Clickbait journalists aren't normally allowed away from their desks to investigate news stories on their own, relying instead on press releases, social media and hearsay. But on-the-spot investigating often comes up trumps, and to prove that here are four massive stories I unearthed at consecutive Central line stations in under an hour yesterday morning. The 14 year-old tube map is genuine, by the way.
It's the Supertube! Passengers go wild for new express Central line service
While all eyes have been on the Superloop, the Mayor's proposed express bus service, TfL have quietly introduced a regular express tube service in the heart of Central London. Why stop at all the stations when you can consistently miss one or two of them out?
Passengers at Marble Arch station were surprised yesterday morning when the driver suddenly announced, just before the doors closed, that the train would not be stopping at the next two stations. Something about staff shortage was muttered, and passengers generally didn't leap from their seats because this was brilliant news, they would be getting to their destination more quickly.
Not only was Lancaster Gate closed but also the next station, Queensway, which meant trains were running all the way from Marble Arch to Notting Hill Gate without stopping. That's a distance of almost two miles, longer even than Crossrail's giant leap from Bond Street to Paddington, that's how express it is.
Passengers at Queensway, most of them tourists, weren't so pleased. But they didn't need to stand outside the locked gates like idiots, they could always walk a short way down the street to Bayswater station and use that instead. Passengers at Lancaster Gate were less chuffed but their sacrifice was greatly appreciated, plus they must be used to it by now because the station is regularly understaffed and regularly closed.
Lancaster Gate station was "closed due to unavailability of station staff" on April 21st, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th and 29th, and also May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th. That's an incredible 16 days over a 3 week period when a closure has taken place, suggesting either that TfL have crippling staffing issues or that the Supertube is really now a thing.
So if you want to take the fast train get yourself down to the Central line where trains now regularly run the entire length of a royal park without stopping. Let's hope inadequate staffing brings the Supertube to other equally deserving tube lines soon.
The secret message hiding in plain sight on the new tube map cover
If it's May then a new tube map must be due in the racks, and this time we already know what the cover design will be. It's by American artist Sharon Hayes and it's been displayed on posters around the network for several weeks. But what you may not know is that it's just one of four designs in Sharon's series, and if you head down to Holland Park station you can see them all.
The cover design looks like a lot of ripped up newspaper clippings but if you look closer you'll see they all feature stories of UK LGBTQ+ activism. The cover design also looks like random rippings but if you look closer you'll see the shapes read 'Come Out Come Out' but in reverse. That's the first secret message hiding in plain sight.
Because the letters are reversed, Hayes says this "invites the viewer to imagine being stood behind them, as though the banners are being held up or seen in a rear-view mirror." Clearly this is "a reflection of the past as we look to the future", a meaning all too obvious as soon as it's been pointed out, and this is the second secret message hiding in plain sight.
Also "the legibility of the reversed lettering emerges gradually, allowing for a slower consideration of the words and their meanings. As the words come into view, the viewer is reminded of the multiple meanings of ‘coming out’ – an act of self-identity, an invitation to community, a collective force of resistance and celebration." Arguably the average viewer is never going to spot that in a million years, but that's the brilliance of modern art and that's the third secret message hiding in plain sight.
The location is also important. In the 1970s the Gay Liberation Front held ‘Gay Days’ in nearby Holland Park, a precursor to Pride celebrations. Meanwhile across the street is 27 Holland Park Avenue, the site of ‘Lady Austin's’ famous drag balls in the 1930s hosted by a 24-year-old barman whose real name was John. When eventually arrested she said ‘What harm are we doing? You don’t understand our love’, which is the fourth and final secret message hiding in plain sight and probably the most important message of all.
You can read the full blurb on an accompanying poster alongside Holland Park station, which is more than most of the well-to-do locals were doing yesterday. Or you can wait until a million copies arrive at stations, probably next week, and impress your friends by knowing what all the secret messages are.
Are TfL now using useless QR codes instead of running rail replacement buses?
Everyone loves a QR code, or so the signage boffins at TfL must now think because they're started including them on posters for weekend engineering works. And they're all over the Central line this weekend as various sections are set for closure, presumably in the hope that passengers will perhaps find the QR codes useful.
I found this sign outside Shepherd's Bush station but it's generic, so exactly the same as those to be found at other Night Tube stations like Leytonstone or Stratford. It suggests using one of three stated night buses or one of two replacement bus routes, and then it throws in a QR code for good measure. Scan the QR code, it says, but if you do it'll be no bloody use to you whatsoever.
The link hidden in the black and white squares takes you not to any useful specific information but to the Maps page on the TfL website. Here you're invited to "enter the name of this station for a local map with details of nearby bus routes", which I invite you to try to do here. Enter "Shepherds Bush" or the station name of your choice and see what good it does you. Bugger all I'll bet.
What you get is a list of nearby bus stops, cycle hire racks and stations, but not a map unless you click again, and not a proper bus map because they no longer exist. For example at Shepherd's Bush you might discover that routes 31, 49, 228, 316 and C1 depart from bus stop D but not which of them run at night (none of them), nor a map that shows you where they go.
What might have been more useful is a link to TfL's Journey planner, or better still to the existing bus spider map for Shepherd's Bush, a pdf that could genuinely help you see where to go next. It wouldn't be hard to conjure up a QR code which links to this very spider map, but that would have required TfL to create multiple different versions of this Night Tube poster, and being the lazy cash-strapped sods they are of course they just made one.
In an ideal world TfL would create a library of 272 bespoke bus spider maps to aid multi-modal interchange, indeed a lot of these maps already exist. They could then post up a QR code somewhere in every station ready for use during normal service or at times of disruption and you'd always be able to find out where to go next. Instead they've started adding generic links to top-level webpages in an attempt to be seen to do something, whereas in fact these QR codes are worse than useless so never bother clicking on one.
Have you spotted London's oldest tube map? ...because TfL haven't
Sometimes TfL contractors fail to replace a timetable, update a poster or change a map. But they've really excelled themselves at White City bus station, the tumbleweed nexus round the back of Westfield shopping centre, where the tube map on display has been there, unreplaced, since 2009!
You might not immediately notice. The tube map sponsor back then was IKEA, just as it is now, so this looks almost familiar. The overall form of the tube lines hasn't changed much, and Wood Lane station exists so your local choices are sound. But the inks have faded - Overground orange far more than any other shade - and this helps to conceal that much of our modern network just isn't there.
No Overground out of Liverpool Street nor yet through Shoreditch. No Dangleway, no trams, no Northern line extension to Battersea. No walking links, no river piers, no Victoria coach station. No Thameslink writhing across the map like psychotic tentacles, and perhaps most importantly no Crossrail of any kind. Purists might argue that the 2009 map looks a heck of a lot clearer, but as an aid to passengers in 2023 it's a bleached inadequate disaster.
Elsewhere in the bus station are multiplemaps showing "Where to catch your bus" which were last updated in November 2011, so at least one route no longer goes where it says it does and one listed bus stop has been removed altogether. There are also three posters telling you that face coverings are compulsory, but they're mere youngsters compared to the ancient maps nobody's ever taken down.
It could be that White City bus station is owned by Westfield and they have no interest in updating things. It could be that no TfL employee has ever noticed that the tube map beside bus stop WH is woefully out of date, not even the bus station supervisor who sits in an office less than 100m away. Or it could just a be a sign that nobody really gives a damn, a 14 year-old museum piece will do, even when it's hiding in plain sight.