A design firm wants to replace the Circle line with three moving walkways

Notting Hill Gate, as reimagined by the firm. Image: NBBJ.

The Circle Line is, let's face it, terrible. It's slow, it's often delayed, and it isn't even a real circle

So NBBJ, an architecture design firm, has come up with a faintly outlandish solution. The firm has proposed that the line's tunnels be filled with three speeds of travelator (you know, those flat escalators) which could whizz passengers between stations at roughly the same speed as Underground trains, but with none of the waiting and claustrophobic carriages.

Here's a view of the proposed set-up, complete with food kiosks and a place to sit along the fastest channel:


The fastest walkway would travel at 15mph, and the slowest at 3mph. Based on these speeds, plus an average 3mph walking speed, passengers would get to their destination just as quickly as they would on a Circle Line train (which reach speeds of 20 mph), especially as the walkways wouldn't need to slow or stop at stations. The designers claim that using the walkways, 55,000 passengers could travel on the line, which stretches for 17 miles, at any one time. It's not clear, however, what would happen to Metropolitan and District line trains which share sections of track with the Circle line.

We've written about NBBJ before - they came up with a model which would reduce the shadows thrown by skyscrapers over cities - and, once again, this idea is interesting (if outlandish). Yet no matter who London's mayor is come 2016, we doubt they'd agree to a complete redesign of an entire Tube line, even if it meant the journey from King's Cross to Baker Street would no longer be a slow, human-stuffed nightmare. 

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

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