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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London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

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