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.

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).