Is this how the tube map will look in 2040?

Oooooooh. Image: Ali Carr.

Great news for fans of London transport, and also fans for whining about how London gets all the transport funding: TfL has big plans.

The capital’s transport authority is currently putting the finishing touches to its shiny new forelock-tugging east-west railway, the Elizabeth line. There are also proposals for a new branch of the Northern line to Battersea, and an extension to the London Overground to Barking Riverside, on the table; plus longer term plans including Crossrail 2, a Bakerloo extension into darkest south east London and, most excitingly of all, more trams.

It can be difficult to envision how all that looks on the map. Lucky for us, then, that an amateur designer has been busy showing us. Ali Carr posted the Unofficial 2040 Tube Map to the Rail UK Forums earlier this year. Here it is now:

Click to expand.

Carr’s map builds on the existing tube map to show a whole host of proposals of varying degrees of probability. It shows Crossrail 2 snaking its way across central London:

It shows the new, Old Oak Common station:

It shows a pair of Northern lines, with the Battersea branch completed and the resulting services split in two:

It shows the Bakerloo line continuing south to Hayes, an eastward Crossrail extension to Gravesend, and a southern London Overground one to Thamesmead:

 

There’s even some stuff I hadn’t realised was on the table, such as an Overground extension to Hounslow, and the Piccadilly line extending to Ealing Broadway to simplify services on the District:

There’s something else it shows, however – not an extended line, but an expanded problem. Through no fault of Carr’s, parts of the new map are a bit of a mess. Consider the areas around Farringdon, Euston and Kings Cross:

Or the new Tramlink route from South Wimbledon to Sutton, which doesn’t seem to interact with the existing one at all:

Or the whole confusing mess of north east London, where multiple tubes and Overground lines are now competing with Crossrail 2 for space:

 

As I say, I really don’t’ think the problem here is with Ali Carr’s handiwork. Rather, it’s because the new map uses the existing one as a template – and the profusion of lines either newly built or newly controlled by Transport for London is making the map unreadable. The map is already losing the cleanness and simplicity that made Harry Beck’s original design so iconic. And the more lines it includes, the more cluttered it becomes.

If even a fraction of TfL’s plans come off, it might be time for a radical rethink.

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

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook


All images courtesy of Ali Carr.

 
 
 
 

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.