diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Transforming the truth

Given the chance, what would you ask TfL bosses about the tube upgrade programme? I've been thinking what I'd ask (were I not busy when the opportunity arose). Three years ago I'd have asked "Why have you just completely buggered up the modernisation of my local tube station?" But that's old news, so I'd now need to ask something more contemporary. I think I'd ask the following...
"Why are you lying to the public about Bank/Monument?"
Bank dragonThe deceit started eight months ago when a major programme of renewal work started on the escalators between Bank and Monument stations. There are two sets of escalators here, one up from the end of the Northern line platforms and the other up from the DLR. Block both of these and you sever the connection between the two stations. At the end of March, that's what TfL claimed to have done. They launched a flurry of publicity to announce that interchange at Bank/Monument was suddenly restricted. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets were distributed announcing
"No interchange at Bank and Monument stations until August 2009 (except between the DLR and Northern lines)"
This was a lie. Only one of the two escalators between the two stations was shut for repair, so interchange between the DLR, Northern and District lines was still perfectly possible. TfL chose not to tell the public this.

The Bank/Monument upgrade is important renewal work, but with serious risk attached. The DLR and Northern lines have no direct exit to the surface, so closing off an escalator could have caused serious overcrowding underground. To prevent this, TfL closed off lots of additional passageways leading down from the Central line. A huge over-reaction, as it turned out, and some of these through routes were soon reopened. Indeed during off-peak hours and at weekends, getting around the Bank/Monument complex was often no trouble at all. But the "it's all blocked, all the time" message continued to hold sway. Replan your journey, interchange somewhere else, please don't come here, ever.

Scary Bank/Monument stickerStickers like this appeared on tube maps all over the Underground. Here, there, everywhere, a bright yellow warning to avoid the Bank/Monument area at all costs. I spotted this particular sticker on the Waterloo and City line. A line with just two stations, and a sticker advising people not to travel to one of them. How ridiculous is that?

Scary Waterloo & City line map

A subtly different message was being given on TfL's website. "Until summer 2009, there is very limited interchange at Bank and Monument stations. This is due to major escalator replacement works. You are strongly advised to use alternative interchange stations." No out and out denial here, no claims that certain routes were definitely blocked. But all contributing to a tangled web of mixed messages and deliberate misinformation.

And then the weekend before last, things changed. A new phase of work kicked off, unannounced, and one more escalator was sealed off. It's now no longer possible to ride down from Monument to Bank, not at all. But it is still possible to ride up in the opposite direction. Got that?

Scary Monument posterHere's the latest poster announcing the new situation, appearing in ticket halls across the network. The title's misleading for a start. Going to Monument isn't a problem, no matter how you get there. Going via Monument, however, that's a different matter.

The first sentence on the poster is false. Interchange between Monument and Bank stations is possible below ground, but only in one direction. TfL should have said "from/to" instead of "between/and", because that would have been true. This distinction is made correctly in sentence two.

And the confusion doesn't end there. There now seems to be no coherent message being applied across the Underground system. What you're being told about Bank and Monument depends on where you are...
Map on a District line train: "No interchange at Bank and Monument stations until August 2009" [false]
Automated announcement on a District line train approaching Monument: "Change here for the Central, Northern and Waterloo & City lines and the Docklands Light Railway" [false] (but sometimes contradicted by driver announcement)
Map on a Central line train: "Major escalator works. Avoid changing at Bank" [true]
Automated announcement on a Central line train approaching Bank: "Change here for the Circle, District, Northern and Waterloo & City lines and the Docklands Light Railway" [still true] (except during busy bits of the rush hour)
TfL website (tube): "Please avoid using Monument Station to interchange with services from Bank." [true] "Until spring 2009 interchange between District and Circle line services at Monument and all services from Bank station is only available at street level due to escalator refurbishment works." [false]
TfL website (DLR): "Until summer 2009, there is very limited interchange at Bank and Monument stations." [limited, maybe, but not "very limited"] "This is due to major escalator replacement works." [true] "You are strongly advised to use alternative interchange stations." [madness]
Leaflet linked from brand new live travel news page on TfL website: "The complexity of this project means there will be no interchange at Bank and Monument stations except between the DLR and Northern lines." [false, and out-of-date]
October 2008 tube map (key to map): "Major escalator work is taking place at Bank and Monument stations." [true] "Avoid interchange between lines wherever possible" [false, some interchanges are fine]
October 2008 tube map (map): No graphical indication of any problems whatsoever (apart from one of those dagger things that everybody ignores) [surely, TfL, the latest map ought to look something like this]

Is this deliberate misinformation, or just disjoint incompetence? TfL appear so keen to keep crowds away from Bank/Monument that they're willing to spread false rumours and incomplete advice. Their relentless oversimplified information keeps sheep-like customers at bay, leaving canny travellers to work out the truth for themselves. And the truth is somewhat simpler...
"You can't change trains from Monument to Bank at the moment. Other interchanges around the two stations are probably OK, but you might want to avoid Bank station during the rush hour."
Oh TfL, you may be doing important work transforming the tube. But why are lying to us while you do it?

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