It's not every month TfL give us two new tube maps. (well, there was June 2016, when they had to reprint a second version of the new map without that Morden error... but that wasn't deliberate)
First off there's a new Tube map, the ordinary one, the one that shows normal daytime services.
Very little has changed since last time, or at least not yet. This may be a December 2016 tube map, but most of the significant changes are things that won't be happening until the New Year.
Category 1: line closures
» TfL Rail: Brentwood → Shenfield (no service from early January 2017 until late May 2017)
The closure's actually from 3rd January, but the tube map is rarely time-specific. The dotted blue line on the map is also really hard to spot because it's only 2mm long. Meanwhile the London Overground remains closed between Gospel Oak and Barking 'until February 2017', when presumably a new tube map will be required. The interchange connections at Walthamstow Queens Road and Wanstead Park have been reinstated in readiness.
Category 2: station closures
» Custom House for ExCel† (station closed from January until late December 2017)
» Lambeth North† (station closed until February 2017)
» Lancaster Gate† (station closed from Tuesday 3 January until August 2017)
That's a greater number of crossed-out closed stations than you normally see on a tube map. Last time round it was only Holland Park (and should probably also have been Lambeth North, which has been closed since mid-July). Meanwhile Lancaster Gate is closing for lift reasons, and Custom House because of Crossrail, but not for another couple of weeks.
Category 3: step-free access
» Tower Hill (now step-free)
» Vauxhall (finally step-free)
» Kings Cross (Metropolitan/Circle/H&C) (no longer step-free)
» Edgware† (restricted step-free access from January 2017 until March 2017)
» Highams Park† (no step-free access to northbound platform until March 2017)
» Hounslow West† (step-free for manual wheelchairs only)
Tower Hill is the big accessibility success story here, the very first station on the District line with step-free access from street to train. Is that before or after the last old D Stock trains are retired, I wonder? King's Cross's loss is temporary and thanks to lift replacement work due to be completed in early February, not that the map mentions this. Meanwhile Hounslow West always used to have a dagger up until last January when it disappeared, and now someone's decided it's important enough to put it back.
I'm indebted to the good folk at District Dave's Forum for cataloguing these changes, by the way, I won't claim to have spotted them all myself. Well done to them too for spotting that the tube map's now being printed on thinner paper than ever before. If you get yourself a copy of the new and the old and hold one in each hand it really is quite obvious. Still, that's a bit more money saved, eh?
In other changes...
• The front cover design is a pleasingly moquette-ish design called Metropolitan Diamonds by Gillian Carnegie.
• The station index is crammed onto two folded sides (compared to three years ago when fewer stations were spread across nearly three)
• The 'advert' on the back cover is an exhortation to use Pay As You Go instead of buying a One Day Travelcard (target audience: tourists, who need to cease this paper ticket nonsense)
• The 'tram' bit of the map is now labelled 'London Trams fare zone' rather than 'Special fares apply'.
And finally, six stations on the map have a red dagger. This is a year-old space-saving innovation which means "we can't be bothered to tell you what the service variations are at these stations, go look it up online". Official advice is to search 'TfL stations' for full details, a miserably half-arsed method of information gathering which vastly over-exaggerates the general public's ability to find, interrogate and navigate the TfL website. To save you looking, here's what the current set of red daggers represent.
» Turnham Green†: Not served by Piccadilly line trains between 7am and 10.30pm (or 8am and 10.30pm on Sunday).
» Camden Town†: Exit-only on Sundays between 1pm and 5.30pm. It's not ideal, but we're working on it...
» London Fields† /Cambridge Heath†: Not served by London Overground trains to/from Chingford. We could show this on the map by splitting the lines, but it's so squished now there isn't room.
» West India Quay†: Not served by DLR trains from Bank towards Lewisham at certain times (by which we mean none of the time).
» Emerson Park†: No trains after 10pm weekdays (and 8pm on Sunday).
It's really hard to find. I had to hunt around at least 20 stations before I finally found one, or more accurately two, because that's all the copies there were, and I haven't seen them anywhere else. Perhaps they haven't printed many. Perhaps they only put them out on Friday and Saturday evenings. Perhaps they've been really popular with the night-time crowd. Whatever, they're like gold dust, and trying to get hold of one is remarkably difficult.
The first key thing about the Night Tube map is that it has a dark blue background. This makes it bloody hard to read. It looks fine as a big poster on station platforms, and it looks OK on the pdf on the TfL website. But shrink it down to 20cm × 14cm, then let the ink bleed very slightly, and the white-on-blue text is unexpectedly difficult to distinguish. The designers have insisted on using the same tiny font as the normal tube map, even though there's plenty of room on this uncluttered version for something a couple of points larger, and the end result is unnecessarily squinty.
The second key thing about the Night Tube map is that it only has five lines. Annoyingly, it's as if those four of those five lines have been chosen according to how little contrast they have against a blue background. The Central line screams out because it's red, but the others are grey, light blue, dark blue and black. It's a toss up between the Northern and the Piccadilly - the latest two to open - which is the hardest colour to distinguish. The contrast works a little better on the poster and the pdf, where a thin white border separates the darker tones. But the inks haven't quite aligned on my printed version, and the white stripes were really narrow anyway, so the lines appear unhelpfully camouflaged.
To make things even trickier, the Night Tube map uses the same step-free symbols as the normal tube map. The most common of these is a blue blob with a wheelchair in, which as you can imagine fades into the blue background particularly well. The white blob stands out better, but there are only half as many of these. The brightest object on the map is the plain old interchange symbol, so these stand out best of all. The only other symbols used are a dagger and an aeroplane, both coincidentally similar shaped, as you can almost see if you try peering repeatedly at Heathrow and Hounslow West.
On the bright side, which is the other side of the piece of paper, the index has fewer stations than the normal tube map so they've used a larger font. It's better spaced, and much more readable, which is great. Then there's the design on the front cover, which is by Samara Scott, and it's lovely. At first glance it looks like some alien landscape, or maybe a close up of bacteria, but is in fact a collage of edible and cosmetic products. The Art on the Underground website describes it thus...
"Created directly from the surface of a domestic scanner, Scott has assembled the objects in an intuitive investigative manner. A glowing bike light shines onto a suspended Ikea bag to create a sweeping purple background, cables wind across the scanner’s surface and felt tip pens balance precariously amidst the scanner’s gathered dust and detritus to invoke a sense of depth, movement and travel that hints at the Underground at night."
Good luck finding a copy, and even better luck trying to read it.