If you've waited at a Central London bus stop recently, you may have noticed that bus spider maps are changing.
A major rollout of these new-style maps occurred last weekend alongside significant changes to the central London bus network. With more than 20 routes no longer going where they used to, a heck of a lot of spider maps suddenly needed updating.
• Full length of every route shown
• Route numbers at end of route only
• Approximately geographically accurate
• Only shows routes serving the immediate area
• Central box focused on immediate area showing every stop (but no routes)
• Yellow tinted area including every bus stop up to one-and-a-half miles
• All bus stops named
• Outer area shows main stops only
• Route finder alongside map (for matching routes to stops)
• Routes shortened at edge of map
• Route numbers shown alongside route
• Approximately geographically accurate (as before)
• Shows routes which used to serve the immediate area
• Central box focused on immediate area showing every stop (but no routes) (as before)
• Map shows every bus stop up to approximately two-and-a-half miles
• Only significant bus stops named
• Arrow indicates route continues beyond two-and-a-half miles
• 'Where to catch your bus' shown on map at end of each route
• In place of the Route finder, a box entitled 'How to use this map'
The two styles are really quite similar, but also really quite different.
Probably the biggest change is that the new maps no longer show the entire route. On the St Paul's map, every route gets chopped off around the 2½ mile mark, assuming it goes that far.
Spider maps pasted up in bus shelters also include a Destination Finder, a long index showing points served, and this includes locations off the edge of the map. For example, Holloway, Seven Sisters and Stratford no longer appear anywhere on the St Paul's map, but they are in the index. Most bus passengers make short hops rather than long journeys, so you could argue that focusing on the immediate vicinity makes sense. But it makes taking a long distance journey harder, because a quick glance no longer tells you if any bus'll take you where you want to go.
The other really significant change is the loss of the Route Finder alongside the map. Previously if you knew you wanted to catch a particular route you could quickly check to see which local bus stops it stopped at. Now you have to find the route on the map and follow the coloured line to the end to find a small box in which the bus stop codes are listed. It all gets very cluttered in places. I'm unconvinced it's a step forward.
One further change is that spider maps now include routes that don't stop in the area, but used to. TfL have been sensitive to the charge that reshaping routes breaks connections, so are keen to explain how to continue your journey as you would have done before. For example, on the St Paul's map routes 242 and 388 are shown (in black), despite being cut back last weekend so they now reach no closer than Liverpool Street or Shoreditch. Extra text boxes have been added to explain the changes - relevant this month, but increasingly anachronistic as the months roll by.
Aside: I caught a couple of buses from St Paul's earlier in the week, and was surprised to hear several additional audio announcements advising how and where to change buses... Change at the next stop for a same-stop interchange to routes 76 and 100... Change here for route 25 towards Bank from stop SY in Cheapside... that kind of thing. I hope they're only temporary, because their scattergun irrelevance will likely drive regular travellers mad.
Overall the new spider maps are much busier than the old, with information more densely-packed. Shifting priorities mean long-distance information has been ditched in favour of more medium-range detail. Concealing bus stop information at the ends of lines rather than in a central table has made consulting the map slower than before. But on the (very) bright side, at least the new spider maps are still approximately geographically correct, rather than the godawful straightened-outdiagrams TfL had previously been trialling around Hayes and Barkingside.
Overall I preferred the old style spider maps, and I know I'm going to find the new ones frustrating when trying to make a long journey from an unfamiliar location. I'd also query how straightforward they'll be for general use, especially by irregular travellers and tourists, given the sheer density of information. Any map which requires an instruction box this complicated can't be doing its job properly...
But hey, it could have been a lot worse, they could have scrapped them altogether. (No need to leave a comment bemoaning the disappearance of the all-routes printed maps, let's take that as a given)