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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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.