This amateur London Tube map someone posted on Wikipedia is far better than the real thing

Well, this is much better. Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last couple of weeks we have spent extensive time whinging about quite how bad the new version of London's tube map is. (Yes, we're obsessed, but let's not pretend, dear reader, that you are otherwise.) It's cramped, it’s unclear, and it just isn't very pretty.

Well. Over the weekend it came to our attention that someone else out there felt similarly. But they, unlike us, had decided to actually do something about it. 

This anonymous hero, a Hong Kong resident who goes by the name of "SameBoat", has been posting their own re-jigged tube map to Wikipedia since last August. Unlike Transport for London's version, this one basically abandons the 80-year old template we're all so familiar with and starts again. It retains the map's straight lines and 45 angles where appropriate; but isn't afraid to abandon them where necessary.

You can see the full version, at the correct scale, here. But to give you a flavour, here's central London on the official map:


And here’s SameBoat’s new version:


Here are some other things we like about the map:

It actually bothers to show different Overground lines in different colours

One of our biggest complaints about the new Tube map is that it shows TfL's increasingly cumbersome Overground empire in a single shade of orange, thus making it hard to tell which line you're looking at at any one time.

SameBoat's version corrects that, showing new fewer than seven different Overground routes:

We're not convinced by the names. (The old East London line is now the South Chord? Really?) But at least this version has names – and more importantly, colours, to make it clearer where there are direct trains on offer.

It shows out of station interchanges

There are a pairs of stations that are close enough to each other to make useful interchanges, and where the ticketing system will allow you to change trains – yet which the official map has kept secret. This new map makes those changes visible:

Some of these are more useful than others. It's not hard to think of journeys that could make use of the short hop from Camden Town to Camden Road, for example; whereas the long walk from Ickenham to West Ruislip is far less likely to come in handy. Ideally the map would communicate the length of the walk required, too.

But, you can’t have everything, and since those are official interchanges, it seems better to show them than not.

It shows the correct geographical relationship between the two Bethnal Green stations

No more pretending that Bethnal Green Overground is north of Bethnal Green Underground, which was always lunacy.

Now, if we could just get TfL to rename one of them.

It shows all the new lines and extensions currently in progress

That includes the new Watford branch on the Metropolitan...

...the new Battersea branch on the Northern...

...the Overground extension to Barking Riverside...

...and of course, Crossrail.

That means that, unlike TfL's designers, the people behind this map are unlikely to be wrong-footed by the arrival of a new line that's only been planned for the past 30 years.

It doesn't show that sodding cable car

Nuff said.

There are inevitably aspects of this map we're less keen on too. It’s simplified the design in part by abandoning attempts to show wheelchair accessibility, which – were it to happen on the real map – would be seen as a backward step. And in places this new map sends outer branches through weird 90 degree turns – so the Central line heads east from Loughton to Epping, that sort of thing. It's a clever way of keeping the map compact, but still looks weird to our eyes. 

The fact that the Chingford line trains don't serve London Fields or Cambridge Heath is shown, but doesn't make much sense if you're not already aware of this fact. Similarly, while it's great to see Tramlink on a tube map at last, it's a bit of a shame it doesn't have any stations on. But that said, there are numerous versions of this map available on Wikipedia, suggesting that it's a work in progress. Perhaps these things will be fixed in a future version.

On the whole, sacrilege though it may be to say it, we much prefer this version of the Tube map to the proper one. SameBoat, if you're reading this: we salute you.

PS We've just noticed that, on the proper version of this map, you can click on a line in the key and it'll flash cheerfully at you from the map. So that's pretty cool, too.

PPS This is a representation of the interchanges that'll be available at Canary Wharf once the new Crossrail station opens. We think it's accurate. It's also bloody horrible.

Can someone please do some renaming or something to sort this mess out? Okay thanks bye.

All images courtesy of SameBoat, under Wikimedia Commons.


“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.

You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

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

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