The new Manchester Metrolink map is both prettier and easier to use

The trams in action. Image: Getty.

In September 2016, in these pages, I asked a hugely important question: is it time to rethink the Manchester Metrolink map?

Back then, the official map was entirely in grey, making it both horribly ugly and remarkably difficult to follow. I argued that a new version, with actual colours, would be bother prettier and more useful.

Click to expand. Image: TfGM.

Six months later, I breathlessly reported that someone out there in the wilds of the internet had been smart enough to take my advice – and in the process, had made the map “much, much better”.

Click to expand. Image: Project Mapping.

And now, a mere 16 months after my initial thundering, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has finally redesigned its map – and it, too, has made it much, much better. Look upon my works, ye mighty:

Click to expand. Image: TfGM.

This is, to be fair, not quite the redesign I’d suggested. That would have seen routes colour-coded by the path they took through the city centre, mostly out of concern that showing them individually would have made the Cornbrook-St Peter’s Square section about eight lines thick.

As it turns out, that’s less of a problem than I’d feared – the service pattern has been simplified somewhat since the Second City Crossing via Exchange Square opened, which helps.

The new map instead gives each route its own colour – and it is significantly better looking. What’s more, a coloured-route map will be vastly easier to follow than one where all routes are in the same, dull grey, for almost everyone. The only exception I can think of is those who are colour-blind, but I can’t, off the top of my head, think why the new map would be any harder for them to read. 

My only slight objection is the choice of colours. Including two yellows and two greens on the map before colouring a line red makes it feel oddly unbalanced. My first thought was that perhaps the designer simply hates Manchester United, but on reflection this might also be an attempt to ensure usability for those colour-blind passengers I mentioned a mere one paragraph earlier.

There are other changes. The new map has replaced the letters labelling the routes on the last version of the map with numbers. It’s also tinkered with some of the routes slightly. Here, best I can tell, are the changes:

  • Route A – Altrincham to Bury – now route 1, unchanged
  • Route B – Altrincham to Etihad Campus – now route 2, Altrincham-Piccadilly
  • Route C – Bury to Piccadilly – now route 4, unchanged
  • Route D – MediaCityUK to Piccadilly – now route 7, MediaCity-UK-Etihad Campus
  • Route E – Eccles to Ashton-under-Lyme – now route 3, unchanged.
  • Route F – Manchester Airport to Deansgate-Castlefield – now route 6, extended across the city centre to Victoria via Shudehill
  • Route G – East Didsbury to Rochdale Town Centre – now route 5, unchanged
  • Route H – East Disbury to Shaw & Crompton – missing in action; but since this was a truncated version of route G, one assumes it’s effectively been subsumed into route 5.

So, to sum up: routes 2 & 7 have swapped eastern termini; route 6 has extended northwards to Victoria; and H has disappeared altogether.

I think that’s everything.


You see, this is what happens when people write in to complain I write too much about the tube map: lengthy, nerdy commentary about slight changes to the Manchester Metrolink map. Are you happy now, “not everyone lives in London” brigade? Are you happy?

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

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Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

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