Is this the most vile act of tube map trolling ever committed?

"...as if millions of cartographers suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced." Image: Fabric Rehab

If there’s one thing we at CityMetric love more than cities, or even metrics, it’s maps. Especially transport maps, and especially, especially tube maps. Lovely, lovely tube maps.

So you'd think we'd be on board with tube map-themed fabric: just think, we could have tube map suits! Tube map bunting! Tube map hats!

But the terrible, terrible reality of it turns out to be this abomination, which is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone ever. Look at it. Look at the absolute state of it:

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Image: Fabric Rehab

This tube-themed “thrifty polyester cotton” fabric, offered by the Fabric Rehab website, is deeply upsetting on so many, many levels. Fenchurch Street is next to Knightsbridge. Downing Street has a tube station now! There are two Leicester Squares! THERE’S A LANCASHIRE TUBE STATION. WHY IS THERE A LANCASHIRE TUBE STATION.

This is even worse than the time the government put a tube map in the new passport and left off Southwark station. Or when TfL accidentally turned Morden tube station into a tram stop.

Presumably this is an elaborate attempt to create tube-themed fabric without raising eyebrows at Transport For London’s legal department, but would anyone really want to make anything using the design of the world’s most iconic transit map, except with absolutely none of the actually iconic bits? Well, apparently at least one person did, since it’s all sadly sold out. What a shame.

There is only one conceivable reason for this to exist: to troll tube map nerds into incoherent rage. Make a tablecloth out of it, invite one round for dinner and watch your delicious lasagne go flying through the window when they notice that East Finchley is for some reason now south of Wimbledon.


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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.