Wednesday 16th December 2020
No they won’t be; only joking.
But the latest edition of TfL’s Tube map has been updated and published both online and in print today. After much campaigning the Thameslink operated National Rail line has been added back … and not just between Elephant & Castle through the ‘core’ to Kentish Town as it was until 22 years ago in 1998, but the whole pink coloured shebang is now included to the map’s ‘geographic extent’ including the Wimbledon and Sutton loop as well as stations in south east London and north of the Thames.
This brings both the illogicality and illegibility of the map to previously unheard of heights. We have Crossrail depicted as far west as Reading ostensibly because TfL Rail operate it, but the full extent of Thameslink isn’t (no Brighton, Bedford or Cambridge, thank goodness). Stations in Thameslink on the Sutton loop and north of the Thames are shown but not nearby stations on Southern, Southeastern or Great Northern lines. If it makes sense (which many argued it did) to add Thameslink between Elephant & Castle/London Bridge and Kentish Town/Finsbury Park why not the Great Northern line between Moorgate and Finsbury Park, which after all used to be part of the Northern Line? Now, stations on Thameslink are shown through Hendon and Cricklewood (for example) so why not stations such as Palmers Green, Enfield Chase, New Barnet and Hadley Wood on the Great Northern – which no doubt will soon be included when they move over to TfL control and Overground status?
The upshot is a printed map that’s increasingly hard to decipher without a magnifying glass and far removed from being a “Tube’ map.
But this development, which has created much excitement among Tube map fans today, has made me, tongue-in-cheek, wonder if the next logical thing is for the map to be expanded to include London’s bus network. It’s probably the only way we’ll ever get a map out of TfL showing where buses go. Anything involving the Tube always gets a map. And even the trams, the Cable Car, the Overground, and now Thameslink are included.
And what’s more there’s a whole variety of Tube maps available. There’s a large print Tube map in colour; a large print Tube map in black and white; a Tube map showing step free stations; a Tube map showing stations without stairs; a Tube map showing where you can take a cycle; a Tube map showing tunnels; a Tube map showing walking times (in Zones 1 & 2); a Tube map showing how many steps it takes to walk at street level between stations (in Zones 1 & 2); a repeat of the last two but also including National Rail stations; and finally a Tube map showing toilet facilties. That’s a dozen different variations of Tube maps.
But for buses…..there’s a non geographic diagrammatic map showing “key” (ie tourist type) bus routes in Central London and a diminishing number of ‘spider maps’ and that’s it.
Want to know how the 19 routes serving the busy commercial centre of Wood Green and Turnpike Lane interact and where they go? Tough. There’s not even a ‘spider map’ to tell you. Nothing. Zilch. But there is a map telling you there are no toilets at Wood Green or Turnpike Lane Tube stations, both are in tunnels and don’t have step free access.
As I explained in a recent blogpost, I did ask a question of Andy Byford during an on-line London Travelwatch Board Meeting about the lack of bus maps and he promised to “look into it”. I followed this up by sending him an email, and was impressed to receive a reply three days later sent at 06:30 saying he’d asked colleagues to “consider your point and to respond re the issue of a system-wide bus map”, which was very nice of him.
A couple of days later I received a detailed reply from Vernon Everitt, TfL’s Managing Director, Customers, Communications and Technology which was good of him.
The short answer was “no”, but Vernon did take the trouble to try and justify the lack of a bus map. He explained “we have a very large and complex bus network. This changes frequently as a result of temporary route changes (for example road works) or because of more permanent route changes as we adapt the network to the needs of London. This meant bus maps were often quickly out of date, sometimes almost as soon as they had been printed. This is not the case for the Tube maps we produce – which are generally updated twice a year – reflecting the simpler core structure of the network and that material service changes are far less frequent”.
This raises a number of interesting points. For me, “a large and complex bus network” means it’s all the more important to use mapping to explain this to passengers and importantly attract new passengers.
“Temporary route changes” for roadworks are a long standing feature of bus operation everywhere and just like engineering work on the Tube, is something passengers accept as inevitable, but doesn’t negate the justification for producing a map of the established network. Most weekends, there are closures on the Underground, yet a map is still widely promoted and available even though it will be giving incorrect information for “temporary changes”.
It’s true the bus network has “more permanent route changes” (than the Underground) but I don’t think these are so commonplace they should render a bus map “quickly out of date” especially if these were better coordinated. For many years at Brighton & Hove we consciously arranged changes to the network on just two dates a year which coincided with an updated map and timetable book being produced. The same principle applies to the National Rail Network (in normal times) so passengers know when timetables are changed.
I’m not naive enough to think you could co-ordinate route changes throughout London to just a couple of dates, but bearing in mind some of the changes have been in the planning process for many months, if not years, it might well be possible to coordinate changes for different parts of London so the number of change dates is minimised. All the more so, as the previous practice was to publish five area maps for the London network (North East, North West, Central, South West, South East) so changes in Richmond, for example, would not render the North East map ‘out of date’ and therefore no need to reprint it.
I’ve taken a look at the changes made to London’s bus network this year. Most changes are about timetables, headways, contracts and vehicle allocations rather than route alterations which affect a map. The list is not as significant as you might think. Just 11 routes were involved with changes:
- 25th January: new route 497 in Harold Wood.
- 21st March: 404 extended in Coulsdon plus some minor re-routing.
- 23rd May: 483 extended from Ealing Hospital to Southall.
- 29th August: 112 changed route in Ealing and extended from Brent Cross to North Finchley and 384 extended to Edgware.
- 31st October: 383 extended to Finchley Memorial Hospital.
- 5th December 153 extended Moorgate to Liverpool Street
- 12th December: Extension of 110 to Hammersmith in place of 391 and parts of H22 which in turn diverted to West Middlesex Hospital and 493 cut back in Richmond.
But of course, 2020 might be regarded as an exceptional year with Covid leading to a lack of a ‘normal’ programme of service changes. So I also took a look at what happened in 2019 and here’s a summary of the route changes in that year:
- 9th March: minor route change to 27 and 440 in Chiswick/Hammersmith.
- 30th March: 88 subsumed route C2 Oxford Circus to Parliament Hill Fields.
- 10th April: emergency routes changes due to closure of Hammersmith Bridge which were formalised on 18th May.
- 20th April: route changes consequent on Tottenham Court Road’s new contra-flow bus lane
- 25th May: 125 extended Finchley Central to Colindale and minor change to 326 in the same area.
- 15th June: changes to 16 central bus routes as part of a coordinated Review.
- 13th July: new route 301 Bexleyheath to Woolwich.
- 3rd August: changes to 209 and new route 378 in Hammersmith.
- 24th August: change to 303 in Grahame Park.
- 28th September: 419 changed route in Roehampton.
- 12th October: 48 replaced with extension of 55, extensions to 11 and 133 to Liverpool Street and 388 to London Bridge.
- 26th October: new route 335 Kidbrooke to North Greenwich.
- 2nd November: changes to terminal arrangements for 8 routes in Croydon.
- 7th December: new routes 218, 278, 306, X140 with changes to 140, 224, 266, 391, 440 in Acton, Hammersmith, Ruislip and Heathrow areas.
For a network of several hundred bus routes, that’s not a very large number of changes and could easily be accommodated within a twice-a-year publication of bus maps. Indeed, the most significant changes in 2019 coincidentally occurred six months apart on 15th June and 7th December when printed maps could have coincided. Other changes could have been foreseen and incorporated – for example new route 301 introduced in July could have been included in a map produced in June with a suitable note about its forthcoming introduction; similarly the withdrawal of route 48 in October must have been known about back in June. Furthermore, changes to the Underground, such as step free access, are only added to the map when it’s next due to be reprinted – in between times, it’s not up to date.
And of course, keeping a bus map online up to date shouldn’t be a problem – I reckon the list of changes highlighted above could probably all be achieved in a day’s work for the entire year’s worth of changes at most – surely that’s a minimal overhead cost?
Vernon went on to say: “The other factor is demand from customers. When we made the decision to stop producing the maps, we looked at what customers were saying they wanted to enable their journey planning. Around two-and-a-half per cent of the people we asked said they used the Bus Area map and fewer than 1 per cent used the Spider map. Usage was therefore relatively very low for what were very expensive products to produce. We were also seeing a significant increase in customers using digital information tools. Our open data powers many of these and we now have our own range of digital products, including our new travel planning app, TfL Go. These will be developed and improved on a continuous basis”.
Of course, it’s well known that whereas Tube maps are displayed in open racks at every Underground station for passengers to help themselves to, bus maps were never on open display, and only available ‘behind the counter’, often hidden out of sight at Visitor Centres or information windows/kiosks at bus stations – when you could find these open. So it’s not surprising “around two-and-a-half per cent of the people we asked said they used the Bus Area map and fewer than 1 per cent used the Spider map”.
Indeed, if more than double the number of people said they used the Bus Area map than a Spider map, why discontinue the former, and keep the latter? This finding would point to the need for Area maps over the rather limited usefulness of a Spider map.
Talking of spider maps, TfL have recently introduced new criteria for their production which dramatically reduces the number available online and displayed in bus shelters. TfL will now only produce a spider map if (a) they show a minimum of five bus routes; and (b) must show any two of (i) a nearby significant place of interest (including hospitals, tourist attractions); or (ii) a transport facility (Tube or Rail station) or (iii) a major shopping centre/high street.
Quite why Wood Green and Turnpike Lane should no longer qualify is puzzling as the area boasts two Underground stations, a nearby rail station (Alexandra Palace) and is a major shopping destination. But click on the London Borough of Haringey for a list of spider maps on TfL’s website and it doesn’t appear. I wonder how many other omissions like this there are?
But there’s something else about spider maps. Their usefulness was changed last year by no longer showing the full length of each route nor a colour-coded index by route number alongside the bus stops it uses shown in a marked central area. The new look did away with that index and added the bus stops used in a little box at the end of each route.
Imagine you want to catch a bus from Croydon town centre to a nearby destination and take a look at the online spider map….
…. it’s virtually impossible to use, it’s so complex looking and almost indecipherable. This is no way to attract passengers on to buses. And note that over twelve months later there are still references to changed town centre bus stops implemented in November 2019. And, I believe further changes were implemented during the summer as part of reconfiguring road and pavements for social distancing which have not been incorporated in an updated map.
London Travelwatch have recently carried out a Transport User Survey and presented an overview of the responses at a Board meeting on 3rd December. Interestingly one of the points made by respondents was the lack of a bus map (both online and printed) so I’m hoping this will be something London Travelwatch will take up, as they did with putting Thameslink back on the Tube map. Maybe they’ll be similarly successful. One can but hope.
Back to that Tube map out today. Harry Beck must be turning in his grave at the sheer illegibility of it. It may be OK for those with excellent eye sight, but I suspect for many, it’s now got so small so it can accommodate all the features deemed worthy of inclusion, it’s almost no longer fit for purpose.
So we have a so called “Tube” map that’s become useless and a bus map that’s not, because there isn’t one.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.