diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 07, 2018

A new tube map has just been released. A new night tube map has just been released. Both were due to be released last month, but have been held back until this weekend for unspecified reasons. Which begs the question, how and why did the December 2017 map become a January 2018 map?

Here are the covers of the two maps, and a striking pair they make too. The tube map cover by Marc Camille Chaimowicz depicts the interior of an imaginary room and features "a large neon tangerine arch" and "a slim mint green ladder". It's the first pocket tube map cover since Tracey Emin in 2012 to have an off-white frame. The night tube map cover by Marianna Simnett depicts a multi-species flock of luminous birds in semi-consciousness migratory flight. What's proven important for scheduling purposes is that Marc is a man and Marianna is a woman. Keep this at the back of your mind as we progress.

There absolutely definitely should have been a new night tube map in December 2017. The Night Overground launched in the middle of the month, at which point the previous map (showing only five tube lines) should have become obsolete. It was updated online, and on station platforms, but no new paper version was forthcoming, and the previous gorilla-fronted version remained in the racks. That's mystery number 1.

And we know that a new tube map was scheduled for December 2017 thanks to Art on the Underground.

Art on the Underground always make a fuss of their new cover designs, and did precisely that with Marc's pastel room. In mid-December they produced a limited edition travelcard wallet "to coincide with the launch of the 27th edition of the pocket Tube map 2017", even though no tube map was ready at that time. The wallets were available in Visitor Centres as a free giveaway, and you could have grabbed one for yourself had you read Ian's report. Art on the Underground also slapped up lots of posters at stations showing an enlargement of Marc's design so that we could all see how excellent it is. Most tellingly, their publicity included a photo showing a new tube map with "December 2017" written on the cover, because that had been the intended publication date.

But the dummy version in the photo never materialised, and the new tube map eventually ended up being launched one month after its cover. Even now Art on the Underground are insistent that the new tube map launched on 11 December 2017, even though it didn't, but are happy to admit that the new night tube map launched on 5 January, which it did.

There is a very good reason why Art on the Underground might want to claim that the new tube map launched in December, and that's suffragettes. 2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which Art on the Underground are celebrating with a year-long programme of women artists. They've already announced that Romanian artist Geta Brătescu and French artist Marie Jacotey will be providing the artwork for tube map covers later this year, one of which will be the map which launches Crossrail.

Night tube map artist Marianna Simnett is a woman, remember, so there's no issue with her being linked to a 2018 publication. But tube map artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz is a man, hence shifting his cover into 2018 would have wrecked a carefully planned annual theme. Art on the Underground can't have been happy when they were told that Marc's tube map cover was actually coming out in January, hence they've maintained the charade that it came out in December.

The big question is what on earth compelled TfL to delay the publication of two new pocket tube maps. Did they put Morden in the wrong farezone again, or is something less blundery going on?

A big clue is that tube maps on station platforms were replaced last month, or at least most of them were, and the new design says "December 2017" at the bottom. That's odd, because the small and large tube maps are normally updated at the same time, but on this occasion they're a month apart. We always expect subtle differences between the two layouts because the poster map has more space and its frame is a different shape. But even taking that into account there is one glaring difference between the two, which is the depiction of step-free access at Bond Street station.

The poster map, dated December 2017, shows no step-free access at Bond Street and is incorrect. The pocket map, dated January 2018, does show step-free access and is correct. But step-free access was introduced at Bond Street station on 17th November 2017, so technically any map published in December or January should have included it. Why is it missing from one map and present on the other?

It could well be a proofing error. Perhaps TfL failed to spot the missing wheelchair blobs at Bond Street before they sent the poster map to the printers, and were left with an expensive mistake they had no choice but to use. We know from last time they messed up that every poster map costs in the region of £2 to produce, and TfL print 4000, so that would have been a sizeable sum down the drain. But the flagship pocket map gets a lot more attention, so that did need to be updated, so either they pulped the first run and reprinted, or held back until a proper version was ready and then pressed the button.

But it could also be cautiousness. Step-free projects don't always complete when they say they will, so maybe TfL were unwilling to risk adding blobs at Bond Street until they were absolutely certain it would be ready. That does seem unlikely give that Bond Street's lifts were fully operational two weeks before December 2017, but lead times for print runs can be lengthy, so maybe nobody wanted to risk having egg on their face. As a case in point, step-free access to the Waterloo & City line at Bank was due to be operational before Christmas, so might have been added to the latest map, but that's now running a few months late and so its omission now looks wise.

The delayed reopening of Custom House DLR is a fortunate winner in all of this. It's no longer crossed out on the new pocket map, which coincidentally is being launched on the same weekend the station reopens rather than a few weeks previously. But elsewhere we now have the awkward situation whereby a mobility-impaired passenger looking at a tube map on a platform won't realise there's a fully-functioning set of lifts at Bond Street they could use, but anyone holding a paper map will.

Whatever issue intervened - Bond Street's blobs or otherwise - it must have been truly compelling to delay the publication of the night tube map. This really really ought to have been published in mid-December but it wasn't, and has only appeared in print three weeks after the first Night Overground train. What's more, a January night tube map ought to have included something else that isn't on the published map, and now also appears to be running behind schedule.

Back in November TfL's media team issued a digital night tube map clearly indicating that the Night Overground would extend from Dalston Junction to Highbury & Islington in January 2018. Look, it says so in the key. But the newly published night tube map includes nothing of the sort, nor any indication that this extension is on its way. Will the journalists who merrily cut and paste every TfL press release ever notice the delay, let alone investigate?

To be fair, it's always been the plan that the Night Overground would be extended after major engineering works at Highbury Corner are complete, and these weekend closures are now due to linger on until mid-February. That might mean services to Highbury & Islington commence on February 23rd, although "from spring 2018" is all the TfL website now claims. At least until then the new night tube map is correct, which may be another hint that TfL are reluctant to depict anything with a dubious start date on a printed map.

The one common factor in all of the above is that a lot of things are running late. Bank's new Walbrook entrance is running late. The reopening of Custom House station is running late. The launch of the Night Overground extension is running late. The publication of the pocket tube map and the pocket night tube map are running late. However valid TfL's reluctance to overpromise in print, it can't be a good thing that so many deadlines are being missed.

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