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

TfL's new Underground map. Image: TfL.

This week, two new London transit maps appeared. We've already aired our thoughts on the train map (tl;dr: TfL is gradually eating the entire London train network), but there's also a few things worth pointing out about the design of the new Tube map, which you can now scroll around and zoom into on the TfL website. Spoiler: they're all pretty negative.

All the overlapping Overground lines are confusing 

East London has now lost any semblance of the colour system used on the rest of the map, thanks to a bird's nest of orange Overground lines:

Couldn't you, like, space them out a bit better? This is just agony.

The Central line has got all kinky

 

This is presumably to leave space for Crossrail, but that isn't opening for four years, and at the moment it just looks awful.

Things keep going missing

Honestly, what's happened to the Kensington Olympia branch? The station blog is still there, but no trains are serving it. What the hell?

On the upside, the Emirates Airline – which, remember, doesn't count as a transport link – has had the same treatment.

It doesn't work on Safari 

Because no one will ever need to look at the map on an iPhone, right? Barely anyone uses iPhones these days. 

They've made the font more spindly

We've gone from this:

To this: 

The old font was smaller, rounder, and much more thickly set. The new one is thinner yet, possibly due to its size, actually looks more cramped. The text around Kensington is a real mess.

The text just keeps crashing into things

Look:

Harry Beck must be turning in his grave. 


Now, we know a few of points may sound a little pernickety. And we appreciate that this is an electronic version, produced for web users, rather than the final version that'll actually be appearing at stations.

But increasingly people do plan their travel using electronic maps. Imagine how much these problems would affect you if you don't have brilliant eyesight, or are a visiting tourist.

The best thing about London's tube network and its famous map has always been its focus on clarity and usability. It seems a shame to ditch all that, just for the sake of a shiny new zoom function.

 
 
 
 

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.