These isochrone maps show how well – or how badly – Europe’s cities are connected by train

An isochrone showing rail travel times from Vienna. Image: Peter Kerpedjiev/Empty Pipes.

The other day we reported on a whizzy new Transport for London tool which allowed you to create isochrone maps: maps which use colour to plot travel times from any point in London. It's really, really cool.

London, though, is not the world, and Peter Kerpedjiev, a PhD student at the University of Vienna has isochrones on a much bigger scale than that. On his blog Empty Pipes, you'll find a tool in which you can plot how long it'll take you to get from various European cities to any other point on the continent, “using only trains and walking at a brisk rate of 5 min / kilometre".

Caveats first. The data is inevitably incomplete. Some rail routes are missing; so are some entire countries (look at Ireland or Spain), simply because the data wasn't available in a useful format. And 5 minutes per kilometre is about 7.5 miles per hour, which is pretty bloody brisk. Oh, also there are things called planes these days.

But, as Kerpedjiev himself puts it:

Everything is an estimate. Rounding errors abound. Don't use this for anything but entertainment and curiosity. But you already know that.

Fair enough. So, with that out of the way, let's see how far you can get, using nothing by a train and the power of your own limbs.

From London, chunks of northern France and the Benelux nations are now more accessible than much of Scotland. Which frankly explains rather a lot:

 

Zoom in, and you can see that it's quicker to commute to London from Lille than from large parts of East Anglia:

 

Paris, perhaps unsurprisingly, is better connected for France and western Germany. Get east of Frankfurt, though, and things don't actually look all that different:

 

From Rome, it'll take you at least six hours just to get out of Italy:

 

Brussels is really well connected for basically anywhere in north western Europe:

 

The Baltics are well connected for basically nowhere. This is Riga:

 

They're not even well-connected to each other. Check out Tallinn:

 

Stockholm is a bit out of the way, too.

 

Even Berlin is surprisingly time-consuming to get to – which is funny, when you remember that that is where so much of the power in Europe lies:

 

Basically, if you're the sort of person who needs to travel but is frightened of planes, you're much better off being somewhere near the English Channel or the Rhine. Like Frankfurt:

Incidentally, if you were wondering why the colours get so tightly bunched around the coastlines, Kerpedjiev's blog explains:

Any points on water were assigned a swimming rate of 100 minutes / kilometre.

Makes sense.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.


 

 
 
 
 

“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.