The DLR has a new map – with line colours on it!

A test ride at South Quay in July 1987. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

The Docklands Light Railway may well be worrying that its youth is behind it, and debating whether it’s time to leave London – for this month, the DLR turns 30.

The first passenger trains ran on the network ran on 31 August 1987, and at the time the system was much smaller than it is now: just two branches, from Island Gardens up to Stratford and Tower Gateway respectively. Even those lines had fewer stops than they have now: Pudding Mill Lane (1996), Langdon Park (2006) and, most important, Canary Wharf (1991) didn’t come until later.

Thirty years on, the network has tripled in size, in terms of both route length (from 13km up to 38km), and stations (from 15 to 45). Its tentacles now stretch to Bank and Lewisham, Woolwich and Beckton. There’s even a second route to Stratford, because you can never have too many. (That, at least, seems to be the core principle of London transport planning over the last few decades.)

All this has made for a more complex and confusing network than the 1987 version. So to celebrate the DLR’s birthday, Transport for London has produced a new map. Here you go:

You probably want to click to expand this. Image: TfL.

Two things about the map jump out at me. The smaller one is that hatched chunk of line at the very bottom, which shows that southbound trains from Bank to Lewisham skip West India Quay.

This has been happening for some time: a new section of track opened as part of network capacity upgrades completed in 2009 bypasses the station altogether. But most maps have tended to ignore the fact because, well, it’s difficult to illustrate and West India Quay is a five minute walk from both Poplar to Canary Wharf, so it doesn’t matter very much. This is – correct me if I’m wrong – the first network map that illustrates the bypass graphically, rather than with a footnote.

The bigger change is the introduction of line colours. I have very vague memories of this being a thing on some maps in the early 90s – Beckton was blue, Stratford was red and Bank was green, I think – but this is the first time it’s happened this century.

The line colours are helpful in communicating whether you can get a direct train between two specific stations. And while I instinctively dislike the way they’ve done it, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that the designers are a lot cleverer than me.

Look at all that lovely green. Image: TfL.

My instinct, you see, stems from my long-standing belief that the Northern line of the tube should be broken up into two separate lines, one running via Charing Cross and the other via Bank. Knowing which bit of central London your train is going to seems to me to be more important than knowing which suburb it ends up in.

The DLR designers took a different approach, colouring the lines based on which bit of suburbia they end up in to the south or east. That, in this case, actually makes more sense. Partly that’s because there isn’t really a DLR equivalent of the “oops, I wanted a Bank train” trap for tourists: the destination station alone should give you enough information, without any of that ‘via’ nonsense.


And partly it’s because the DLR doesn’t really serve central London: you’re more likely to want to know if your train will go to Canary Wharf, City Airport or Excel, three stations which are, helpfully, served by three different colours.

Or partly – I’m not ruling this out – I’m wrong about the northern line.

My only other complaint about this map is that the shades of green inescapably bring to mind three slightly different flavour mints.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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“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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