diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 10, 2017

Last summer, you may remember, TfL printed a tube map with a mistake on it.

Morden station accidentally ended up in a 'Special fares apply' zone, along with the trams, when it should have been in zone 4. An easy mistake to make when adding the tram network to the tube map for the first time.

Unfortunately, due to insufficient checking, the error wasn't spotted before the map went to print. Lots of copies were printed, all of which had to be reprinted later after the error was spotted.

But how many copies were pulped, and how much money was wasted? Well, the Daily Mirror put in a Freedom of Information request, and got the answers.

Bungling Tube bosses pulp half a million maps after printing them with a tiny but crucial mistake
(Daily Mirror, 8 Aug 2017)

They asked three questions.
1. How many hard copies have been printed/produced of the Tube Map which places Morden in the same 'special fare zone' as the tram network, instead of Zone 4? Please itemise these by the number printed/produced of each size, giving the dimensions in each case.

ProductDimensions (mm)Quantity printed
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine240×125700
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine292×204200
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine233×156600
Quad Royal poster1270×10163980
Pocket tube map297×149460800
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map1012×6278000
Add that lot up and the total number of Morden Error Tube Maps printed was 474280 - pretty much the half million copies the Mirror's headline states.

The vast majority of these were copies of the pocket tube map, the version available to pick up for free in station ticket halls. I've long wondered how many of these they print, and now we know, at least for one print run (prior to the error being spotted). 460800 copies would be enough to provide for 1700 maps at every tube station, not that that's how they're distributed, but it gives an idea of scale.

Meanwhile 8000 copies of the large fold-out Accessibility Tube Map were printed, as well as a few hundred of each of the types they get to stick on ticket machines across the network. The unexpectedly high print run is perhaps the Quad Royal Poster - that's the metre-wide tube map displayed on platforms - although 4000 maps would be enough for six at every station in London, so that's not an unrealistic number either. They're big maps, though. I wonder how much money was wasted there?
2. If the information is available, how many of these hard copy maps have been put up in public areas or on trains on the Tube network?

No copies of the map were put up in public areas or on trains on the Tube network. However a delivery was sent to Victoria Coach Station and Gatwick Airport, these were then collected.
I have a copy of the Morden Error Tube Map. I picked it up in a station on the Circle line where, inexplicably, the racks had been filled with copies of the incorrect map. This was on the first weekend the new maps were supposed to be rolled out across London, but had mysteriously failed to appear elsewhere. I'm not sure quite what lapse in the supply chain led to paper copies of the incorrect map being put on public display at this one station, especially given that the error was already public knowledge at this point. But it is simply not true that no hard copy maps were in circulation, because I have one. I may even have more than one.

What I think we have here is a prime example of 'FOI weaselling'. The question the Daily Mirror asked was "how many of these hard copy maps have been put up...?" and TfL have chosen to interpret "put up" as "placed on walls or in poster frames". No large maps destined to be "put up" ever made it that far. However, numerous pocket maps destined to be "put out" definitely did.

An employee at one particular tube station told me at the time, "we got a delivery but they were recalled before we could use them". It seems TfL only noticed they had a ghastly error on their hands after boxes of pocket maps had reached stations, and only just managed to recall the misprinted batch in time. That's everywhere except at one particular central London tube station where the staff put them out anyway, for whatever reason, and where the duff maps hung around in the racks for at least a week. TfL's FOI response is at best misleading, and at worst a lie.

The Daily Mirror managed to get a bit more information out of TfL once they discovered the story was about to be published. "The minor error was identified by TfL part-way through the initial printing in May 2016," they said. Minor error? Anything that results in the destruction of every single copy of a tube map is not a minor error. It's also the case that TfL were happily crowing about their new tube map in a press release and in a Londonist video before a member of the public pointed out the mistake. They missed this one. It got away.
3. Please give the actual or estimated cost of these hard copy maps. If not available please give the standard cost of printing each size of the Tube Map.

ProductCost per map product
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine0.30p
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine0.99p
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine0.31p
Quad Royal poster£2.06
Pocket tube map0.08p
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map0.25p
I've often wondered how much tube maps cost to print, so the release of this information is fascinating. If the cost of a pocket map is only 0.08p, that means twelve pocket maps can be printed for a penny, which is remarkably cheap. Meanwhile each big full-colour poster map on a tube platform costs just over £2... and in this case all of those £2s were wasted. Indeed I can now work out precisely how much TfL spent on the whole Morden debacle, like so.
ProductQuantityCost per mapTotal cost
Type 1 Ticket Vending Machine7000.30p£2.10
Type 2 Ticket Vending Machine2000.99p£1.98
Type 3 Ticket Vending Machine6000.31p£1.86
Quad Royal poster3980£2.06£8,198.80
Pocket tube map4608000.08p£368.64
Large Print Accessibility Tube Map80000.25p£20.00
That's a total of £8593.38, or about £8600, which is a wholly insignificant amount in the overall TfL budget. It seems the Morden error has wasted almost no money at all - less than, for example, the income received from four Zone 1-6 annual travelcards. This is no story of wasteful excess, so move along.

Except, I don't know about you, but those costs for the individual products look remarkably cheap. Taking the pocket map as an example, I don't believe it's plausible to print a full colour double-sided triple-folded card for a twelfth of a penny, even if the printing company strikes a really good deal. Likewise the maps on vending machines are large and colourful, so I genuinely don't believe the bill for 700 of them could be as little as £2, and 8000 Large Print Tube Maps for £20 surely isn't credible either.

Could TfL's response to the FoI request contain a schoolboy error regarding currency notation, where £ and p have been confused? That seems unlikely, and would lead to a total bill of £47656.80, or nearly fifty thousand pounds, instead. That's the sort of total a newspaper or London Assembly member might get righteously indignant about - fifty thousand pounds squandered by a public body because its checking procedures were insufficiently rigorous.

Except there was a caveat to TfL's answer to question 3, which was this.
Please note we did not pay for the incorrect maps. We were able to work with our print suppliers to have the required numbers and types of maps produced within the original agreed budget.
Whether the total was £8600 or £48000, it seems that the taxpayer didn't end up footing the bill. Some arrangement was reached, the specific details of which have not been revealed, and it seems only the printers were out of pocket.

My assumption had been that TfL were plainly to blame, either their design team for placing Morden in the wrong zone or their proofreaders for overlooking the error. I guess it is possible that the mistake was at the printers' end - perhaps they sent the wrong version of the design to the presses. But all the evidence, specifically the fact that the final printed maps were initially despatched to stations, suggests that nobody at TfL noticed the Morden error until someone else pointed it out.

The Daily Mirror managed to extract a little more detail from TfL about printing costs for the misprinted maps, specifically this. "These were subsequently recycled (the pocket maps are printed on 100% recycled paper) and through the procurement efficiencies that we have been making, we were able to recover these costs and still produce the required number of Tube maps within our overall print budget."

This version of events suggests all TfL are admitting is that their budget wasn't exceeded, and maybe there was a cost but it was covered by other savings. Who knows? The whole point of FOI responses is to be vague and evasive, and TfL have certainly achieved that here. They may also have made an error in their presentation of the information, which in an FOI response about an error would be both ironic and embarrassing.

All we do know for certain is that almost half a million tube maps had to be withdrawn and recycled because of a mistake, and that several thousand pounds which might have been spent elsewhere was lost. What Morden confirms is that it pays to check stuff carefully before you print it, and that insufficient checking costs.

» Daily Mirror, 8 Aug 2017
» Evening Standard, 9 Aug 2017

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