diamond geezer

 Friday, July 17, 2020

As the PM nudges Londoners back onto public transport, TfL are doing their bit to keep us off it.

If a journey's walkable, why get on the tube?

This is the theme behind a fresh post on the Experience London blog, a digital mouthpiece curated by the TfL Community Team (and liberally splattered with emojis ➡️🚶).

Yesterday's post was entitled Quick walks between stations, and contained much I had trouble believing.

How could walking from Embankment to Piccadilly Circus be 2 minutes quicker than taking the tube? How could travelling two stops on the Northern line take 15 minutes? Where had these peculiar timings come from?

Here's a summary of the claims in the post, several of which appeared to have been massaged, muddled or miscalculated.

JourneyLineno. of
walkingby tube
Waterloo to SouthwarkJubilee14 min2 mins
Warren St to Tottenham Ct RdNorthern212 mins1 min
Embankment to Piccadilly Circus Bakerloo214 mins16 mins
Euston to Tottenham Ct RdNorthern319 mins13 mins
Victoria to WestminsterDistrict219 mins11 mins
Charing Cross to Oxford CircusBakerloo220 mins20 mins
King’s Cross to Camden TownNorthern222 mins15 mins

Stay with me, because in amongst the errors it turns out a 'new normal' has silently kicked in.

Waterloo to Southwark 🚶4 minutes (only 2 minutes longer than the Tube)
This one sounds fair enough, given that Waterloo and Southwark stations are very close together. But the tube journey actually takes 1 minute, not 2, according to real life and the Journey Planner. More importantly you cannot walk between the stations in 4 minutes. The Journey Planner claims you can, but if you click through and look at a map the given route delivers you to the western ticket hall at Southwark (which has no external public entrance), rather than the actual entrance three streets to the east. Alas '🚶8 minutes (only 7 minutes longer than the Tube)' isn't such an inspiring truth.

Warren Street to Tottenham Court Road 🚶12 minutes (only 11 minutes longer than the Tube)
This time the duration of the tube journey is wrong. It takes 2 minutes according to the Journey Planner, not 1, even though Goodge Street station inbetween is currently closed. It's only a minor discrepancy, but still leaves a whopping 10 minute chasm between walking and tubing.

I think those are genuine errors. But what's really mysterious is why the durations of all the remaining tube journeys in the table are over 10 minutes.

Embankment to Piccadilly Circus 🚶14 minutes (2 minutes quicker than the Tube)
As everyone who knows London knows, this is nuts. It's definitely quicker to get from Embankment to Piccadilly Circus by tube, rather than on foot, unless the Bakerloo line is very seriously compromised. And yet TfL are somehow claiming that a two stop tube journey will take you 16 minutes... what could be going on?

If you ask the Journey Planner to transport you from Embankment to Piccadilly Circus, it now refuses.

We'd rather you walked or biked this journey, it says, which in current circumstances is fair enough. Why not cycle it in 4 minutes or walk it in 14?

If you insist on taking the tube, which they've made really difficult, a 16 minute itinerary appears.

Seven minutes to 'Transfer to Embankment', whatever that means.
Two minutes on the tube to Piccadilly Circus (which is much faster than walking).
Then seven minutes to 'Walk to Piccadilly Circus' at the other end, despite already being there.

Total 16 minutes, allegedly.
Six months ago the Journey Planner would have said 2.

I've tried to think of reasons why it might take seven minutes to 'Transfer to Embankment'. You might not be at Embankment in the first place, but that's silly because you told the Journey Planner you were. It might take seven minutes to get down to the platforms, except it doesn't, no more than three. It might take an average of seven minutes for a Bakerloo line train to arrive, but that's not the way the Journey Planner works. Or perhaps there are crowd control measures in place, which is plausible, except I've checked this for 8am, noon, 6pm and 11pm and it's always seven minutes.

I'm even more baffled by why it takes seven minutes to 'Walk to Piccadilly Circus' at the other end of the journey. Exiting the station doesn't normally take that long, again maybe three. Social distancing might make this a bit slower, but I still don't see how it could be as high as seven. And previously this walk back to the surface wouldn't have been a matter for the Journey Planner at all - once it delivered you to the Bakerloo line platform that was it.

Here are the remaining four tube journeys in the list and what the Journey Planner now claims (if you really insist).

Euston to Tottenham Court Road 🚶19 minutes (only 6 minutes longer than the Tube)
Transfer to Euston: 6 mins
Northern line to Tottenham Court Road: 4 mins
Walk to Tottenham Court Road: 4 mins
Total: 14 mins

Victoria to Westminster 🚶19 minutes (only 8 minutes longer than the Tube)
Transfer to Victoria: 4 mins
District or Circle line to Westminster: 3 mins
Walk to Westminster: 4 mins
Total: 11 mins

Charing Cross to Oxford Circus 🚶20 minutes (same time as the Tube)
Walk to Embankment: 10 mins
Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus: 4 mins
Walk to Oxford Circus: 6 mins
Total: 20 mins

King’s Cross St. Pancras to Camden Town 🚶22 minutes (7 minutes longer than the Tube)
Transfer to King’s Cross St. Pancras: 6 mins
Northern line to Camden Town: 4 mins
Walk to Camden Town: 5 mins
Total: 15 mins

The Charing Cross example is a naughty one to include because Charing Cross tube station is currently closed, so catching the Bakerloo line isn't going to be fast. That said, it definitely doesn't take 10 minutes to walk from Charing Cross to Embankment, that's an absurd number. Likewise 'Transfer to Euston' doesn't take six minutes, exiting Camden Town doesn't take five minutes, indeed all these extra timings appear to be on the over-generous side.

I wondered whether TfL might be padding out tube journey times in the Journey Planner to try to discourage us from riding it. Add a 'Transfer' time at the beginning and a 'Walk to' time at the end and hey presto, a 2 minute tube journey suddenly looks like it takes 16. And whilst it's true that getting into and out of a station does take time, the values given do look vastly inflated.

I've dug deeper and uncovered the 'Transfer' times for several stations on the Northern line (from London Bridge up to Edgware).
3 mins: Angel, Golders Green, Brent Cross, Hendon, Colindale, Burnt Oak, Edgware
5 mins: Moorgate, Camden Town
6 mins: Old Street, Kings Cross St Pancras, Euston, Belsize Park, Hampstead
8 mins: London Bridge
There does seem to be some kind of correlation between how complex a station is and its designated transfer time. All the surface level stations on the Edgware branch score 3 minutes (but so does Angel which has the longest escalator on the network). Belsize Park and Hampstead have lifts, and they're as high as 6. Kings Cross St Pancras and Euston also hit 6 (but so does Old Street which is much more straight-forward). London Bridge has the maximum of 8, perhaps assuming you're transferring from the mainline station, but that would be an inappropriately sweeping assumption to make.

Elsewhere on the network Bow Road has a transfer time of 2 minutes but the very similar Bromley-by-Bow merits 3. Marble Arch (with escalator) has a transfer time of 6 minutes while Holland Park (with lift) has 5. Canary Wharf DLR station has a transfer time of 2 minutes yet Pudding Mill Lane has 3. Emerson Park, a simple halt at the foot of a ramp, somehow has a transfer time of 3 minutes. National Rail stations are also included (Bromley South 2, Purley 3, Surbiton 4, Clapham Junction 5) as well as tram stops (New Addington 1) and Dangleway terminals (2).

In short, TfL's Journey Planner has started adding entry and exit times to every journey you try to plan, using numbers that don't necessarily relate to real life, resulting in journeys appearing to take longer than they used to. This might be to deter extra travellers from piling aboard public transport, or it might be because some digital guru thought it was a 'good idea', but it is a ridiculously subjective imposition. Even if you're a large family with luggage, taking the tube from Embankment to Piccadilly Circus shouldn't take 16 minutes.

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