The amateur map designer who remade London's tube map takes on the "night tube"

A detail from the redesigned version of London's night tube map. Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had “Deep Throat”. Here at CityMetric, we have “SameBoat” – the anonymous Wikipedia user whose redesign of London’s tube map was, we felt, so much better than the official version.

Deep Throat kept his identity secret for over 30 years, before finally coming clean as FBI agent Mark Felt in 2005. SameBoat, though, has come forward after barely more than a month. He's the Hong Kong-based graphic designer and sound engineer by the name of Thomas Lee, who designs metro maps in his spare time.

Obviously we're too modest to say that the whole affair shows we’re better reporters than Woodward and Bernstein. That's for you to decide.

Anyway – the reason we can bring you this exclusive information is that, this morning, SameBoat got in contact to let us know that he'd done a “night tube” version of his map, too.

Transport for London's own night tube map is a fairly significant redesign of its (increasingly, eye-gougingly awful) day tube map. SameBoat's isn't – it's a version of his day tube map, but with most of the lines faded out. The goal, he told us in an email, was to keep the sense of how the lines interrelated.

Here's the result:

Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

And here, since you were wondering, is the official TfL version.

 

As to which of the two maps we prefer, we can't quite decide. TfL's night tube map is undeniably stylish. It shows the network with undeniable clarity, too. (Those are two qualities that have been singularly absent from the main tube map of late.) SameBoat's amateur version is less polished.


And yet – there probably is some benefit in showing the lines that aren't open at night. Regular traveller's eyes will be instantly drawn to the part of the map where they'd expect to see their station. Showing lines as faded may actually communicate the idea of "no service" more quickly than not showing them at all.

Here's what SameBoat (or "Lee", as we should probably call him now) says about his latest map:

There is an ongoing debate [about whether] TfL should redraw the Night Tube map from scratch instead of basing it on the daytime version with all the seemingly unnecessary kinks for ducking the non-existent daytime elements.

I think making the map from scratch is much easier for the cartographers because there are only five main lines. But that would increase the travellers's burden of knowledge about the newly twisted geography of the night time topological map.

I chose to preserve the daytime routes but make them much paler. [They] serve as geographic indicators without distracting readers from the night time routes.

Incidentally, Lee also noted that he was quite happy for us to describe him as an "amateur map designer":

Harry Beck wasn't a professional graphic designer to begin with, so I don't feel any shame at all.

Fair point.

Here's a clip of Sameboat's new tube map. You can see the full thing here.

Want more tube maps? Really? Are you sure? Oh well, if you insist.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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