diamond geezer

 Monday, December 12, 2011

New tube map anyone?

We need a new tube map because Kensington Olympia needs a dotted green line. We need a new tube map because the Northern line now stops at Tottenham Court Road again. We need a new tube map because Green Park is now step-free (and, sheesh, what an ugly two-circle mess they've made of that). We need a new tube map because Blackfriars station is now open again (oh, except it isn't, not until the end of February, never mind). But most importantly we need a new tube map to promote an airline. Quite excessively promote an airline, as it turns out.

Emirates have managed to shoehorn their brand name onto the tube map in eight different places. First it's in the key, beneath the London Overground, as "Emirates Air-Line under construction". Secondly it's in the key again, alongside a titchy cablecar graphic labelled "Emirates Air-line". Third and fourthly it's on the map, as two new stations linked by a dotted red line across the river. Both stations appear as blue circles, meaning "step-free access from street to train", even though no wheelchair user can yet access either of them (and there are no trains). Both stations also have a dagger alongside to encourage you to refer to the key (where the name Emirates appears for a fifth and sixth time). Finally there are two mentions in the index on the back of the map, one of which nearly crashes into the final column (because, it appears, "Emirates Greenwich Peninsula" is the longest name of any station on the TfL network). Nowhere on the map does the word 'cablecar' appear - this is solely a branding opportunity for a Middle Eastern sponsor.

All eight mentions appear despite the cablecar still being at the early construction stage. It's not scheduled to open before next summer at the very earliest - beyond the lifespan of this new publication - but that hasn't stopped it appearing on the map. The last new TfL project, the DLR extension to Stratford International, never once appeared on the tube map before it opened. But the Emirates Air-Line has been given special dispensation to appear at least six months early, because they've paid for the privilege, so rules get bent.

This is all part of the creeping commercialisation of the tube map. On the December 2009 map, the only words written on the Greenwich peninsula were "North Greenwich" beside the Jubilee line station. For the new map the bend in the Thames has had to be be widened to fit in more text, first "North Greenwich for the O2" and secondly "Emirates Greenwich Peninsula". The tube network has always included several stations named after commercial entities, such as Arsenal (for the football club) and Elephant & Castle (for the pub). But here we have two multinational companies muscling in on London's geography via the acquisition of sponsored naming rights. You may be happy with that. I wonder where it ends.

And then there are the daggers on the map, thirteen in total. These are for quirks and detail that won't fit on the map, so they go into a separate "Check before you travel" section down the side. Only one lies north of the Central line, only one lies west of Waterloo. Most are concentrated in the DLR corner of the map, and two of these are cablecar related. Surely there's only one thing to "Check before you travel" on the Emirates Air-Line, and that's the certainty that the cablecar isn't yet open. But no. The mapmakers are insistent on telling us something else, twice, something that'll be entirely irrelevant to anyone's journey over the next six months. "Emirates Greenwich Peninsula - Fare zone to be confirmed". "Emirates Royal Docks - Fare zone to be confirmed". Wholly unnecessary daggerisation, surely?

Or maybe not. There is still a big question mark over precisely what fares will be charged to travel on the new ArabFly Dangleway. Oyster will be accepted, but it's not yet clear if there'll be a premium to pay for gliding across the Thames and if so, how much that'll be. TfL are clearly worried that, by slapping the cablecar on the tube map prematurely, people will jump to the wrong conclusion about the fare to be charged. The muttering media and those annoying pernickety bloggers, they might all leap in with an inappropriate assumption and then moan a lot when a journey costs more. At the moment Emirates Royal Docks looks to be firmly in zone 3, while Emirates Greenwich Peninsula sits alongside North Greenwich station on the boundary between zone 2 and zone 3. But I bet passengers will end up paying more than a single-zone fare once the cablecar begins operation, because the daggered comment hints as much.

The December tube map will be replaced in May next year, which is presumably when the special London 2012 Olympic tube map is launched. Expect the Emirates Air-Line to appear in full on that, as an attention-seeking red line, and to stay there until the ten-year sponsorship deal runs out. Because that's what £36m gets you - your brand name eight times on the tube map until December 2021. Why not pick one up today?

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