diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 31, 2015

The new tube map officially hits the racks tomorrow. It's not pretty.

My photo shows the poster map (not the folded card version), which has been pasted up prematurely on the outer reaches of the DLR. If features the Overground tangle introduced in the summer, which is ugly enough, but this has now been joined by a new development that makes northeast London even more impenetrable. Welcome to the zone 2/3 overlap, embracing stations from Stratford down to North Greenwich.

The plan, you may remember, was to "maximise the unique potential of the Olympicopolis initiative" by adding Stratford's three stations to Zone 2 as well as zone 3. Fares from Central London would then be cheaper, making the Stratford area a more desirable place to visit, live and invest. The plan was later tweaked when someone spotted that passengers arriving by Jubilee line would have to pass through Zone 3 along the way, so West Ham and Canning Town were absorbed into the overlap, along with all the DLR stations inbetween. The four original boundary stations have thereby been joined by seven additions, and what used to be an overlap line has had to be extended to an overlap region. It's highly unusual for a zone border to have actual thickness, but the tube map has had no choice but to adapt.

What a mess. The new overlap zone wiggles in an awkward manner to contain all the necessary stations while excluding the rest. It bulges additionally to embrace the name of the zone, which looks like two-thirds but is actually two-slash-three. It either does or doesn't cross the Thames, it's hard to tell at a glance. And worst of all it's only a fractionally darker shade of grey than that used for zone 2, which makes it even harder to distinguish. If you're having trouble understanding what's going on, imagine how the average member of the travelling public will fare.

Various unwritten "Tube Map Rules" are to blame.
i) Zones should alternate in colour between white and grey. When zone 2 is grey and zone 3 is white, it's hard to choose an intermediate colour that isn't one or the other. Presumably they considered a hatched grey/white zone, looked at the end result and decided against.
ii) Every station on the boundary between zones should have its name written inside a white box. Normally this is no trouble, but here the white box is in addition to an overlap zone, which means there are two different ways of showing the same information.
iii) The zone should be labelled using a large font size. This would be fine if the name was a single digit but it's two and a bit, creating otherwise unnecessary deviation.
iv) All straight lines on tube maps should be vertical, horizontal or at 45° (they would be if I'd taken my photo head on). This rule usually improves the aesthetics, but in such a confined space it results in a more tortuous border, indeed in this case the resulting shape has over twenty sides.
v) Step-free access must be shown by a blob. This is the most accessible corner of the tube map, hence almost every station in the overlap zone has a blob, that's fifteen blobs in total, which is additionally distracting.
When the Tube Map Rules were written, the diagram was simpler and less congested, and most of the rules generally worked. But the concept of an overlap zone was never foreseen, nor how the northeast quadrant of the map would become a congested web, hence these rules now act more as constraints. If the designers were allowed to break the Tube Map Rules occasionally they could have designed something a bit nicer, and more legible, and easier to understand. But no, rules are rules, so this deformed grey slug is what we get.

One of the least attractive features of the new overlap zone is the Plaistow Notch. Plaistow is too far east to be absorbed into the developmental whirlwind so remains in Zone 3, but only just. The grey overlap has had to bend in and out to pass by, nudging extremely close to the Hammersmith & City line, a situation not helped by the white rectangle around Abbey Road. Then there's the unintended ambiguity at North Greenwich. South of the Thames more than half of the grey section is taken up by a white box, making it especially hard to be certain which zone this station's in, a situation not helped by the leftward positioning of the cablecar terminal.

And then there's the sheer inconsistency of it all. Several other stations are also in zones 2 and 3, but they've not been absorbed into the new zone. Take Clapton, for example, which could easily have been included by stretching the overlap beyond Stratford International. Ditto the five DLR stations south of the Thames from Cutty Sark down to Lewisham. These have always been positioned directly on the borderline, and will continue to be depicted in the old style despite the fact the overlap zone could be extended to include these too. And there's a reason for this. The new tube map isn't meant to be consistent, it's a reaction to a Mayoral decision about the Lower Lea Valley, a political distortion TfL have been forced to absorb.

Aesthetics aside, this is great news for the New East End. From Sunday tube journeys to Stratford and Canning Town will be cheaper, leaving more money in your pocket and ultimately bumping up the value of your home. Here's precisely how much the move from Zone 3 to Zones 2 and 3 might save you.

By tube from zone 1 (eg Oxford Circus) to Stratford  
Oyster single (peak)£3.30£2.9040p
Oyster single (off-peak)£2.80£2.4040p
Daily cap£7.60£6.50£1.10
7 day Travelcard£38.00£32.40£5.60
Monthly Travelcard£146.00£124.50£21.50
Annual Travelcard£1520£1296£224

Every pay-as-you-go journey from Zone 1 to Stratford will cost 40p less as a result of January 2nd's change - think on that every time you swipe your Oyster or contactless card. And this works in both directions. Return trips to Westfield or the Olympic Park will cost 80p less, for example, as will the daily commutes of all those who live down the western edge of Newham. So long as they're travelling to Zone 1, that is. Take the tube between Zone 2 and Stratford and something rather unexpected happens to the fare. Nothing.

By tube from zone 2 (eg Canary Wharf) to Stratford  
Oyster single (peak)£1.70£1.70nil
Oyster single (off-peak)£1.50£1.50nil
Daily cap£7.60£6.50£1.10*
7 day Travelcard£24.30£24.30nil
Monthly Travelcard£93.40£93.40nil
Annual Travelcard£972£972nil

Because of the peculiar way tube fares are structured, pay-as-you-go journeys within zone 2 cost exactly the same as journeys crossing from Zone 2 to Zone 3, And this means that Sunday's zone change will have absolutely no effect on the fare from zone 2 to the overlap. Travellers from Canary Wharf to Stratford, or from Mile End to Stratford, or from Highbury & Islington to Stratford, will be making no savings whatsoever, they'll just think they are.
* Technically there is a cut to the daily price cap, but because this only kicks in if you make four peak (or five off-peak) tube journeys, it's practically irrelevant.

And if you're any further out, because Stratford remains in Zone 3, there's no change either.

By tube from zone 3, 4, 5 or 6 to Stratford  
 Z3Z2/3  saving  
Any kind of fare whatever    same   nil

In summary, from Sunday travelling between Zone 1 and seven stations in the Lower Lea Valley will get 40p cheaper. To depict this, from tomorrow the tube map gets an ugly grey smear down the right hand side. You win some, you lose some.

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