This map shows everything that's wrong with Madrid's subway network

Image: Congosto.

Metro maps can give you a lot of information about how best to traverse a city. They show the network's extent, and how regularly metros and trains stop. Once you add other factors - like, say, station and carriage temperature, or regularity of service - into the mix, they can tell you even more about comfort and ease of travel. 

But a map created by an internet user pushes station-by-station information to a whole new level. User Congosto built a map of Madrid's subway on mapmaking site CartoDB, using a dataset of customer complaints to visualise problems on the network. Nested circles on each station are colour coded to represent the type of complaint, and sized to reflect the number of complaints made. This adds up to a very pretty map, though it can be a little hard to distinguish the coloured rings on each station. 

Here's the key:

The complaints at Principe Pio station, which has an attractive dartboard-like appearance until you remember those colours really mean "slow, subject to breakdowns and with a dodgy entrance": 


Stations with lots complaints on a particular issue seem like they could be due a rethink by the transport authority. Opera station, for example, seems to suffer from slow service, while La Latina received a lot of complaints (407, as of six months ago when the map was compiled) about access to its entrance, which is down a set of steps beside a busy roundabout: 

Image: Google.

Personally, we'd probably avoid the stations which received complaints about "flooding" first. Busyness we can deal with, but no one wants to be underground when the waters start to rise. 

We've nothing against Madrid's metro network (and we're sure Congosto doesn't either), but the map is a useful way to visualise potential problem areas. Maps like this could be useful tools for both passengers and transport executives in cities around the world. They could even be integrated into transport apps, which could then tell you if certain stations are particularly busy, or have congested entrances. 

Congosto has also made other maps of Madrid's network, including a map of geolocated tweets on the network and Twitter mentions by station. Go wild. 


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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