Should Croydon be in zone 4? A brief investigation of the TfL fare zones

Andrew Adonis – peer of the realm, arch remainer, former transport secretary, would-be Labour MP for Vauxhall – has been to Croydon. More than that he’s been thinking about Croydon, which is always dangerous. Here’s what he’s been thinking:


Some background, in the unlikely event you’ve landed on this story without knowing what “zone 4” means. Transport for London divides its tube and rail network into concentric fare zones. Zone 1 is the central business district, 2 & 3 are inner London, 4 to 6 are the suburbs. On selected routes beyond the official bounds of the capital, you’ll find stations in zones 7 to 9, as well as assorted lettered ones where the fares are weird, but that’s by the by: the rule, basically, is that the closer into the city you are, the lower the zone number and the lower the fare you have to pay.

Croydon, a south London/Surrey suburb that would be a sizeable city in its own right had it not long ago been swallowed by London, has two rail stations in its commercial centre. East Croydon is a stop on the London to Brighton line; West Croydon is served primarily by suburban services. Both are currently in zone 5.

On Adonis’ second point I tend to agree. The names East and West Croydon bug me for the faintly esoteric reason that

    a) they’re both in central Croydon, and

    b) phrasing them that way around suggests the two are a long way apart rather than about half a mile from each other.

Personally I’d go with Croydon East and Croydon West, but if local worthies want to call the bigger station Croydon Central then, well, fill your boots.

The other point, though, is more complicated. If you commute between central London and Croydon then it’s obviously in your interests to bring it down a zone as that’ll nudge it into a cheaper fare band. That, in turn, stands to benefit businesses who employ those commuters or are trying to attract south Londoners to spend money in the town.

Does it make sense, though? Is Croydon actually close enough to central London to justify being in zone 4?

To find out, I just spend an oddly therapeutic quarter hour measuring the distance between various important outer London centres and Charing Cross, the official centre of London. Here are the results, ranked by distance in miles, and with the fare zone included:

Logically, given the concentric nature of the London fare zones, you would expect the zone numbers to increase steadily as the distance from the city centre does, and for the most part they do. Not always, though: Kingston is marooned in zone 6 despite being a distance from Charing Cross more appropriate for zone 5.

Meanwhile, Epsom and Dartford, contiguous suburbs outside the Greater London boundary, fall out of the main system into the freaky outer zones, despite being closer in than Uxbridge. But Epping, several miles beyond the boundary and even outside the M25, gets to be in zone 6 because of a special arrangement between TfL and the local authorities.

There are several reasons for such oddities. One is that the idea Charing Cross is the centre of London is merely a useful fiction: London doesn’t really have a centre, so much as a lozenge-shaped central zone, running roughly three miles north to south and six east to west. Measurements from Charing Cross, convenient though they are, might be misleading.

Another is that Greater London itself is similarly unbalanced: that’s about 32 miles east to west but only 26 north to south.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, based on Ordnance Survey data.

A third is that its boundaries owe as much to the local politics of the early 1960s as they do to any rational sense of what London is. The only reason Epsom ended up outside, despite being an entirely suburban district surrounded by Greater London on three sides, is because the local Tories kicked up a stink half a century ago. (More on that here.) That, perversely, means higher fares for the locals today.

Anyway. You can make a case for Croydon being better placed in zone 4 than 5 but it isn’t an overwhelming one: Kingston has a far better case for promotion. Which is a bit of a wet conclusion, if I’m honest with you, but then again I really just wanted an excuse to play with a map.

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

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.


Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.