Transport for London’s Oyster Card. 

The Pass was teased early in the year and then rolled out in the spring, promising unlimited travel in zones 1-2 for £31 a week – cheaper than the TfL rate of £35.10. In effect, that means Citymapper itself is paying the difference for users to ride in zones 1-2. The firm is basically subsidising its customers’ travel on TfL in the hopes of getting people hooked on its app. 

So what's the company’s gameplan? After a painful, two-year long attempt at a joint minibus and taxi service – known variously as Smartbus, SmartRide, and Ride – Citymapper killed off its plans at a bus fleet in July. Instead of brick and mortar, it’s taken a gamble on their mobile mapping service with Pass. It operates as a subscription-based prepaid mobile wallet, which is used in the app (or as a contactless card) and operates as a financial service through MasterCard. Crucially, the service offers fully integrated, unlimited travel, which gives the company vital information about how people are actually moving and travelling in the city.

“What Citymapper is doing is offering a door-to-door view of commuter journeys,” says King’s College London lecturer Jonathan Reades, who researches smart cities and the Oyster card. 

TfL can only glean so much data from your taps in and out, a fact which has been frustrating for smart city researchers studying transit data, as well as companies trying to make use of that data. “Neither Uber nor TfL know what you do once you leave their system. But Citymapper does, because it’s not tied to any one system and – because of geolocation and your search – it knows your real origin and destination.” 

In other words, linking ticketing directly with a mapping service means the company can get data not only about where riders hop on and off the tube, but also how they're planning their route, whether they follow that plan, and what their final destination is. The app is paying to discount users’ fares in order to gain more data.

Door-to-door destinations gives a lot more detailed information about a rider’s profile as well: “Citymapper can see that you’re also looking at high-profile restaurant as destinations, live in an address on a swanky street in Hammersmith, and regularly travel to the City.” Citymapper can gain insights into what kind of people are travelling, where they hang out, and how they cluster in transit systems. 

And on top of finding out data about how users move in a city, Citymapper is also gaining financial data about users through ticketing, which reflects a wider trend of tech companies entering into the financial services market – like Apple’s recent foray into the credit card business with Apple Card. Citymapper is willing to take a massive hit because the data related to how people actually travel, and how they spend their money, can do a lot more for them than help the company run a minibus service: by financialising its mapping service, it’s getting actual ticketing data that Google Maps doesn’t have, while simultaneously helping to build a routing platform that users never really have to leave


The integrated transit app, complete with ticket data, lets Citymapper get a sense of flows and transit corridors. As the Guardian points out, this gives Citymapper a lot of leverage to negotiate with smaller transit providers – scooter services, for example – who want to partner with it down the line. 

“You can start to look at ‘up-sell’ and ‘cross-sell’ opportunities,” explain Reades. “If they see that a particular journey or modal mix is attractive then they are in a position to act on that with their various mobility offerings or to sell that knowledge to others. 

“They might sell locational insights to retailers or network operators,” he goes on. “If you put a scooter bay here then we think that will be well-used since our data indicates X; or if you put a store here then you’ll be capturing more of that desirable scooter demographic.” With the rise of electric rideables, Citymapper can position itself as a platform operator that holds the key to user data – acting a lot like TfL, but for startup scooter companies and car-sharing companies.

The app’s origins tell us a lot about the direction of its monetisation strategy. Originally conceived as “Busmapper”, the app used publicly available transit data as the base for its own datasets, privileging transit data over Google Maps’ focus on walking and driving.  From there it was able to hone in on user data and extract that information to build a more efficient picture of the transit system. By collecting more data, it has better grounds for selling that for urban planning purposes, whether to government or elsewhere.

This kind of data-centred planning is what makes smart cities possible. It’s only become appealing to civic governments, Reades explains, since civic government has become more constrained by funding. “The reason its gaining traction with policy-makers is because the constraints of austerity mean that they’re trying to do more with less. They use data to measure more efficient services.”  

The question now is whether Citymapper’s plan to lure riders away from the Oyster card will be successful in the long term. Consolidated routing and ticketing data is likely only the first step. It may be too early to tell how it will affect public agencies like TfL – but right now Citymapper is establishing itself as a ticketing service - gaining valuable urban data, financialising its app, and running up those losses in the process.

When approached for comment, Citymapper claimed that Pass is not losing money but that it is a “growth startup which is developing its revenue streams”. The company stated that they have never sold data, but “regularly engage with transport authorities around the world to help improve open data and their systems”

Josh Gabert-Doyon tweets as @JoshGD.