diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 07, 2016

As yet there have been no sightings of the poster-sized tube map (with added trams) at London Underground stations. But the June 2016 paper map does exist, and has apparently been available for over a week in at least one particular Zone 1 ticket hall. So I picked up a copy. And yes, there is a very embarrassing mistake at Morden.

Morden should be in zone 4, but on the latest version of the tube map it's accidentally been sucked into a new grey tram zone where "Special fares apply". Journeys to Morden aren't special, so the printed map is wrong, which makes a mockery of the "Correct at time of going to print" tagline at the bottom.

Either TfL are intending to dish out 12 million such incorrect maps over the course of the rest of the year, in which case you'll be able to hold the error in your hands soon enough. Or they're rapidly reprinting another batch, in line with the corrected version on the TfL website, and my Morden-fail version is going to become an eBay-friendly limited edition. Time will tell.

Ten things that have changed on the new June 2016 tube map

1) There are trams!
Old news by now, I know. But the arrival of the tram network is important, because it confirms TfL's intention to display as many of their services as possible on the map. It's hardly a tube map any more, not when it contains DLR, Overground, cablecar and now trams, but at least they haven't got round to adding river services or Cycle Superhighways or key buses, and I'd best stop there before I give anyone ideas. In total 39 tramstops have been added, 37 of which are at new locations, fitting almost-conveniently into the large tube-free blank space at the foot of the map. As with the Overground there's been no attempt to demarcate the separate lines, so you'll not see any difference between routes 1, 2, 3 and 4. And every tramstop has step-free access... which the cynic in me suspects might be the entire point of the exercise, as it increases the proportion of step-free stations on the tube map from 40% to 45% overnight.

2) Everything's a bit more squashed
You can't squeeze 39 more blobs onto the tube map without shifting everything else around to make room. In some areas the nudging is fractional, and in others rather more severe. The distance from Stockwell to South Wimbledon on the Northern line is now 20% shorter, likewise the Overground from New Cross Gate down to West Croydon. Meanwhile the Central line from Ealing Broadway no longer runs across the exact centre of the map but slightly above, and the first vertical fold no longer passes through South Kensington but instead Gloucester Road. This contraction continues the design's ongoing inexorable degradation - in short, with every update of the tube map it's getting harder to read.

3) Part of the Overground is closing for eight months
This, not the trams, is the reason a June 2016 tube map has been required. The Gospel Oak to Barking branch of the Overground is closing for long-awaited electrification, which will be brilliant when it's completed in February next year. In the meantime before the end of September everything to the east of South Tottenham is closed and everything to the west is open weekdays only, and after the end of September everything is closed. It's a bit complicated and takes some decoding, especially if you're trying to work out whether a particular bit of dotted orange line is open or not. But the two replacement bus services have been given considerable prominence down the right hand side of the map - more than I've ever seen before.

4) More step-free access is available
In excellent news, South Tottenham station now has step free access, installed in April, so appears with a white blob on the map. In less good news, that's just in time for this branch of the London Overground to close for several months. Also in less good news, Vauxhall now has an interchange symbol rather than a blue blob because its step-free access project is running some months behind schedule.

5) The map's key has moved
The key's been at the bottom of the paper map since 2009, but now the tram's arrived it's been kicked out, and now exists at the top of the white information strip down the right hand side. That's a plus because it's better spaced than it used to be, so is a bit easier to read. I notice that the trams have been shoehorned in near the bottom of the list, below the cablecar and TfL Rail, using the label "London Trams", a title I've not seen used elsewhere.

6) The cablecar's name has been extended
For the last four years the cablecar has been labelled on the tube map as the "Emirates Air Line". However it's highly likely that a large number of potential passengers didn't fully understand what this might be, so on the new map an extra description has been added. Now it's the "Emirates Air Line cable car", to clarify the ambiguous brand name and to make it sound more like the tourist attraction it truly is. Two columns further across, the mini-gondola symbol used for the cablecar has also had this extra phrase added, giving even greater prominence to the only sponsored means of transport on the map.

7) There are fewer daggers on the map
Unlike a few years ago, TfL now only sprinkle daggers on the map if there's a genuine reason to "check before you travel". On the last map four stations had a blue dagger because they were closed but now it's only three, with Barbican (shut throughout the autumn) the fresh arrival. Half a dozen further stations get the lesser red dagger, but no further information, because there isn't room. Alas TfL still expect you to Google "TfL stations" to find out what the issue is, despite this being a ridiculous amount of palaver and highly unlikely to work.

8) The index is even more squashed
Until the end of 2014, the index on the back of the map used two columns of information per page, which was relatively legible. Since then we've switched to three columns, and the addition of 37 new tramstops has kicked the list over onto the top part of a third page. Look carefully and you'll also see that the columns nudge up closer to the edge of the page than they did before, confirming what a juggling act this has become. The minuscule font combined with narrow line spacing makes the index depressingly illegible, not helped by the mammoth amount of additional information the index is expected to contain. And these tramstops are making it even worse because they're not in a zone, so TfL have written "Special" in the Zone column rather than using a single number or letter. On the last map there were only four Specials, whereas now there are ten times as many, and still no explanation of what "Special" might mean.

9) The symbol for Visitor Centres has changed
Not only is the writing in the index tiny, but the symbols are tiny too, so if your eyesight's anything less than excellent you won't be able to make them out. This was particularly the case on the last map for TfL's new Visitor Centres, which were represented by some bleached rectangular design it was nigh impossible to pick out. That problem has been solved by making the symbol bright red, so now you can actually spot it in the index, which is a big improvement.

10) Morden is in the wrong zone
And finally, as we've already mentioned, Morden accidentally appears in the "Special fares apply" zone rather than in zone 4. Trams don't really need a zone, because they're a flat-fare means of travel, but everything on the tube map has to have one so we've ended up with a big grey swathe across the bottom of the map. This along with disjoint slivers of grey and white for zones 4 and 5 near Croydon, plus the grey zone 2/3 overlap added back in January, create a mess it's not at all easy to pick apart. Perhaps it's no surprise that TfL's proof readers failed to spot their Morden error amid this maelstrom. If evidence were needed that the tube map has become too complicated for its own good, the pulping of 12 million copies might well be proof enough.

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