This new rail map shows how London's Oyster card is conquering the shires

An extract from yet another new London rail map because that's how we roll. Image: TfL.

In all* the excitement** about the new tube map this week, we forgot to mention something: Transport for London has updated its "all rail services in London honest" map, too.

The "London's Rail & Tube services" map, as it's imaginatively known, is less iconic than the tube map. But it does have the advantage of being basically complete in its depiction of rail-based transport in the London area – even if it insists on colour-coding its main line routes based not on where they go but on which corporate interest currently happens to run them.

In fact, the map is actually more than complete. It's no longer limited by the Greater London boundary, nor even by the M25, nor anything else that rational. Increasingly, it shows those stations in outlying commuter towns from which you can use the Oyster card ticketing system.

So, for a while now, this chunk of Surrey has been included in zone 6:

More recently, this chunk of Essex has appeared, although not all of it gets a numbered zone:

But this latest edition really goes to town. For a start, there's this branch to Hertford:

And this line, which runs all the way to Gatwick Airport, is getting Oyster readers this spring.

For the first time, you'll be able to use your Oyster card on the Gatwick Express (that’s the line shown in brown). It's attained this status before the Heathrow Express, despite the fact the latter airport is actually, y’know, in London, rather than two counties away. (Thanks, BAA.)

We mention this for a couple of reasons. One is that, well, people want to read this stuff***.

Another is that it feeds into one of our favourite recurring debates – that of where cities end. One of the various ways of defining a city is by its "metropolitan area" –the zone from which people will commute to work in it.

The various outer suburban lines being added to this map are all well within London’s metropolitan area. But an extended Oyster zone will arguably extend and consolidate the relationship between the city and its satellite towns, nonetheless. Redhill isn't technically part of London – but armed with frequent trains and Oyster card readers, its residents will have better access to the city than the residents of the rural village of Pratt's Bottom (which, despite being miles from anywhere, is technically inside the city limits).

That said, the piecemeal way in which the Oyster card boundary is being extended beyond the Greater London boundary is making for a pretty odd looking boundary. It excludes various contiguous Surrey suburbs, while including a weird dog leg to Gatwick airport in neighbouring Sussex. It excludes one chunk of Hertfordshire that lies inside the M25 (Radlett, North Watford) while including another (the upper Lea Valley) outside it. Hertford East, on one line, is in; Hertford North, on another, is out.

The result looks like this.

Click to expand.

Which is silly.

But, nonetheless, there we are. That's the new London boundary. Deal with it.

Oh, but only until the next time they update that map, obviously.

Why not like us on Facebook like all the other map fiends.


**Continuing obsessive interest in our never ending search for clicks

***No, seriously, we look at Google Analytics: they really do


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.