How useful are the “connectors” on the Tube Map really?

All over the map. Image: TfL.

Connectors on the Tube Map are so often the unsung heroes of London’s transport network. Because of its advanced age, many of the lines in the capital snake around each other and interchange in ways that a modern transport system built from scratch would never even consider.

This means some pairs of stations are linked to each other, either through physical connections (like the walkway between Hackney Central and Hackney Downs) or more notionally, via the street (like Forest Gate and Wanstead Park). These links often necessitate a ‘connector’ on the Tube Map, like the big one between Bank and Monument. However, the sheer number of situations in which these humble connectors are applied means they often fall victim to problems.

Case in point: Camden. TfL’s recent public consultation into its upgrade of Camden Town Station noted that the new station, moved up onto Buck Street, will ease interchange with Camden Road Overground station, an option opened up by the new station’s increased capacity.

Image: TfL/CityMetric.

This is already an official “out-of-station interchange” (OSI), which means you can change from one station to the other and have it count as one journey rather than the usual two, and so are charged less on Oyster. You can find the full list of those here.

What stands out, though, is that the interchange TfL is so eager to improve in Camden is one they currently don’t bother to tell passengers about: it just doesn’t appear as a connection on the Tube Map. Unless a savvy passenger were to check, they wouldn’t know that the two Camden stations are only a three minute walk apart.

This is particularly scandalous, given the relative rarity of viable Overground – Underground interchanges. Why would TfL purposefully mislead passengers like this? Moreover, how do they determine when to connect two stations on the map? This is a question that deserves answers, but it feels like there aren’t any.

There is literally no firm way of telling which stations deserve a connector and which don’t

Let’s start with a simple assertion: all of the stations that are connected by underground tunnels are connected on the Tube Map. This, obviously, holds up.

There are also above-ground interchanges, like Clapham High Street/Clapham North, which are signposted and don’t use tunnels. Even though travellers have to enter and exit a ticket gate to use these interchanges, they still work because there is an OSI between them.

But half of the above ground OSIs aren’t shown on the map. And Camden is just the first of many.

Why did they bother with these two but not those two? Image: Tfl/CityMetric

There are lots of stations with OSIs that don’t connect on the Tube Map

A relatively well known example of this is Seven Sisters/South Tottenham; there have been complaints in the past that, despite being just as close together as the two Walthamstow stations to the east, these two don’t appear connected on the map.

But that is simply the first in a line of peculiar choices. Take Dalston Junction to Dalston Kingsland: only a three minute walk apart, they don’t get a visible connection either, even though a sprint between these two could make the difference when catching a train that’s just left Canonbury.

There are even interchanges that really should have an OSI but don’t get one

There are two stations in London called Bethnal Green. The two are about an eight minute walk apart, but they don’t get an out-of-station interchange. You might be wondering whether this is really so egregious: after all, eight minutes is surely a long time, and passengers could simply stay on either line and change at Liverpool Street.

Well, if eight minutes is a long time, then the trek required for the official interchange between Euston and King’s Cross is even longer. As for the change at Liverpool Street, this is a fair criticism – but enabling passengers to change at Bethnal Green would mean they could change without entering Zone 1, and save money as a result.

Double standards. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

But that sets a dangerous precedent, doesn’t it?

Maybe. If we give the OSI between Euston and King’s Cross a thumbs-up, why doesn’t it get a connector? What about the other Central London stations with OSIs? There’s actually quite a lot of them.

The OSI between Warren Street and Euston Square is one example. A simple three minute walk along Euston Road could shave a minute or two off a journey. However, it feels like putting a connector on the Tube Map here would be overkill: travellers could simply walk from Euston instead. Giving all OSIs connectors on the Tube Map could just mean needless clutter and senseless route planning.

And with that, we reach a peculiar sort of conclusion: according to common sense, some stations, like in Camden and Bethnal Green, really need connecting up – but that same common sense could make Central London a complete mess on the Tube Map.


Method in the madness, then?

Yes. So perhaps the fact that there are no hard and fast rules for connecting stations on the Tube Map actually results in a cleaner end result than if such rules did actually exist. It’s also a much safer solution than connecting stations willy-nilly.

That’s because connecting two stations up on a map completely changes how travellers actually behave. Connecting stations like Dalston and Bethnal Green seems good on paper – but do the same in Camden this evening, and by tomorrow you’ll have dangerous crushes in station corridors, because too many people are trying to get from one station to the other.

The same might happen if you connected Euston Square and Warren Street on the map: the junction between Euston Road and Gower Street is not designed for masses of pedestrians crossing east to west.

So, if the system for determining which stations to connect appears non-existent in theory, but relatively sturdy in practice, what remains to be said?

Well, for one thing, Bethnal Green and Bethnal Green. Sort it out, TfL. 

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Here are eight thoughts on TfL’s proposed cuts to London’s bus network

A number 12 bus crosses Westminster Bridge. Image: Getty.

In 2016, the urbanism blog City Observatory had a modest proposal for how American cities could sort out their transport systems: “Londonize”.

Its theory, the name of which referenced another popular urbanism blog, Copenhagenize, was that the key plank of Transport for London’s success was something that even transport nerds did not consider very sexy: its buses.

Though the Tube might get more glamorous press, London’s bus service really is impressively massive: It carries roughly 2.3bn passengers per year—much more than the Tube (1.3bn), close to the New York City subway (2.8bn), and nearly half as much as every bus service in America combined (5.1bn), while serving a population roughly 1/35 as large.

How has TfL done this? By making its bus network high frequency, reliable, relatively easy to understand and comprehensive. We rarely talk about this, because the tube map is far more fun – but the reason it’s so difficult to fall off the transport network in Greater London is because you’re never that far from a bus.

Given all that, we should probably talk about TfL’s plans to rethink – and in most cases, cut – as many as 36 different central London bus services over the next few months.

I’m not going to rehash details of the changes on which TfL is consulting from next month: there are just too many of them, and anyway it’s someone else’s scoop. The story was originally broken by Darryl Chamberlain over on 853 London; there’s also some fascinating analysis on Diamond Geezer’s blog. You should read both of those stories, though preferably not before you’ve finished reading this one.

Before offering my own analysis of the proposed changes, though, I should offer a few examples. More than a dozen routes are facing a trim: the 59 from King’s Cross back to Euston, the 113 from Oxford Circle to Marble Arch, the 171 from Holborn all the way down to Elephant & Castle and so on. A couple – the 10, the 48, the C2, and at most times the special routemaster version of the 15 – are being withdrawn altogether.

On, and one new route is planned – the 311, from Fulham Broadway to Oxford Circus. This will help plug some of the cuts to the 11, 19 and 22.

So, what does all this mean? Some thoughts:

1) This might not quite be as awful as it initially sounds

TfL says that demand for buses has fallen by around 10 per cent in London in recent years. It predicts it’ll fall further when Crossrail opens, as passengers switch to the new line, or to the tube routes relieved by the new line. So: the idea of taking some unwanted capacity out of the system is not, in itself, terrible.

Striping out unnecessary buses should also improve air quality in some of London’s worst pollution hot spots, and improve traffic flow, hopefully speeding up journeys on those buses that remain. 

A map from the presentation in which TfL explained its plans, showing the reduction in bus numbers on key arteries. Hilariously, notes Darryl Chamberlain, “It no longer produces its own maps, so has had to use one prepared by a bus enthusiast”.

The plans might even free up buses and staff to increase frequencies in outer London where demand hasn’t fallen – though these plans won’t be unveiled until next year and, for reasons I’ll come to below, I’ll believe it when we see it.

2) For many bus users, a lot of these changes will pass almost unnoticed

By my count, I use nine of the affected routes with any regularity – but only three of the changes are things that I’m likely to be at all inconvenienced by. Most of the changes either affect a part of the route I don’t take, or one where there are easy, and pain free alternatives.

This is anecdotal, obviously – perhaps I’m just lucky. But my suspicion is that a lot of these changes will go unnoticed by most passengers. It’s only the sheer number of them happening at once that makes this look like a big deal.

3) The Hopper fare makes this easier...

Once upon a time, if you had to switch buses, you had to pay a second fare. This isn’t true of journeys on the tube or railways – and since bus passengers have, on average, less money than tube passengers, it amounted to a pretty unfair tax on poorer Londoners.

But in January, in what is probably his most notable policy achievement of his two years in office so far, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan changed the rules. Now you can take as many buses as you want within an hour, for a single fare: that means you can switch buses without paying a penalty.

That will have made it easier for TfL to cut routes back: replacing a direct bus journey with one that requires a change no longer means imposing a financial penalty on passengers.


4) ...but not that easy

That’s about where the good news stops, though – because there are reasons other than cost why people prefer direct bus routes. Needing to change buses will be difficult for anyone with any form of mobility impairment, for example. Even for those of us lucky enough not to fall into that category, it’ll be annoying: it’s just easier to stay in one seat for 40 minutes than to get turfed off and have to fight for a new one halfway through.

More than that, from the passengers’ point of view, excess capacity feels quite good a lot of the time: it means your bus may well be nice and empty. Reducing the number of buses along those key corridors will also make those that remain more crowded.

5) The motive is almost certainly financial

Another of Sadiq Khan’s big policy promises was to freeze fares. He made this promise at a time when central government is massively reducing the financial support it gives TfL (the work, Chamberlain notes, of Evening Standard editor George Osborne, back when he was chancellor). And the Hopper fare, while a great idea in many ways, means a further reduction in income.

So: TfL is scrambling for cash: this is why I remain cynical about those new outer London bus routes. I would be amazed if money wasn’t a motivation here, not least because...

6) TfL thinks no one will notice

Any attempt to reduce tube frequencies, let alone close a station, would result in uproar. Hashtag campaigners! Angry people pointing at things in local newspapers! Damning reports on the front of the Evening Standard from the bloke who made it happen!

Buses, though? Their routes change, slightly, all the time. And do you really notice whether your local route comes every 10 minutes or every 12? That’s not to mention the fact that bus passengers, as previously noted, tend to be poorer – and so, less vocal – than tube passengers.

So cuts, and the savings they bring, are much easier to sneak through. TfL probably would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling bloggers.

Although...

7) Scrapping the C2 might be a mistake

The C2 runs from Parliament Hill, through Kentish Town and Camden to Oxford Circus. In other words, it links north London, where a lot of journalists live, to the offices of the BBC and Buzzfeed.

As occasional New Statesman writer James Ball notes, this is probably not the easiest route to quietly shelve.

8) None of this is set in stone

The consultation doesn’t even begin until next month and then will run for six weeks – so all these plans may yet be forgotten. We shall see.

Anyway – here’s Darryl Chamberlain’s original scoop, and here’s some detailed analysis on Diamond Geezer. Please support your local bloggers by reading them.

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

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