The June 2012 version is now available, be that online or at stations, although not every station has paper copies yet. This is the map with the Tracey Emin cover, featuring a bird perched on the branches of the Northern line, and a highly stylised Central line wiggling across the centre. Admire it for its art, if you like, but whatever you do don't use Tracey's squiggle for serious route planning.
There are two reasons you might expect a new tube map right now - one is the Olympics, and the other is a cablecar. Surprise surprise, the true reason's almost none of the former and much more of the latter.
Here's the Arabfly Dangleway in full effect on London's tube map for the first time. Previously it was "under construction" and now here it is in full corporate red. Perversely the symbol for the Dangleway is three lines, when in reality the cablecar travels along two, and it's shown here going round two bends, when of course in reality there aren't any. That's topological maps for you. The name of the sponsoring airline prefixes both of the station names because they paid £36m for the privilege, and if you'd paid more your name could have been here instead. On the paper map their name appears eight times in total, including twice in the key, which the marketing department must be absobloodylutely chuffed about. The rest of us, I think less so.
One casualty of the new sponsor's appearance is mobile company O2, whose naming rights at North Greenwich have been summarily erased from the tube map. It's been an on-off relationship over the years (2007-09 on, 2009-10 off, 2010-12 on, 2012- off), but the tide's turned firmly against again. I had wondered whether this deletion was Olympic related, given that The O2 has to remain brand-free for non-sponsors during the Games. But the Dangleway's sponsors aren't the official airline of the Games either, so I assume someone's decided commercial entities now only appear on the tube map if they've paid.
Elsewhere on the map, not so many changes. Up at the far end of the Metropolitan line, four stations that used to have white blobs (step-free access from street to platform) now have blue (step-free access from street to train). Nothing's changed at stations such as Pinner and Chorleywood, what's different is that almost all of the trains on the Metropolitan line are now the new S Stock. This has lower carriages than the old A Stock, so passengers in wheelchairs can spin in and out at roughly platform height, which is excellent. There's no such blue circle at Chesham, because the curved platform creates a gap that wheelchairs will never safely cross. And there are no such blue circles yet at Uxbridge or King's Cross St Pancras, because trains with different height carriages stop at these platforms, and TfL haven't yet got round to introducing a special-coloured wheelchair blob for "step-free access from street to train on certain lines only".
And where's the Olympics? Well, amazingly, it's barely mentioned. There's no special symbol at Stratford, nothing at West Ham, nothing at Canning Town, nothing at all. That's a surprise, given that line maps on Jubilee line trains now have bright magenta panels indicating all the Games Venues along the line. But not on the tube map. Instead five stations have daggers, with a reference in the key to Olympic changes afoot. † Bank and Waterloo: the Waterloo & City line will run later during the Games, and at weekends. † Cannon Street: will have "normal" opening times during the Games, including opening on Sundays. † Cutty Sark: will sometimes be closed during the Games. † West India Quay: trains from Bank won't stop here during the Games. † Pudding Mill Lane: completely closed from 14 July to 12 September.
And that's it. There's no mention of scary queues, there's no mention of potential delays, and there's no mention of other stations where access will be curtailed. Pontoon Dock and Prince Regent will be entrance only during the Games, while Custom House will be exit only. Nothing. Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner will be exit only for twelve hours a day during the Games, and that doesn't get a mention either. Someone somewhere has made a very deliberate decision to keep the Olympics off this tube map, and to leave spectators to make their way around using other information, or instinct. To use the Spectator Journey Planner, perhaps, or getaheadofthegames.com, although that seems riskily optimistic. Or maybe an Olympic tube map is planned, and this isn't it.
Back to the Dangleway. Does the map provides any clues about when it might open and how it might operate? Checking the daggers in the key, it'll open "in summer 2012" and "special fares apply". Not much help. But there are alternative versions of the tube map on the TfL website, with more to offer. According to the Rail and Tube map, the cablecar will be in a special "Arabfly Dangleway fare zone", so expect to pay extra on top of your Travelcard, at whatever rates are finally announced. The Step-free Tube Guide reveals that there'll be a 50mm step and 75mm gap to board your gondola, which is step-free enough. And the Bicycle tube map says "Bicycles may be carried at any time", which is great, but also that "operational hours are different to those of the Underground." More tourist attraction than commuter essential, then, as expected.
But most telling of all is the timing of the new map. Four of the 17 daggers on the map relate to stations on the Overground that aren't step-free now but will be next month. If publication had been delayed until July, those daggers wouldn't have been needed. Ditto the special Olympic instructions - useful in July, pointless in June. There is only one genuinely new thing on this tube map which could possibly require a June 2012 publication date, and that's the cablecar. TfL must be confident it'll be opening this month, sometime in the next 20 days, otherwise they'd have held this tube map back until July. So prepare to ride the Dangleway, possibly imminently, as weeks of testing morph swiftly into passenger service. It's on the map, so active service can't be too far away.