diamond geezer

 Monday, June 06, 2016

The latest tube map, the one with added trams. Where is it?

It's on the website, in all its various forms, But it's not yet appeared in stations, and it should have done by now.

This hasn't been a normal tube map introduction, not by a long way. And for this I think we can thank two things - trams, and Londonist.

The sudden appearance of trams on the tube map was always going to be newsworthy, so TfL went out of their way to manage the big reveal, and ensure that the big news didn't simply slip out.

Normally TfL announce something using their press release channel, sending embargoed missives to trusted media and sharing them publicly a little later. In this case they went to Londonist, specifically to Geoff Marshall, and wrapped up the big news in a video interview. Geoff asked TfL's head designer Jon Hunter about the conflicting challenges of assembling the tube map - a not unsubstantial topic - with much discussion about what gets on the map and what doesn't, and the power that making such decisions brings. And in particular he asked about the trams.
Geoff: Why have the trams been added to the tube map now?
Jon: Yes the trams. So, one of the reasons being that we've now added realtime information on the ESUB Boards, the rainbow boards as customers like to call them. Now that gives customers information about disruptions, but there's no point telling a customer there's a disruption potentially on their part of the tram network if they don't know how to replan their journey, so hence one of the reasons why we've now added it onto the tube map.
This is quietly baffling. The tram network attaches to the existing tube map at only two points - Wimbledon and West Croydon. The new tube map is no use whatsoever in replanning a disrupted journey from Mitcham Junction, New Addington or Elmers End; it shows no useful alternative routes in this respect. You'd catch the bus, a mode of transport that's never going to appear on the tube map, or you'd catch a similarly invisible National Rail service. Indeed the new tube map continues to conceal the comprehensive rail network that exists in south London, and which is easily the quickest way from, say, Beckenham to Victoria or Elmers End to Lewisham. You couldn't add all this without vastly disbenefiting the user with information overload, whereas the trams fit cleanly without too much complex overlap.

Equally baffling is the rainbow board argument. Passengers do see rainbow boards at stations, now with a light green strip revealing the current status of the four tram lines. But there are no rainbow boards at tramstops, apart from Wimbledon which has one because it's on the tube, so passengers aren't getting this information in situ. By contrast the cablecar is on the tube map but doesn't appear on rainbow boards, thankfully, so there's no consistent underlying logic here.

Trams have operated in London since 2000, and under TfL's tenure since 2008, so it's possible to argue that the network really should have been added to the tube map either 8 or 16 years ago. South London gets a raw deal on the tube map, and now suddenly Merton and Croydon have a much fairer representation, indeed even Sutton now appears for the very first time (with fractional thanks to Beddington Lane). And yet the tube map addition is locally pointless, because there are no tube maps on the tram network. All the poster frames at tramstops are in portrait format, whereas the tube map is landscape, so there isn't anywhere to pin one up anyway. The only people who'll notice that trams are on the tube map will be those on the tube, DLR or Overground network, at least with respect to paper copies.

Or they would but, as I've already mentioned, no paper copies have yet appeared.

TfL did something else unusual in launching this new tube map which was to announce its arrival a full week in advance. Normally the paper map slips into stations over the course of a weekend and TfL push out a press release on the following Monday, generally focusing on the cover design. But in this case they published their press release as early as Friday 27th May, making the arrival of trams on the map the overall focus. And, more to the point, they confirmed an actual publication date.
Customers will begin to see the latest Tube map in stations throughout the next week, and it will be available to view online, along with other transport maps produced by TfL, at www.tfl.gov.uk/maps from 3 June 2016.
It was indeed available to view online on Friday 3rd June, indeed it actually slipped out the day before. But as for seeing the latest tube map in stations, which should have occurred during the seven days leading up to Friday 3rd June, there have been no sightings whatsoever. I've been round 30 different stations over the weekend and in none of them were any of the new paper tube maps available. It can take a while for new stocks to appear, and stations often try to get rid of the old version before dishing out the new. But for 30 stations (and three TfL Visitor Centres) not to have one is unprecedented.

More to the point, no updated large poster maps have appeared on station platforms or in ticket halls. These are usually changed quite quickly, with staff stepping in to replace the poster overnight. But not this time, it appears. Every station I've visited still has the January 2016 map in place, with a gaping grey gap where the trams are going to be, and the Friday 3rd June target has very much not been met. And this is an important omission, because as of Saturday 4th June a not insignificant chunk of the Overground network was closed for the next eight months, and this information urgently needs to be conveyed to passengers.

All of which suggests that a deliberate decision has been taken not to roll out the new map as originally scheduled.

I wonder why.

I wonder if it's Morden.

When the new tube map was first revealed, both at Londonist and in the media frenzy following TfL's first press release, the first thing everybody said was "ooh, trams!" But in amongst the comments and social media response, what the more observant people were saying was "hang on, what's gone wrong with Morden?"

In order to place the tram network on the tube map, a large grey area labelled "Special fares apply" has had to be added at the bottom. West Croydon and Wimbledon were carefully positioned partly inside and partly outside this grey zone, according to which side of the interchange each blob was. But Morden found itself entirely within the new 'special' zone, due to some kind of graphical oversight, whereas it should have appeared in an outpost of zone 4.

It's easy to imagine somebody at TfL going "ah, bugger" when this was pointed out, or perhaps a rather stronger phrase. It doesn't do to suggest that "special fares apply" for travel to Morden, indeed it could be financially misleading, whereas the tube map needs to be a beacon of network accuracy.

The electronic map was quickly tweaked, and when this went up on the TfL website last week Morden had been correctly zoned. But paper maps are another matter, particularly when large numbers have been printed in advance, which likely explains why we've not yet seen any of these in the wild.

Generating a fresh set of large poster maps, with a print run in the low thousands, may not take too long. But to replace a set of pre-printed paper maps would be a massive undertaking. TfL print 12 million copies at a time (I'm indebted to Londonist for that fact), and to run off a new batch might take a while. Imagine the waste in having to throw 12 million Morden-fail copies of the tube map away. More to the point, imagine the cost of having to produce a reprint... or rather don't imagine because it's £100,000 (thanks Londonist again).

One thing is for certain, which is that TfL's design team didn't check their new tube map carefully enough before they released it to a wider audience. And yet that wider audience spotted the error quite quickly. Perhaps it's time to employ one of them as an additional proof reader before the go-ahead is given for a major print run. But I suspect TfL'll be checking more carefully in the future anyway, to avoid any further embarrassing and costly slips.

Hopefully we'll be seeing the corrected tube map in racks and on station walls soon.

But probably not at tram stops.

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