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’s it’s 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 is 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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“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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