It's now four years since TfL were due to print some new bus maps but decided not to. The last quadrant maps were published in March 2016, ditto the last Central London bus map, and haven't been updated since. I've blogged about this in some detail before. You can download archived pdf copies of the final bus maps here:NW/NE/SE/SW/Central
Never fear, said TfL. Most passengers know where they're going, and those who don't can use our excellent digital products like Journey Planner or fire up an app, skipping the tedious mapreading stage altogether. Plus of course there are hundreds of spider maps, which we link to on our website, and these provide local information in key locations.
Last year TfL started switching to new-style spider maps which focus on shorter journeys and no longer show the full length of each route. The new-style maps were only used when local routes changed, as many have recently, so a mix of old and new coexists across London. Bow Church still has an old-style spider map, for example, whereas Oxford Circus has a new style map because its routes changed last year. I've blogged about this in some detail before.
But now spider maps are under threat, indeed they've already started disappearing. Here's some evidence, and further down I'll bring you some proof.
The bus spider map page on the TfL website started haemorraghing pdfs some time last year. They only vanished in certain parts of the capital, generally in outer London, but in some boroughs the vast majority of spider maps have been deleted. In Hillingdon, for example, the number of spider maps has dropped from 37 to 17 and in Harrow from 27 to 5.
This map shows how many spider map pdfs remain in each borough.
Some of these totals are as high as ever, for example in the West End where all of last year's many route changes were reflected in updated maps. But whereas Newham still has 30 spider maps neighbouring Barking & Dagenham has been throttled down to three. Ealing's total of 19 somehow exceeds all of Harrow, Brent and Barnet combined. Wandsworth's six looks pitiful compared to all of its neighbours. And although Bromley still manages 26 maps poor old Bexley has been cut back to just two, both of which are on the borough boundary.
There are some really striking local absences. Uxbridge, no maps whatsoever. Finchley, nothing. Streatham, bugger all. Wood Green, nah. Clapham Junction, nul points. Meanwhile Romford still has as many as seven different maps focusing on different parts of the town, Sutton has five and even Greenford has three. Something odd is going on.
A clue was provided in this response to a Mayoral question in December last year.
That sounds good... except hang on, the promise is to "update or remove" out-of-date spider maps. What if more maps are being removed than updated? It'd certainly be one way to speed up the process! The response continued...
It seems spider maps are being thinned out on the somewhat spurious basis that they're used by less than 1% of bus users. Given that the vast majority of passengers ride the same journey regularly that's hardly surprising. Indeed by the same logic we could shut down the entire Heathrow loop of the Piccadilly line because it's used by only ½% of tube passengers. As for focusing on shelters served by multiple routes or serving unfamiliar destinations, that doesn't sound too unreasonable... does it?
Alas here's further clarification provided recently by TfL to a stakeholder meeting in west London. It's bad news I'm afraid.
We only re-issue maps that show five or more routes with locations most likely to generate unfamiliar journeys.
Apparently spider maps will now only get produced if they show a minimum of five bus routes. If your locality has four, bad luck. That's Pinner blacklisted, along with Woodford, Cheam and Sanderstead. Previously TfL would do you a spider map even if you only had two routes (hello Kenley, hello West Ham), and in Hillingdon station's case just one. A substantial number of the suburbs' spider maps have suddenly been deemed fundamentally unsustainable.
It gets worse...
The hub map also needs to show two of the following:
• a nearby significant place of interest (e.g. hospital or visitor attraction)
• transport facility (e.g Tube or Rail station)
• major shopping centre/high street
So a major shopping centre without a station or significant location - nothing. A big station with nowhere important nearby - nothing. This sounds very much like an excuse to reduce the number of spider maps to an absolute minimum.
Spider maps that don’t meet these criteria have now been discontinued and will no longer be reissued.
In good news, this is only for spider maps being re-issued. If your local bus routes don't change, your spider map stays. It's only if a route gets added, diverted, extended, curtailed or withdrawn that these new conditions apply. Meet the criteria and somebody makes a new map. Fail and somebody takes it down.
Take the London borough of Havering. The only bus route that's changed recently is the 497, a new three mile route running from Harold Hill to Harold Wood. As far as I can tell all of Havering's spider maps remain on the TfL website except for those served by the 497. Harold Hill is a major postwar housing estate whose residents are very heavily reliant on bus services. Its shopping centre is served by six bus routes, which passes the threshold, but it has no place of interest nor transport facility so now there's no map. Meanwhile Harold Wood is going to be a Crossrail station and is served by five routes, but being a significant transport interchange is no longer sufficient so it too no longer merits a map. How shortsighted is that?
As a further example, consider route 278 which was introduced last December between Heathrow and Ruislip. Normally this would have meant all the spider maps along the 11 mile route got updated. But somebody scrutinised the list and decided that only three should be retained - at Hayes, Heathrow North and Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3. All the rest were junked for being newly-inaccurate and will not reappear. This is why Ruislip no longer has a spider map - its bus services were improved so its maps were removed. Better zero information than incomplete information, it seems.
Of course just because a spider map's up in bus shelters doesn't mean it's on the website. And just because a spider map's on the website doesn't mean it's up in bus shelters. For example Bus Stop M's spider map mysteriously disappeared at the start of lockdown, despite being (to the best of my knowledge) up-to-date and accurate. I had thought this was temporary and it'd be coming back, but now I'm not so sure. Eight daytime routes and two nightbuses serve the location, so that's not reason enough to scrap it. Maybe there's too little of significance close by, or maybe the bus-map-putter-uppers are simply being as inept as usual.
We’ve recently reviewed the number of maps we issue to ensure resources are being prioritised to the right places.
In conclusion, it's all about money. TfL are increasingly skint and the production of spider maps is an unnecessary drain on resources, at least in a chief accountant's eyes. These days all the investment is in powering digital solutions (open app, enter start point, enter destination, view choice of routes) rather than a quick glance at a sheet of paper. And yes, the vast majority of bus users won't care because they already know where they're going. But next time you're in an unfamiliar part of town and hoping to travel by bus, it's increasingly likely there'll be nothing to help you plan ahead.
London - the city with 600 bus routes but fewer and fewer maps to tell you where they go.