Six months ago, you may remember, TfL replaced all the vinyl tube maps on station platforms with splendid heritage posters. Vinyl maps are expensive to produce, and never having to update them again would save £21,000 a year.
Ordinary paper maps in glass-fronted frames were not affected. Platforms with newer 'Station closed' signs were not affected. But on several platforms all across the network, seemingly randomly scattered, tube maps vanished overnight.
I visited 72 platforms on the District, Northern and Central lines.
» 22 no longer displayed a tube map
» 8 no longer displayed a tube map or tube/rail map
» 5 no longer displayed any maps at all
When I blogged about the disappearance, TfL's Senior Press Officer got in touch. This never normally happens. "Just so you are aware," he said, "we are working to put Tube maps up at any platforms that no longer have one due to the new heritage boards. Additional poster frames are also planned to be installed at stations in the coming weeks."
TfL's eventual solution was to print a new set of vinyl tube maps and stick these up over the top of the heritage posters at stations which no longer had a tube map. This was a much smaller print run, maybe a quarter of the original, but still an additional unplanned expense. Money had also been wasted on printing the heritage posters that were now covered over.
I returned to the 8 platforms which hadn't displayed a tube map or tube/rail map.
» 6 now had a vinyl tube map stuck over their heritage poster
» 1 still displayed two Night Tube maps, but no other maps (Liverpool Street)
» 1 still displayed no maps at all (Plaistow)
It's now six months since the change happened. What's more another new tube map has now been released, which should have provided a fresh opportunity for a correct process to be implemented. But has all the damaged wreaked by the blue heritage posters been sorted out? I've been out again to have a look.
Firstly I returned to the two mapless platforms.
At Plaistow, no improvement. The sole map frame on the eastbound platform still contains a heritage poster, not a map. A new vinyl May 2019 map has been printed, and several other platforms across the network display it, but nobody's noticed it also needs to be displayed here.
At Liverpool Street, again no change. The eastbound platform on the Central line has three map-sized frames, one of which still contains a heritage poster and the other two still contain Night Tube maps. If you want to see where the normal daytime network goes, there is nothing. I wonder if TfL has a platform database which says "it's OK, this one has maps", without recognising that the maps are of the wrong kind. With three frames on the platform, two of them paper-friendly, this should have been dead easy to get right. But nobody has.
And because I like to be thorough, I've also been out to 50 more platforms to check the current state of mappiness. Specifically I've trawled every station on the Bakerloo line from Marylebone to Elephant & Castle and every station on the Piccadilly line from Green Park to Bounds Green. And it's not great.
I visited 50 platforms on the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines.
» 27 displayed a bold blue heritage poster
» 19 no longer displayed a tube map
» 1 no longer displayed a tube map or tube/rail map
The most obvious deficiency was on the westbound Piccadilly line platform at Green Park. It's not entirely mapless, there is a Night Tube map on the wall, but that's no good during the day at this tourist-heavy station. The frame which used to contain a vinyl tube map, and should do again, still displays a heritage poster instead. So that's another fail.
No tube map or tube/rail map: Green Park No tube map on both platforms: Marylebone, Charing Cross, Caledonian Road, Holloway Road, Arsenal, Finsbury Park, Wood Green No tube map on one platform: Baker Street, Lambeth North, Elephant & Castle, Bounds Green
Across the 50 platforms I surveyed, 18 now display a National Rail/tube map but not a tube map. Technically that's fine, every tube journey can be traced thereon, but it's nowhere near as simple to use. Each of these 18 platforms used to have a tube map and a tube/rail map, because that's the dream combination, but since December the tube map's been covered over by a blue heritage poster and now only the tube/rail map remains.
TfL could have decided to stick either type of map in the one remaining frame, but inertia has won out and so we only get the complicated one. The cost of adding a tube map should have been identical, and it's definitely TfL's default map elsewhere, but instead they've simply replaced a December 2018 tube/rail map with a May 2019 tube/rail map without considering what's been lost. I'd like to argue that this is wrong, and there ought to be a tube map instead, but obviously all I can really say is "well, I wouldn't have done that."
One thing I found no evidence of, despite being mentioned in TfL's Senior Press Officer's email, is "additional poster frames". Even at stations where the vinyl tube map was the only map on the platform, like Regent's Park, TfL's solution hasn't been to stick up a new frame, it's been to re-use the old one.
Despite the original intention of discontinuing the expensive fire-proofed maps, it's turned out cheaper to continue to produce them but in smaller numbers. TfL's cost-cutting measure will eventually save them some money, but less than originally anticipated because the change wasn't thought through properly prior to implementation.
Even now, six months later, there are still mapless platforms at Plaistow, Liverpool Street and Green Park where mitigation hasn't been properly implemented. These won't be the only three either. But it seems that nobody at TfL knows precisely what maps they've got stuck up precisely where... nor, more importantly, precisely what they haven't.