What would a fairer version of the TfL fare zones look like?

An extract from the current London Tube & Rail Map. Image: TfL.

 Recently, the internet website CityMetric investigated Andrew Adonis’s claim that there was a strong case to move East & West Croydon up a TfL transport zone, from 5 to 4. It concluded that, based on distance from Charing Cross, there wasn’t an overwhelming reason to do so.

But, as noted in the original piece, measurements from Charing Cross might not be the best way to structure London’s transport zones. In fact, look at the map, and it clearly isn’t the measure Transport for London uses. 

Here’s the actual geography of Zones 1-6. For the purposes of this exercise stations straddling two zones are considered to be in the lower, that is, the more central, of the two.

For a start, you can see that the zones are wider than they are long, so stations in the east or west tend to be in more central zones than stations a similar distance away in the north or south. This makes a certain amount of sense given that ‘central London’, as defined by Zone 1, isn’t a circle.

At any rate: the other zones clearly aren’t defined by their distance from Zone 1. Lewisham, which is in Zone 2 and 3, is the furthest Zone 2 station from any zone 1 station – 4.1 miles from the closest, Tower Gateway, as the crow flies. But Clapton station, in Zone 3, is only 2.2 miles from a Zone 1 station (Hoxton). What’s up with that?


More concerning than that is the totally ludicrous situation going on in the north east where Zone 4 appears to be trying to escape by eating its way through Zone 5 and a good chunk of Zone 6. And frankly, given that it’s Fairlop Loop, good luck and good riddance.

Out on the fringes of the network, the furthest Zone 6 station is Knockholt, a massive 14.2 miles away from Zone 1 – but Waltham Cross, only 10 miles outside Zone 1, is relegated to the weird outer zones.

(There is a sort of sensible reason for this one: Knockholt station, despite for arcane reasons being named after a village in Kent 3 miles away, is itself just inside the London border, whereas Waltham Cross is in Hertfordshire.)

So what should a geographically fair zone system look like? 

Let’s assume that:

  1. The current boundaries of Central London/Zone 1 are correct;

  2. The boundaries of the other zones should be formed by drawing a ‘buffer’ around zone 1 the distance of the current furthest station in the zone from its closest zone 1 station;

  3. Again, for stations in multiple zones only the most central has been considered.

Now, these are all potentially dubious assumptions (for a start, if we’re redrawing the zone boundaries there’s some stuff in Kensington & Chelsea that I think has a dubious claim to being ‘central’, when, say, Whitechapel is in Zone 2). But let’s go with them, assume this method of ‘Geographical Fairness’ is a good way to run a transport system, and redraw the map.

  

I’ve retained the colours of the station dots from the ‘real’ zone map so you can see broadly speaking see how this changes things: only small chunks like the one directly east of the centre roughly match up with the current state of affairs. All the zones have expanded; in some places stations that were in Zone 6 are in now in Zone 4.

If we take a closer look at south London, all three Croydon stations have been bumped up to Zone 4 status, as Lord Adonis believes they should.

Meanwhile, for Lord Elledge, Kingston has jumped two entire zones, joining Croydon in Zone 4 (which now stretches 9.2 miles from the centre of town, thanks to Grange Hill on the accursed Fairlop Loop.)

On the other hand, can we really stomach a London in which Chiswick is in Zone 2?

Here’s the full labelled map if you want to find out in which Zone your favourite station will end up if this new Geographical Distance fairness scheme is implemented due to some kind of error. Right click and open it in a new window to get a good look.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

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The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

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As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

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I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.