The new Dublin Luas map is a crime against cartography

Abbey Street. Image: William Murphy/Wikipedia.

It can be reassuring, in the era of Brexit, to know that there are still some things which Britain has in common with its European neighbours like Ireland. For example: "Really, really bad public transit maps".

The Luas is Dublin's tram network, which first opened in 2004. It has two lines: the Green Line, which connect the suburbs of south Dublin to St Stephen's Green; and the red line, which connects the western suburbs to the docks.

What the red and green lines don't connect is each other because, look:

Well, I guess we’re walking. Image: Strikous/Wikipedia.

But Dubliners need not worry much longer – because the Luas Cross City project is extending the green line across the city centre and into north Dublin. It's due to open in December, and the city's transport authorities have just released this outstandingly abysmal map:

Click to expand.

In fact, it comes in Irish, too:

Cliceáil a leathnú.

I'm not familiar with the geography of Dublin – sadly, I've never been – so unravelling this map required spending half an hour clicking back and forth between this and a street map. I might be wrong about some of the details (in which case, write in), but I’ve found four big problems with the new map.

It shows the wrong number of lines

Luas Cross City is not a third, blue line: it's an extension of the existing, green one. You wouldn't know it from this map, however, which strongly suggests it's a whole new line, because:

The river is invisible

Transit maps don't tend to go for geographical accuracy – that's not what they're for – but they do often include big rivers and other major features of the landscape, just to give you a sense of the shape of the city.

Whoever made this map seems to have considered doing this, then changed their mind, then decided on a compromise option. And so we get this:

This best I can tell is the River Liffey which divides the two halves of Dublin. I can see a case for including this on the map (Helps with orientation!); I can see a case for not including it (Clutters up the map!). What I can't see a case for is replacing the river with a confusing dotted line.

The interchange is baffling

Okay: if you want to change from the red to the green (blue) line, you will get off at Abbey Street, and walk to either O'Connell-GPO (to head in one direction) or Marlborough (to head in the other). You can see that from this monstrosity of an inset:

But which stop do you want for which direction? If you keep squinting long enough you can sort of see that the left hand line is northbound. But it's not obvious on the graphical map, and the geographical inset doesn't bother to make it any clearer.

What the hell is an interchange anyway?

Some stops are marked as interchanges because they're the point where two branches of the same line meet. That's not an interchange in the same way as Abbey Street, but I sort of see what they're up to.

But why is Sandyford an interchange?

Why is O'Connell Upper?

You can probably find out with long enough on Google (I got bored and gave up). But the point is you shouldn't have to. It should be clear from the map. What is going on?

Really, Dublin, you’re the capital of a bloody tiger economy, the city that's threatening to steal London's crown. Is this the best you can do?


Anyway, I'm going for a lie down.

Update: A number of correspondents have been in contact on the last point: both Sandyford and O'Connell Upper will be where some trams terminate, so you have to change trams. Which seems a funny definition of interchange.

Also, I can't vouch for this, but somebody tweeted to say that blue is a standard colour in Ireland for stuff under construction.

Still, though:

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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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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