TfL have just launched a big campaign to encourage us to go travelling and explore more of the cultural delights London has to offer. In particular they're nudging us beyond central London to enjoy some of the treasures to be found further out, and even more particularly they're encouraging us to travel off-peak.
Off-peak travel makes sense because it's less crowded, and more importantly cheaper. A cornerstone of the campaign is that tube travel in zones 2-6 only costs £1.50 off-peak, which is indeed a bargain, and can help family budgets stretch further than journeying into the middle of town. Throw in the fact that buses and trams only ever cost £1.50, and that under 11s always travel free, and potential days out only get better. All in all, it's a cracking idea for a promotion.
But TfL have thrown so much collateral at this campaign that the message is starting to get slightly muddled.
This is such a good idea it's amazing nobody's thought of it before. An official webpage with an interactive tube map, where you click on a tube station that interests you and up pops one or more places of interest nearby. Why not have a go here before continuing.
Time Out are the information providers, and have "curated" the "expert content" which appears throughout. It's impressively varied, from parks to nightclubs, nature reserves to theatres and museums to sports facilities. The Greenwich Foot Tunnel's in there, and the National Jazz Archive, and the Church of St Cyril of Turau, it's that eclectic. As a source of inspiration for getting out and about, it's top notch. Just take care if you decide to act on any of the ideas, though, because there are a number of 'issues' lurking underneath.
i) Some of the places are closer to another station, not the station indicated.
For example, the Natural History Museum is shown as being closest to Gloucester Road, but everyone knows you get there via South Kensington. For another example, the Art Pavilion in Mile End Park is shown as being closest to Bow Road, but is actually much closer to Mile End. Meanwhile Tower Hamlets Cemetery is shown as being closer to Devons Road DLR, but is actually closer to Bow Road. I suspect some of this shuffling has been done to make the map look more impressive, but apply caution if visiting.
ii) Some of the places are misspelled, or wrongly categorised.
My favourite misspelling is "The Painted Hall at Old Royal Navel College". Meanwhile at London Fields, the Lido has been categorised as 'Shopping'. And Woolwich Arsenal is allegedly on the District line.
iii) Some of the places are a long way from the station.
For example, Bentley Priory Museum is listed as 48 minutes walk from Stanmore, with no mention of the big hill you have to climb to get there, nor the 142 bus that'd ease your journey. For another example, Copped Hall is listed as 50 minutes walk from Epping or a ride on the number 13 bus, but the number 13 bus doesn't run on Sundays which is the only day Copped Hall is open.
iv) Several of the places are described as wheelchair accessible, but the closest station isn't wheelchair accessible.
For example, Tooting Market is described as wheelchair accessible, but wheelchair users cannot exit Tooting Broadway station. For another example, Sadler's Wells Theatre is described as wheelchair accessible, but wheelchair users cannot exit Angel station. There are dozens of such examples.
v) The map has not "ensured that no corner of this buzzing city is left untouched".
Certain parts of the capital are very much missing, for example Kingston, Sutton, Bexley and Bromley, because the tube and Overground don't go there. Other parts of the capital are very much missing because nobody found anything of interest, for example the entire tram network, the Overground north of Hackney, and the 'cultural desert' between Ruislip and Ealing. There again, Time Out have found some belters for Elverson Road, Elm Park and Eastcote, so let's not complain too much.
vi) Some of the suggestions are a bit nuts.
For example, Croxley Green is described as a "postcard-perfect English village". It very much isn't, even though it has nice bits, and I should know because I grew up there. Amazingly Time Out have two places to recommend in Croxley, the first being The Artichoke, "a rambling historical pub with an impressive flower basket selection. It has an exhaustive drinks list and serves up hearty pub classics." I've had some very nice lunches there, but seriously, do not drag yourself out of London for this. Secondly there's the Croxley Green Skate Park, a "wheelchair accessible" facility with "state of the art concrete ramps", which is indeed a much-loved hub for local youth but again, don't rush. Perhaps Time Out should stick to London and leave Hertfordshire to the professionals.
Which brings us to the second prong of the campaign, launching officially this Friday. Perhaps you remember the lovely line map which used to appear in Piccadilly line carriages showing the line snaking across the capital with various tourist hotspots highlighted. They updated the design a few years back, and now they've done a similar map for every other Underground line. These are intelligent, and diverse, and inclusive, and generally beautifully illustrated, and you can see the full set on Flickr here. [Bak][Cen][Cir][Dis][H&C][Jub][Met][Nor][Pic][Vic][W&C][Over]
I say beautifully illustrated, but Winston Churchill never looked like a shifty Mafioso, and I'm not convinced Brixton Market is best known for its Oriental food and pizzas, and Highgate Cematary is not spelt like that, and neither Maida Vale nor Kilburn High Road are the best stations for the Abbey Road zebra crossing, and the Crystal Palace dinosaurs look much less convincing than that, and the designers seem to have given up on finding much of interest in the east of the city, but overall these are charming, gorgeous, covetous posters. As multi-artist commissions go, this is a winner.
However, the Off-Peak slogan which appears in the top right corner of each map has been overlooked in the compilation of places to visit. Every map contains at least one venue in zone 1, and most of them contain several, so the message about off-peak travel in zones 2-6 costing only £1.50 has had to be ditched. The Circle line poster talks about "unlimited pay as you go travel for no more than £6.80 in zones 1-2", the District line poster mentions £8.00 for zones 1-3, the Hammersmith & City line says £9.80 for zones 1-4, the Bakerloo line is up to £11.60 for zones 1-5, and the Piccadilly line has to mention £12.50 for zones 1-6 on the off-chance you might want to go to Heathrow Airport. These are maps governed by the rules of daily capping, which isn't reduced for off-peak travel, so have ended up making tube travel look really expensive rather than appealingly cheap.
What we seem to have here are two different campaigns in collision, a "Wow there are so many places to visit by tube!" and a "Blimey in the suburbs it's only £1.50 to travel off-peak!" These are both great messages, but by including zone 1 venues one message has managed to invalidate the other. Whatever, there are indeed some brilliant places in London to visit cheaply by public transport, so keep your wits about you and get out there.