TfL has unveiled London’s new “Night Tube Map” and it is beautiful

The central section of London's new Night Tube Map. Image: TfL.

You know what we could do here in London? A new tube map. Haven't had one of those* in ages.

To be fair to the city's latest exciting contribution to transport design, this one, unlike the last couple we've reported on, has the advantage of being an official Transport for London effort.

The new map, which will begin appearing at tube stations at some time before the autumn, shows the “Night Tube” service that'll run later this year. At the moment, most tube lines pack up at some point before 1am: from 12 September, though, selected trains will run all night.

Not every night, of course: a lot of important maintenance tends to go on in the early hours, so the Night Tube will run on Fridays and Saturdays only. Nor will it simply be a matter of extending the existing network to 24 hour service. The Night Tubes will be less frequent than their diurnal equivalent, and will initially cover only all or part of five lines.

Here's what you're getting, London.

Jubilee line: One train roughly every 10 minutes, the entire length of the line. (Woo.)

Victoria line: ditto. (Hoo.)

That’s the easy ones dispensed with.

Central line: In the core section from White City to Leytonstone, it’ll be one train every 10 minutes again.

Not so on the outer branches, however. At the eastern end of the line, about half the trains will continue to Epping, and half to Hainult via Newbury Park. At the western end, about half the trains will continue to Ealing Broadway, while the other half will turn back at White City.

Want a train on the West Ruislip or Chigwell branches? You'll be waiting a long time. Until the day time service kicks off again, in fact.

Piccadilly line: One train every 10 minutes or so between Cockfosters and Heathrow Terminal 5. Nothing on the Terminal 4 loop, though, or on the branch from Acton Town to Uxbridge.

Northern Line: One train every eight minutes between Morden and Camden Town. About half of these will continue to High Barnet, the other half to Edgware.

No service on the Mill Hill East branch, which makes sense because there's nothing there.

No service on the Bank branch, which makes less sense, since that goes to Old Street and London Bridge, and if the purpose of the exercise is to provide better transport for London's night time economy you might think those would be places worth sending trains to. But apparently not.

This, as we've noted before, means that the Night Tube will serve Epping Forest, Canary Wharf and four different stations in that ultra-hip night spot Acton. But it won't serve large chunks of town (Shoreditch, Farringdon) where people tend to stay up all night dancing. Never mind, we're sure they know what they're doing.

To be fair to TfL, this is just phase one, and further services will be rolled out in the years to come. According to a statement:

We also plan to expand the night time service to parts of the Metropolitan, Circle, District, and Hammersmith & City lines once our modernisation programmes are complete. Additionally, services could operate on parts of the London Overground in 2017 and the Docklands Light Railway by 2021.

That just leaves the Waterloo & City and Bakerloo lines out in the cold, where they’re likely to stay for some time. A spokesperson told us in February that “we don't think there will be demand for it”.

So much for the network. What of the map itself?

It's... rather lovely we must say. Here it is:

The use of two tones of blue to highlight both fare zones and night-iness is very effective, and a massive improvement on the white/grey combo you get on the day time map. The white text is nicely readable, while the thin white borders makes the lines themselves stand out nicely. 

The stripped down colour palette that the limited services allows is also quite easy on the eye. There’s no longer a cramped tangle of overlapping lines in the north eastern quadrant. And call us soppy, but we just love this guy:

To be fair, it is much, much easier to make a decent map of a simple network than it is to do the same with a complex one. Perhaps the increasing bleurgh-iness of the main tube map is simply an inevitable result of the fact it’s trying to communicate vastly more information than this one.

Nonetheless, the night tube map suggests that TfL can still make its maps beautiful when it tries. So, yay.


*This is an example of the rhetorical device known as “irony”. Here are some other new tube maps we have reported on over the last few weeks.

Transport for London's zoomable new tube map is completely terrible

This amateur London Tube map someone posted on Wikipedia is far better than the real thing

Here's another unofficial tube map that might be better than the real thing


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.