On 31 May Transport for London (TfL) is taking over some inner London suburban services, and integrating them (and branding them) as part of London Overground. But what's this going to mean for the familiar tube map?
TfL taking on the routes will mean we're likely to see a new sprawl of orange lines in the top right hand corner of the map, showing services between Liverpool Street and Enfield Town, Cheshunt and Chingford.
There has already been speculation about what the tube map will look like with these additional lines. But none of it includes three further new stations due to appear on the Overground: from the end of May, TfL is also taking over the Romford to Upminster line (with just the one stop Emerson Park in between). Does that means there's going to be a small spur of orange all by itself?
That's not all. What will eventually be one of the eastern branches of Crossrail also runs through Romford, with a company called MTR taking over the running of existing trains between Shenfield and Liverpool Street. They won't be new trains, but it's going to be branded TfL Rail (see image below), and will likely also appear on the tube map.
With this TfL Rail add-on, plus the mess of orange lines for the Overground, the map's going to look like a congested mess, right? Well, what we've assumed until this point is that all the Overground lines will stay orange. However, we've heard there is also consideration that the Overground lines will get official names (such as East London Line, North London Line) and in doing so, will get new individual colours as well.
This got us thinking about what Paris does with its Métro system — the trains whizz around on numbered lines, but it also has the five-line express RER service, where the lines are lettered. So maybe we won't get full names, but instead end up having Overground A, Overground B and so on.
Even so, it's still going to look congested. We've argued before that maybe we're at the point where there shouldn't be a tube map because it's getting too cluttered, while others have stated there will always be a need for a physical map.
With all these extra lines, is it practical to have a pocket map any longer?
Pocket-sized card folder maps have been around for decades. TfL tells us it usually updates the pocket tube map twice a year, printing 12m copies. That's 24m maps per year, or 2m per month — at a cost of around £100,000 for the print run, or 5p per map.
In the video above we talk to Max Roberts who has designed many alternative transport maps of London, as well as writing the excellent Underground Maps Unravelled (you can read our review here). We also spoke to another map designer, Mark Noad, who designed The London Tubemap. Here's what he said:
"The need to add the new Overground and Crossrail lines to the London Underground map is a wonderful opportunity to address the flaws in the current map. If the designers take the current one as their starting point and try to adapt it to fit the new lines, it is likely to compound existing inaccuracies of geography and station proximity. The worst-case scenario is they will squeeze it in around the existing lines.
"In my opinion, what they should do is redesign it from scratch using the principles that Harry Beck used. That will allow them to undo half a century of compromises and poor design decisions. My brief to the designers would be to imagine you are Beck starting again today with the increased number of lines and need for the map to work as well on a phone screen as it does on a platform poster."
So. That's where we're at. And we're going to say it — we think it's time to ditch the pocket size map and go with something new.
Although among our own suggestions so far are:
- Remove the London Overground from the tube map completely. If it's called a tube map then just have tube map services on it, don't have the London Overground (or even the DLR?) on it. You can keep the pocket map, but with strictly tube services only.
- Extend the physical size of the pocket map! Radical, but TfL probably won't want to spend the money and effort replacing all those plastic racks in stations. So what if the map stayed the same in width, but was lengthened somewhat? You could then enlarge the size of the map and fit more in.
- Have a new sized map. Admit that the pocket map is now just too small (have you SEEN the size of the text on the index on the back? It's almost impossibly hard to read the index) and create something larger.
- If you do have a larger physical map, you could have the 'tube map' on one side for the purists — which could show London Underground, DLR and Overground, and then the London connections/rail/Oyster map on the back.
- Or how about this? Let customers print their own maps. Instead of wasting money printing thousands of maps, you could have machines that let you pick and choose what services you'd like shown on your custom map, then prints one out for you. Even better, you could build accessibility needs into this and have the option for a black and white, inverse colours or a colour blind-friendly map
And we haven't even mention the possibility of adding the Croydon Tramlink to the map. Or the fact that there's going to be Night Tube from September. That's going to need a separate map too. Should that be on the back of the regular tube map? Let us know what you'd like to see, in the comments below.