diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Please hold on, the bus is about to move.

Except, more often than not, the bus is already moving. Rarely has TfL shot itself in the foot quite so early in the year.

They started out with good intentions, to try to reduce the number of injuries on buses. But somebody created a harebrained message, and somebody programmed it to play at a harebrained time, and more importantly somebody gave the go ahead for this harebrained combination to be played out on every London bus at every bus stop. What were they thinking?

The message is part of a much wider scheme to reduce the number of injuries on public transport in London. In the last year for which figures are available, 4880 passengers were injured on London buses, 62% of them through slips, trips and falls. That's the "3000 people injured each year" TfL have been quoting in the media. But digging deeper, only 36% of these injuries are due to "change of speed", which instead works out at 1095 passengers a year. TfL's new safety message, already repeated millions of times across the capital, is aimed at cutting around three injuries a day.

Safety messages are used all across the TfL network without attracting widespread ridicule. Go anywhere near an escalator these days and you'll likely see a poster urging you to hold the handrail, hear an announcement urging you to hold the handrail, and maybe spot several 'Hold the handrail' stickers on your way up. This coordinated campaign is aimed at preventing escalator tumbles - again running at about three a day - but you won't have seen complaints because nobody's on an escalator for long. On a bus, however, the repeats soon become relentless and social media is aflame.

All sorts of announcements could have been used for this latest bus trial. The first problem is that somebody chose to make the message really specific. Please hold on wouldn't have been so bad. Please hold on while the bus is moving would have been an improvement. Hold very tight please would have had a certain retro flavour. You can reduce your risk of injury by holding onto the bus as it departs would have been stupidly long, but it wouldn't have been incorrect. Instead we got Please hold on, the bus is about to move, a very specific message which only sounds authoritative if played just before a bus is about to move. And that's where the next problem comes in.

You would expect the announcement Please hold on, the bus is about to move to be triggered by a bus being about to move. Perhaps, for example, it'd be linked to the doors closing. Alas not so, the team who did the programming linked it to the doors opening instead, which is why it keeps playing out at the wrong time.

When a bus stops at a bus stop, the driver presses a button which makes the doors open, and this action sets up a chain of announcements. After approximately 10 seconds, the number of the route and the destination are announced. This is specifically to aid visually impaired passengers, and acts as confirmation that the bus they're boarding is the right one. The new message, the one about the bus moving, has been programmed to kick in a set time after that.

Here's a graphic to show approximately what's going on.

The route destination announcement is played 10 seconds after the doors start to open. The Please hold on... announcement is played 10 seconds after that starts, i.e. 20 seconds after the doors open. 20 seconds is apparently the average time a bus stands at a bus stop before pulling off. This would be great in an imaginary world where every bus is average, but the project team have chosen to ignore that real life isn't actually like that, which is why the message usually plays out at the wrong time.

If a bus is busy, with lots of passengers alighting and/or boarding, it often lingers at a bus stop for more than 20 seconds. One awkward passenger, one contactless issue or one deployment of the wheelchair ramp, and the announcement is gong to play out much too early. Buses caught in heavy traffic are particularly prone to spend well over 20 seconds at a bus stop before they finally pull off, long after the announcement has been made. And whilst Please hold on, the bus is about to move is still technically correct in such cases, every second's delay diminishes the authority of the intended message.

More often, it seems, a bus departs its bus stop before the 20 seconds is up. This is usually the case when passenger numbers are low and/or traffic is light, with "one person nipping off and nobody getting on" a particular edge scenario. And every time a bus lingers less than 20 seconds at a bus stop, it will already be moving before the Please hold on, the bus is about to move message kicks in. This is why passengers are laughing, this is why social media's peeved, because it's plainly ludicrous to announce that a bus is about to depart when it already has.

I took a long ride on the number 205 bus at the weekend, a journey with some busy bits and some quieter stretches. At each of the 23 stops I checked whether the message played before the bus left or vice versa, and by how much. What I experienced was a wholly inconsistent mess.
» Perfect » 30s early » 1s late » 2s early » 4s late » Perfect » Perfect » 11s late » 3s late » Perfect » 5s late » 11s early » 4s early » 7s late » 5s late » 6s late » 7s late » 18s early » Perfect » 7s early » 7s late » 8s late » 3s late
Five times out of 23 the message played at exactly the right time. 26% of the time it played too early, and the bus wasn't "about to move". But the majority of the time, in this case 52%, the message only played once the bus was already moving. Most of the "perfect"s came early in the journey when the bus was busy. Most of the "too late"s came later in the journey when the bus was emptier. The longest delay was when the message played out 11 seconds after the bus had set off and we were already some way down the road. The most premature announcement, a full 30 seconds before it was needed, was caused by traffic ahead of us queueing at lights.

You may think this hit rate isn't bad. You may claim that if it works sometimes then that's good enough. You may query whether all the brouhaha surrounding this announcement is deserved. But when an incorrect announcement is being made relentlessly, stop after stop, on every bus you take, all it does is make TfL a laughing stock.

The most incompetent example I've encountered was on a driver changeover at Bow Church. The bus will wait here while the driver changes over was followed immediately by 25 to Ilford and then by Please hold on, the bus is about to move, except it obviously didn't. Instead we sat there for a full four minutes while the drivers faffed and chatted and changed over, before the doors finally closed and eventually the bus pulled off... without any message at all. Nobody, it seems, thought through the consequences of this trial before implementation.

TfL yesterday described the timing problems as a "technical glitch", conveniently ignoring the fact that someone programmed the iBus system to do this, and somebody more important signed it off. They also confirmed it's a four week trial, as if that's supposed to make us feel better for the next three and a half. A TfL spokesperson on the news said they now intend to link the announcement to the closing of the doors instead, which will be "very perfectly timed for a solution", although this'll only reduce the number of issues rather than solve the problem completely.

What's really needed is a system which actually knows when the bus is about to depart, rather than guesses, and isn't stymied by traffic. What's really needed is a less specific announcement, one which doesn't promise something it can't know to be true. Or, in the absence of these, perhaps TfL could just turn the bloody thing off and leaves us in peace. If they really want us to hold on to prevent injuries perhaps they could put some posters up, just inside the bus, for us to read on entry. Or how about generating massive amounts of social media attention through the inept implementation of a health and safety policy? Job done.

 Monday, January 15, 2018

I still like to buy a daily newspaper.

This used to be normal, but has become increasingly unusual.

Twenty years ago, roughly 15 million national newspapers were sold each day. Ten years ago the total was nearer 12 million. Today it's more like six million. That's quite a slump. [circulation figures]

The Sun, Telegraph, Mirror and Express sell half as many copies as they did ten years ago. The Times and the Mail are down by a third. The Independent no longer bothers to print on paper, which leaves the Guardian as the lowest selling of the major national papers. Its daily circulation is down from 384,000 to 157,000 over the last decade, and the paper is losing money hand over fist. So today they're doing something about it.

In the heady days of 2005, before cost-cutting became a national way of life, The Guardian decided to splash out in a new direction. A bold decision was taken to change the size of the newspaper from broadsheet (60×40cm) to Berliner (47×32cm), rather than slimming all the way down to tabloid (43×28cm). This would make the paper distinctive but still serious, and continue to allow for the publication of long stories with large pictures.

One problem. Although various European newspapers published in the Berliner format, no other British daily did the same, which meant there was nowhere in the country to print the newly-shrunken paper. The Guardian therefore had to invest in brand new printing presses, at a cost of £50m, and then spend another £30m building facilities to house them in. Two new print sites were established, one in Trafford Park in Manchester and the other in Stratford, London. I live within a mile of the latter.

The Guardian Print Centre for the south of England is a big grey box on Rick Roberts Way. It's part of an industrial hinterland which survives to the south of Stratford High Street, away from the Olympic Park, along a grim back road not yet lined by flats. Specifically it's part of the laughably-titled International Business Park, a cluster of four large warehouse units watched over by separate security barriers.

Unit 1 belongs to Kesslers, a long-standing company which produces display cases for shops and department stores, because somebody has to. Unit 3 houses St Clements Press, the Financial Times' printing operation, so must be full of rolls of salmon-tinted paper. Unit 4 is a Mercedes Benz service centre, and moved here from what is now West Ham's football pitch in the centre of the Olympic Stadium. The Guardian prints in Unit 2.

From the outside, it's all somewhat featureless. There's one corner with windows which must be office space, there's a fire escape, and there are big doors to reverse lorries up to. There are also a couple of signs announcing the name of the building, written in the 2005 version of the newspaper's typeface, with four stripes in black, cyan, magenta and yellow, because printing in full colour was still a bit of a big deal back then.

Shuffling up one side of the Guardian Print Centre is one of the most miserable footpaths in Stratford. This follows the line of the culverted Channelsea River, now a forlorn track bedecked with lager cans, supermarket trolleys and just enough blind corners to make you nervous. Right outside the Guardian's front gate a makeshift staircase has been constructed out of stacked pallets, allowing workers to take a shortcut rather than walking all the way down to Abbey Lane. They won't be needing that any more.

Today the Guardian relaunches in tabloid form, as financial pressures finally force the abandonment of its Berliner dream. The new size means the Guardian no longer has to print the papers itself, so a cheaper contract has been signed with Trinity Mirror to do it instead. They have five sites nationwide - in Glasgow, Teesside, Oldham, Birmingham and Watford - which means the Guardian will now be rolling off the presses with the Daily Mirror, saving millions of pounds every year.

It also means the Guardian Print Centre is surplus to requirements, this being at the heart of the cost-cutting exercise. The almost-12-year-old presses have run for the final time, and will be sold off or scrapped, leaving the building vacant. There are redundancies too, with around 50 jobs in total being lost across the two sites. It also means the newspaper I've been buying daily will no longer be printed within a mile of my home, and will instead be shipped in from where I used to live instead. [cover Jan 13th] [cover Jan 15th]

We all know why newspapers are in trouble, namely the availability of news online, which means most of us now carry a much more up to date source of what's going on in the world in our pockets. Why shell out money for news, or pay to look behind a paywall, when you can get regular updates from social media with ease, or pick up a freesheet at both ends of your daily commute?

But I still appreciate a proper newspaper, a daily collection of news curated by an editor, rather than some branching tree of online links. I appreciate journalism, rather than press releases rehashed for clicks. I like to be presented with a broad range of stories, home and international, rather than only reading those which fall within my comfort zone. I like a big page I can scan, rather than a tiny screen which reveals stories three sentences at a time. Even filling in the crossword is much easier on paper than tapping away at individual letters with clumsy fingers. I love online media for its immediacy, but the benefits of a printed paper still lead me to shell out.

Alas it seems newspapers are becoming harder to buy of late. Former newsagents have given up stocking them, devoting the shelf space to cans, crisps and chocolate instead. Newly opened corner shops and convenience stores always focus on food and drink rather than the printed word. Even the News Kiosk outside Bow Road station now stocks fewer titles, and fewer copies of what's left, having recognised that Red Bull and chewing gum are what the local demographic really wants. As recently as last week the kiosk's owner replaced his newspaper shelf with a rack of penny sweets, leaving what newspapers remain to squeeze onto the front counter in the Oyster top-up zone.

Just as fewer newspapers being sold leads to fewer places selling newspapers, so fewer places selling newspapers will lead to fewer newspapers being sold. The long-term decline of paid-for print media is inexorable, now digital dominates, meaning it's more a case of when each title succumbs rather than if. But I'll still be out to grab my tabloid Guardian this morning, and again tomorrow, relieved that at least my chosen newspaper hasn't yet sunk beneath the surface. It may no longer have the stature it had yesterday, but at least it'll be easier to open on the train.


To save time, why not pick one of these ten digital codes rather than trying to compose a lengthy argument in the comments box?

[1] Get with the program, grandad, newspapers are dead.
[2] I never buy newspapers, so I don't see why anybody else would.
[3] Morning newspaper? Pah, I'd rather buy a coffee instead.
[4] I used to buy a newspaper, but now I just play Candy Crush.
[5] Get a tablet and a subscription, you don't know what you're missing.
[6] I always knew you'd be a bloody pinko Guardian reader.
[7] Don't knock the freesheets, some of their celebrity gossip is ace.
[8] I prefer YouTube, so I never read or watch any news ever.
[9] The new tabloid Guardian is symbolic of the paper's decline.
[10] I too enjoy a good newspaper, and buy one daily.

 Sunday, January 14, 2018


The Calder is one of Yorkshire's great rivers, rising in the Pennines above Todmorden and flowing 45 miles east to join the Aire near Castleford. In its upper reaches it carves a deep valley, providing shelter for a string of picturesque towns, and a key route across the moors for road, rail and canal. The local authority is known as Calderdale, governed from Halifax, and is easily explored with a West Yorkshire Train Day Rover (£7.50, off-peak only), as I shall now demonstrate. [Visit Calderdale]

Todmorden (population 15000)
Todmorden is sited where three steep valleys meet, amid Pennine moors and upland sandstone grit. The setting looks gorgeous when the sun's out, but more oppressive in low-cloud gloom. A railway viaduct swoops across the heart of the town, and trains curve off in three directions - to Halifax, Burnley or Rochdale. Easily the most impressive building is the town hall, built in 1875 in full-on classical style. The boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire once passed through the centre of the town, following the line of the river, and the Town Hall was deliberately built on top so that half the building was in each county. In 1888 the boundary was shifted west, gifting the town in its entirety to Yorkshire. Everyone who got upset is now dead. A modern memorial beneath the viaduct marks the original line, each side marked by a rose of the appropriate colour.

Daytime activity in Todmorden focuses on the marketplace by the bus station. Outside the market hall a tranche of stalls displays all kinds of bric a brac, rifled through by pensioners in zip-up coats and flat caps. Inside are proudly traditional traders dealing mostly in comestibles, and a superbly retro counter cafe dispensing fifty different varieties of coffee. I stopped by at Ham Corner for a beef pie, wrapped in quality moist pastry, one of numerous takeaway goods at prices to make any London resident curl up and cry. The town is renowned for its sustainability, specifically the Incredible Edible Todmorden project, a series of mini gardens and eco-planters established by community volunteers in 2012. A free map reveals all the key locations across town, including soft fruit at the job centre, beehives by the canal, vegetable beds at the police station and planters on the station platform (where you can pick herbs for your tea). I liked Todmorden. [5 photos]

Hebden Bridge (population 4500)
Four miles downstream lies Hebden Bridge, the best known of the towns hereabouts, no doubt due to its density of lesbians. That's not why the place was once called Trouser Town, this was a nickname earned through clothes manufacturing. But after the mills closed the artists moved in, and many with alternative lifestyles found a safe home here. They chose well. The town is gorgeous, squished into the Calder valley where a tributary joins, with residential streets perched precipitously on the surrounding slopes. Space for housing is at a premium so curious 4-storey terraces have been built, their tenancy split between the lower two floors (front door facing out) and the upper two floors (front door facing in).

The town centre is a web of streets, its shops rarely chains, with an emphasis on conscience and culture rather than blind acquisition. Four days a week a small outdoor market trades, each day differently themed, adding an air of self-sufficiency. I spotted good friends sipping coffees by the old stone bridge, a retired lady pleading for peace in Palestine outside the hiking equipment shop, and numerous couples walking their dogs in the riverside park. Then stepping back a few streets I saw wives watering vegetable tubs in what passes for their front garden, a string of houseboats belching smoke on the canal, and teenagers freewheeling downhill with skateboards tucked into their rucksacks. I liked Hebden Bridge even more than Todmorden. [8 photos]

Heptonstall (population 1500)
I thought I'd walk from Hebden Bridge to the village of Heptonstall - it looked barely half a mile on the map. But what my non-OS map failed to mention is how relentlessly uphill it would be, which is very much par for the course around here. A cobbled track led off innocuously from the edge of the town, rising through woodland to a tiny Methodist cemetery with panoramic views, then zigzagging onwards up irregular flights. I was damned glad of the handrail.

The village, long-established, has steep cobbled streets narrow enough to give drivers problems, lined by irregular cottages built from dark local stone. It reminded me a little of Edale, only without the walking poles and gaiters. In the heart of the village are two St Thomas's churches, one an atmospheric ruin, the other its Victorian replacement. The poet Sylvia Plath is buried here, not amid the sea of flat gravestones but in a newer churchyard extension across Back Lane. A small museum is based in the adjacent grammar school building, should you be here at the weekend in spring or in summer. A ginger cat sleeps on a bench outside the tearoom. Bailiffs took possession of one of the village's two pubs last month. I was captivated by Heptonstall, but I don't think I could live in it. [5 photos]

Mytholmroyd (population 4000)
I also thought I'd walk from Hebden Bridge to Mytholmroyd, but that proved a lot easier. It's only a mile, nigh flat, and the Rochdale Canal links one to the other. Admittedly the towpath was in a bit of a state, still not recovered from the devastating Boxing Day floods a couple of years ago, but then neither has Mytholmroyd. The village is mostly linear rather than spreading up the slopes, hence considerably more at risk from inundation. Crumbled river walls can still be seen, as well as diggers filling in broken gaps, and deep concrete-lined channels hoping to prevent a repeat. The Environment Agency have even gone so far as demolishing the post office, and relocating services across the road, to widen the Calder alongside County Bridge.

Mytholmroyd's most famous son was Ted Hughes, one-time Poet Laureate, and erstwhile lover of the aforementioned Sylvia Plath. He spent his childhood in the end terrace at 1 Aspinall Street, now a holiday let, and marked with a blue plaque beside the door. Just up the road is the UK's largest clog manufacturer, that's Walkley Clogs, whose workshops are open for a nose around if you're a fan of handmade cost-effective footwear. Another rather different sort of attraction is Cragg Vale, otherwise known as the B6138, which a road sign at the foot describes as the "longest continuous gradient in England" rising 970 feet over 5½ miles. Bring a car, or better try a bike. And yes, it's a fabulous name is Mytholmroyd. [3 photos]

Sowerby Bridge (population 11000)
I didn't get this far, because there is a limit to how many Calderdale towns and villages you can visit with an off-peak rail rover. This riverside town is where playwright Sally Wainwright grew up, so has been inspiration for several of her dramas, most notably the BAFTA-winning Happy Valley. That said, I rewatched the start of the first episode yesterday and screamed "that's Todmorden, by the chippy!" at the TV, so successful had my Calderdale safari been.

Halifax (population 90000)
Been there, done that.

My Calderdale gallery
There are 32 photos altogether [slideshow]

 Saturday, January 13, 2018

Gadabout: HALIFAX

If your northern geography's not up to much, Halifax is in West Yorkshire, on the southeastern edge of the Pennines, about five miles southwest of Bradford. If you'd prefer a map, it's here. The town has a population of 90000, and is dramatically set around a deep river valley surrounded by high moorland. Here are ten things to see if you're ever here.

Town Hall
Municipal centrepiece, opened 1863, designed by Sir Charles Barry, and described as "a masterpiece of the nascent high Victorian style". In a depressingly familiar move, councillors renamed the clocktower the Elizabeth Tower to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The dazzling main hall has always been named after Queen Victoria. Ask nicely and you might get inside the building for a look.

Piece Hall
This is amazing, a proper whoa. An immense enclosed courtyard, approximately square in shape, covers nearly two acres on the eastern side of town. The central space is freshly paved and almost entirely empty, apart from a stepped water feature in one corner and some cafe action tucked away in another. Three terraced colonnades run around the perimeter, behind which are 315 rooms used for trading. The whole thing has a strongly neoclassical feel, almost as if Halifax had its own Roman forum, but no, this was once a market for trading in cloth. In the late 18th century the town was the key location for the manufacture of worsted, and the Piece Hall was a hive of trading activity every Saturday (strictly 10am-noon only).

The Industrial Revolution soon killed off the need for a worsted hub, so in 1871 the Piece Hall became a food market and its condition slowly fell into decline. The most recent restoration has taken three years at a cost of £19m, lottery be praised, and was reopened last summer. It certainly looks stunning, even if a grey morning in January probably isn't the best time to appreciate it. Hardly any people were in the piazza, even fewer walking round the upper terraces, and virtually nobody looking in on the boutiques where lonely shopkeepers rearranged gifts and artistic goodies.

Downstairs includes an "interactive heritage space", basically a small museum with three rooms, including a recreation of an original Georgian trader's room. The nice ladies on the front desk welcome any visitors who step inside, and are probably sometimes busy. An extension behind the eastern flank includes a new library, which has allowed the council to close the former (larger) library in the centre of town and resite the tourist information office. The entire project feels the best that could be done given the location, if somehow lacking in occupants and atmosphere, but still astonishing if you walk in without expectations.

In 1890, in a baker's shop in Halifax, John Mackintosh created his 'Celebrated Toffee' by blending brittle English toffee with soft American caramel. It soon caught on. As his business grew it expanded to larger premises in the town, diversified into chocolate and introduced iconic confections such as Rolo, Quality Street, Munchies, Caramac, Toffee Crisp and Tooty Frooties. In 1969 Mackintosh signed a merger deal with Rowntree, then in 1988 Nestlé swooped in and bought the lot, erasing the traditional company name. But a large factory still operates in the town, just opposite the station, where a poster on the side of the building proclaims "Quality Street, Proudly made in Halifax since 1936". Your next Easter egg is quite possibly being manufactured there right now. Alas the town doesn't smell of chocolate, so don't rush. [Toffee Town, a history]

The National Children's Museum, no less, can be found here in Halifax. It's based in the former station building, which dates back to 1855, and also in a brightly coloured modern building alongside with slides and sandpits and learning galleries and scores of interactive play-focused activities. If you're a family with children under 12, you are very much target audience. I passed by.

Halifax Market
When in a northern town, always pop into the market hall. Halifax's isn't as large as Leeds', nor as amazing, but it does have a similarly charming iron and glass canopy rising to a central lantern, and a fine array of traders thriving underneath.

Calderdale Industrial Museum
A three-storey repository of machinery, apparatus and sciency things, which as a reader of this blog you're probably target audience for. Alas, it's only open on Saturdays.

The Halifax Building
The Halifax Building Society started in the town in 1853, eventually growing into the country's largest. In 1995 it merged with the Leeds Permanent and 1997 it proudly demutualised, becoming a less lovable bank in the process. The Halifax's HQ is a striking diamond-shaped slab on stilts, as brutal as might be expected for a flagship project opened in the early 1970s, and includes a document storage bunker hidden beneath the open piazza. The main pillar facing the town centre incorporates the company's logo, plus that of whoever happens to own it at the time, which until 2009 was the Bank of Scotland and is now Lloyd's Bank. No Scooby Doo characters are depicted on the exterior.

Dean Clough
Where's the world's largest carpet factory? It used to be in Halifax, tucked into the steep-sided valley of the Hebble Brook upstream of the North Bridge. Opened in the 1820s, for Crossley Carpets, the mill buildings were a total of half a mile long and covered one and a quarter million square feet. Production finally ceased in 1983, at which point the site was redeveloped for various cultural and commercial enterprises - an early example of urban regeneration. Galleries and an underground theatre can now be found up Dean Clough, as well as one of those ubiquitous 'designer outlet' thingies, some posh restaurants and a gym. An unexpectedly large portion of the current site is car park.

Edward Akroyd inherited his father's mill in 1847, becoming one of Yorkshire's largest worsted manufacturers. He built himself a grand mansion at the top of Haley Hill, and sought to improve living conditions for his employees by building a 'model' village alongside, which he named Akroydon. The architect for these terraced treasures was none other than George Gilbert Scott, who here built what he later described as "on the whole, my finest church". All Souls is now under the custodianship of the Churches Conservation Trust so is only intermittently open, but still broods down over Halifax with Gothic benevolence.

Bankfield Museum
As for Akroyd's mansion, that's now a museum, should any visitors think to walk up past the tower blocks to the top of the park. Major renovation work is currently underway, so its two most splendid rooms are closed and I seriously missed out. But I did enjoy what delights I saw, including a comprehensive exhibition on the owner and his architectural philanthropy.

» thirteen photos from Halifax
» thirty-two photos from Calderdale

 Friday, January 12, 2018

Meanwhile, in the London Buses Health and Safety Cubbyhole...

Earnest: It would be an excellent thing if we were to take action to reduce the number of people falling over on buses.
Jobsworth: Yes, we must introduce a new announcement every time the bus departs a bus stop.
Voiceover lady: "Please hold on, the bus is about to move"
Jobsworth: We will introduce this announcement on every London bus on the second Friday in January.
Earnest: But won't that really annoy people?
Jobsworth: It will be a foolproof method to prevent accidents on buses.
Voiceover lady: "Please hold on, the bus is about to move"
Earnest: But how will the automated system know the bus is about to start moving?
Jobsworth: It won't, we'll set this up as a kind of pre-programmed guess.
Earnest: But we already announce the number of the bus and its destination when a bus is ready to leave a bus stop.
Jobsworth: Excellent, we'll play the new announcement five seconds afterwards.
Earnest: But the bus will probably already have started moving by that point.
Jobsworth: That doesn't matter, what's important is that we play the message.
Voiceover lady: "Please hold on, the bus is about to move"
Earnest: Don't you think it's a bit stupid to warn passengers the bus is about to start moving after it's started moving?
Jobsworth: This automated message will make a positive contribution to bus safety.
Earnest: On every bus in London? After departing every bus stop?
Jobsworth: We must be seen to do something, even if it's plainly stupid.
Passengers: And insanely annoying.
Voiceover lady: "Please hold on, the bus is about to move"
Jobsworth: Safety is our number one priority. The PA announcement is a trial to improve customer safety on the bus network. Thank you for your comments, we'll take them on board.

The UK's least-served** railway* stations
* Network Rail stations, not heritage services
** based on number of scheduled departures

(here's a map)

1 train a week
» Reddish South/Denton (Greater Manchester) - at 09:27/09:32, from Stockport to Stalybridge, Friday only [video]
» Teesside Airport (County Durham) - at 14:56, from Hartlepool to Darlington, Sunday only [video] (reduced last month from two trains a week to one, allowing the eastbound platform to be permanently closed)
» Bordesley (Birmingham) - at 13:36, from Whitlocks End to Great Malvern, Saturday only [video] (unless Birmingham City are playing at home, in which case up to 18 trains call before and after the match, so this doesn't really deserve to be up here)

2 trains a week
» Pilning (Gloucestershire) - at 08:33 & 13:34, from Cardiff Central to Taunton, Saturday only [video] (removal of the station's footbridge prevents westbound trains from stopping)

4 trains a week (summer only)
» Okehampton (Devon) - four trains to Exeter, Sunday only [video] (mid-May to mid-September only)

6 trains a week
» Polesworth (Warwickshire) - at 07:23, from Northampton to Crewe, daily except Sunday [video]
» Heysham Port (Lancashire) - at 13:17, to Leeds, daily except Sunday [video] (two extra trains run on Sundays from mid-May to mid-September)
» Gainsborough Central/Kirton Lindsey/Brigg (Lincolnshire) - three trains each way, between Sheffield and Cleethorpes, Saturday only [video]

7 trains a week
» Shippea Hill (Cambridgeshire) - at 07:28 each weekday, from Cambridge to Norwich, plus two trains on Saturday [video] (formerly Britain's least used station)

8 trains a week (summer only)
» Buckenham (Norfolk) - one train each way on Saturdays, between Norwich and Lowestoft, plus three each way on Sunday (plus one extra train each way, mid-May to mid-September)
» Sampford Courtenay (Devon) - four trains each way between Okehampton and Exeter, Sunday only [video] (mid-May to mid-September only)

9 trains a week
» Lakenheath (Suffolk) - one train each way on Saturdays, between Norwich and Cambridge, plus seven trains on Sunday

10 trains a week
» Combe/Finstock/Ascott-under-Wychwood (Oxfordshire) - one train just before 08:00 (east) and another just before 18:00 (west), between Worcester and London Paddington, Monday-Friday [video]

11 trains a week
» British Steel Redcar (Redcar and Cleveland) - the 08:03 from Bishop Auckland to Saltburn (Monday-Friday), and the 16:46 from Saltburn to Bishop Auckland (Monday-Saturday) (most of the adjacent steelworks closed in 2015)

12 trains a week
» Chathill (Northumberland) - one train around 07:00 to Newcastle, and another around 19:00 to Hexham, Monday-Saturday [video]
» Clifton (Greater Manchester) - the 07:06 from Bolton to Manchester, and the 18:21 from Manchester to Wigan, Monday-Saturday [video]
» Elton & Orston (Nottinghamshire) - the 06:25 from Grantham to Nottingham, and the 17:10 from Nottingham to Skegness, Monday-Saturday
» Breich (West Lothian) - the 08:05 (east) and the 18:38 (west), between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Monday-Saturday [video] (station recently reprieved from closure)
» Balmossie/Barry Links/Golf Street (Angus) - one train just after 06:00 (south) and another just after 19:00 (north), between Glasgow and Carnoustie, Monday-Saturday [video] (Barry Links is currently Britain's least used station)

No fixed timetable (but trains do sometimes stop)
» Manchester United Football Ground (Greater Manchester) - three trains in and three trains out, matchdays only [video]
» Smallbrook Junction (Isle of Wight) - operates only when the Isle of Wight Steam Railway is open [video] (closed through the winter)

No trains in winter (but several in summer)
» Falls of Cruachan (Argyll and Bute) - trains stop from late March to end October
» Dunrobin Castle (Highland) - trains stop from late March to end October [video]

No trains a week (but still technically open)
» Barlaston/Wedgwood (Staffordshire) - no trains since 2004 (one of the two stations may reopen, maybe, perhaps)
» Newhaven Marine (East Sussex) - no passenger trains since August 2006 [video] (station buildings demolished May 2017)

 Thursday, January 11, 2018

At this time of year Londoners pour into gyms in huge numbers, aiming to trim down the worst excesses of a Christmas blowout. But finding time to maintain the fitness habit is tough, so most good intentions fall by the wayside before the year is through. And that can leave an expensive gym membership ticking away, draining valuable cash month after month, as inescapable contracts take their toll.

So what you need this January is Tubegym, the unique commuter fitness solution.

Tubegym takes advantage of exercise apparatus freely available across the Underground network, specifically the existence of extremely long spiral staircases. These helical treadmills can be used as part of your everyday commute simply by diverting slightly out of your way on journeys across the capital. Pick your station carefully and just one ascent can reap rewards equivalent to climbing a 15 storey building!

Tubegym is available in two easy-to-follow formats, either our popular Personal Trainer Package or as a standalone app. Select the method which best suits your busy lifestyle and you could soon be on the way to removing your "mince pie paunch".

The epicentre of Tubegym's virtual gymnasium is Covent Garden station. This Leslie Green oxblood classic boasts the longest tube staircase in central London, 193 steps in total, and is freely available to all those with a Tubegym subscription. Simply pound repeatedly up the steps from platform level, ignoring all the warning notices, and you too could emerge with thighs to die for.

A Tubegym Personal Trainer is regularly positioned partway up the staircase at Covent Garden to offer encouraging words and help drive you further towards your goal. They will also point out if you've accidentally gone the wrong way, because running down the staircase is considerably less beneficial than running up. We strongly recommend this premium subscription option as the best way to enhance motivational resilience and maximise emotional engagement.

At times when the Personal Trainer is not available, or if you choose to buy into our cheaper in-app solution, Tubegym's unique TreadCounter system takes centre stage. Customised green panels have been installed at regular intervals around the rising spiral, informing runners precisely how many steps remain to the top of the flight. As the numbers tick by...
193... 176... 159... 142... 125... 108... 91... 74... 57... 35...
you can literally feel the pounds shedding from your waist.

At the top of the stairs, so as not to raise the suspicions of station staff, we urge you to exit via the barriers rather than running straight back down or taking the lift. But worry not, this is all part of your pre-planned Tubegym experience, because the street-level distance to Leicester Square is the shortest on the entire network. Simply jog 250m down Long Acre to this adjacent station, catch the Piccadilly line back in mere seconds, and you'll be ready to tackle the mountainshaft at Covent Garden all over again.

We calculate that each circuit round our Covent Garden/Leicester Square combo should take no more than nine minutes, so you can easily cram five or even six stairpumps into your lunchtime schedule. Even better, it only takes three circuits for your contactless card to hit the zone 1 daily cap, and after that you're quids in!

Other Tubegym locations are available. Join us at Russell Square for a 171 step workout, or Goodge Street for a punishing 136. Those based further out of town should consider tackling the 134 steps at Caledonian Road or all 116 at Tufnell Park. South Londoners, we haven't forgotten you, the emergency stairs at Lambeth North offer an optimal 78 step climb. Or for our toughest challenge head to Hampstead, the Underground's deepest station, whose 320 step ascent will have you breathless well before you reach the ticket hall.

A monthly Tubegym subscription costs only £25, or £45 with the addition of our premium Personal Trainer surcharge. Even better quote #DIAMONDGEEZER18 at the checkout to earn an extra 10% off your first payment, terms and conditions apply, subscription numbers limited, not available on Android, joining fees non-refundable, Direct Debits must be honoured in full or face an administration charge, cancellation fee applies, we may sell on your personal details to third parties, this offer available 11th January 2018 only.

So what are you waiting for? Download the Tubegym app today, make Covent Garden your one-stop portal to January rejuvenation, and 'take steps' to meet your New Year wellness resolution!

 Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Nobody uses phone kiosks any more, right? So why are companies busy installing new ones? I ask because here in Bow we've recently gained two, just round the corner from each other. Are people really going to stop and use them, or is there some other ulterior motive in mind?

The first new kiosk turned up on Stroudley Walk last year, outside what used to be the post office. Technically it's a replacement, the previous version being a shabby tilted box, open on one side, with a slightly oriental feel. This new box is sleek and shiny, broader than its predecessor, and unexpectedly black. It's good to be retaining a public phone in the square, but the design does look slightly out of place.

This is a New World Payphone, from the company of the same name, who were also responsible for its predecessor. It has a familiar looking coinbox and receiver, and accepts cash as well as cards in an undeniably retro way. It doubles up as a free wifi hub, should anybody realise (which I never had despite walking past dozens of times). Its big innovation is a touchscreen intended to be used as an information point, allegedly including access to maps and transport services. I had a go and found the glass woefully unresponsive, eventually slogging through to a low-res menu including the transatlantic abomination 'Subway station', at which point the screen froze and I gave up and walked away.

However few people end up using the telephone, that's not a problem, because financially what matters is on the opposite side. A large digital screen covers the rear of the kiosk, which helps explains the otherwise unnecessary width. It's made by Amscreen, a subsidiary of Amstrad run by Lord Sugar's son Simon, and its purpose is to beam adverts into the eyes of passers-by. Before Christmas it was urging the residents of Bromley-by-Bow to buy Hugo Boss perfume, which is very much not within reach of the average demographic, and this year it's moved onto Lurpak butter. Few advertisers have yet signed up, so the screen spends a lot of its time crowing that the phone company planted one tree to mitigate the kiosk's carbon footprint.

The second local addition is on Bow Road, near the church, alongside the Cycle Superhighway. Technically it's a replacement, the previous version being a metal monolith with a payphone booth on one side and a rolling poster display on the other. When the glass got smashed before Christmas and some workmen turned up with a truck I assumed they were taking it away. Instead they hung around and installed a new tall silvery slab, which is what BT reckons passes as a phone kiosk these days.

Apparently it's not called a kiosk, it's a Link, and it heralds a step-change in how BT expects you to make a telephone call in the street. All the action takes place on the thin side farthest from the road, where no separate receiver is apparent. Instead there's a socket for a headphone jack, provided by the user to cut costs, and a loudspeaker at waist height which'll broadcast across the pavement. To make up for this appalling lack of privacy the masterstroke is that all calls to UK landlines and mobiles are free, which also avoids having to incorporate any vandalisable coinbox.

Again there's a touchscreen, in this case the gateway to a main menu grid from which you pick the service you require. This includes Google Maps, access to the BT phone book, a local weather forecast and the Tower Hamlets council homepage, which is a sop allowing BT to claim they're providing a useful service to the community. Free ultra-highspeed wifi is available, so long as you log in and give an email address, and there are even two slots allowing you to charge up your smartphone, so long as you don't mind hanging around. Most striking is the big red button which if pressed immediately dials 999, an innovation surely far too tempting for passing fingers, which must have emergency switchboards cursing.

The actual phone/pad/display takes up a tiny proportion of the monolith, because what's really prominent is the 55 inch high definition screen on each side. Carefully angled towards the traffic, these provide a perfect canvas for bespoke digital advertising, and it's this lucrative income stream which explains how phone calls get to be free. According to BT's press team, Links "help reduce the amount of clutter on the street because they take up less space on the pavement, and will be installed in smaller numbers than the existing payphones they replace." Whilst saluting their brazen marketing spin, obviously what they really mean is "we're cutting the number of inner city payphones and replacing them with digital posters".

So far only inner London has Links, plus one outpost box in Leeds, but expect to see hundreds more in city locations over the next few years. Along with the New World Payphones mentioned earlier, their key benefit will be as hubs of free wifi, should anyone walking by actually notice. But in reality what's happening here is telecom companies exploiting the key sites they own, at the heart of communities or alongside busy roads, by transforming payphones into dazzling billboards. Should we perhaps be rethinking provision rather than prostituting our streets with paid-for pixels?

 Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A reader got in touch over New Year to suggest I visit the first and last streets in London. That's the street which appears first in the index of the London A-Z, and the street which appears last. My A-Z gives the first street as Abberley Mews in Clapham SW4 and the last street as Zoffany Street in Upper Holloway N19. But my A-Z is twenty years old, and a quick check of the latest version reveals that both of these have been eclipsed by later contenders. So I've been to visit those instead. Both are cul-de-sacs. One's quite posh, one's very much not. Both have something to say about the state of housing in London today.

The first street in London: Aaron Hill Road, Beckton E6 [map]

Beckton is renowned for its vast sewage works and what was once the world's largest gasworks, so you're right, this is the 'not posh' one. One splendid Victorian street of workers' homes survives, that's Winsor Terrace (only a minute's walk from the road we'll be visiting), but that's very much atypical. In 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation moved in and started transforming the area into a huge housing estate, of far lower density than you might expect today, blessed with gardens front and back, and parking spaces. But Aaron Hill Road is of slightly later vintage, carved out of the edge of an industrial estate in 1999, along with its neighbour Angelica Close.

One side of the road is the back of a warehouse, or rather two warehouses, occupied by lorry-friendly logistics companies like TNT. All the housing action is on the southern side, which in this case means flats rather than houses, because policy had moved on by 1999. A warren of three-storey blocks and courtyards is concealed behind, each grouped around spaces for cars rather than anywhere a child might play. Ground floor homeowners must make do with tiny corrals as back gardens, by my calculations not even twenty bricks long, although better than the 5 square metres of balcony they'd get if the site were being developed today.

It didn't feel an especially friendly place - signs saying Residents Only Private Property are stuck to many a wall - but given the dead end layout there's no call for anyone other than residents to be here. A mother lumbered home carrying bags from up the road at Asda. The occasional bin store door gaped open, with Christmas leftovers poking out awaiting Newham's collection. Several traffic cones stood guard to make sure nobody nicked that parking space. The general ambience remains very much end of last century rather than start of this. But what Aaron Hill Road does offer is relative affordability, that's two bedrooms for two hundred and something, if you've ever wanted to be top of the housing list.

And who was Aaron Hill? 400 years ago he was a poet and dramatist, renowned in London for his adaptations of Voltaire, and successful enough to be buried in Westminster Abbey. His first Newham connection is that he married an heiress from the 'Great House' in Stratford Langthorne, close to where West Ham station is today. His second Newham connection is that after retiring from public life he came to live in Plaistow, then a "pleasant rural village" on the edge of the Thames marshes, where he enjoyed reading, writing and doing the garden. The road named after him lacks adequate horticultural challenge, but I'm sure Aaron would be pleased to have bequeathed the first street in London.

The last street in London: Zulu Mews, Battersea SW11 [map]

This is the posh one, but only thanks to a developer with a lot of imagination. Zulu Mews is a relatively recent construction, squeezed into a gap beside a railway viaduct in Battersea in 2010. Several viaducts cross the area east of Clapham Junction, and this particular curve supports Overground trains heading round towards the Thames. When Alfred Heaver laid out the Falcon Estate in 1880, the terraces of Rowena Crescent were set back at a discreet distance from the railway to give residents some peace. But land is much more valuable today, so the scrappy dogleg behind their back gardens is now filled with ten sleek modern dwellings.

It may not come as a surprise to hear that this is a gated development. A two-part gate seals off Zulu Mews from the hoipolloi, the main section for cars and the rest for pedestrians, with sufficient gaps between the bars to see what's beyond. Residents pass through using electronic jiggerypokery, whereas visitors must press buttons and stand before a camera on a pole to gain approval and access. The rising street has an almost Mediterranean feel, with pristine shrubs potted outside certain front doors in lieu of an actual garden. No other touches of individuality can be seen, at least on the first six houses before the curvature swings round concealing the remainder from sight.

Each house has an integral garage, even if at first glance they don't look large enough, because having somewhere to stash a treasured runaround is important. Bedrooms and utilities are downstairs, then up top is an open plan living/dining/study area, with a separate free-standing wall to shield the kitchen and/or hang the TV. Gardeners need not apply because the only outdoor space is a roof terrace on top of the garage, amusingly smaller than the residents of Aaron Hill Road enjoy. Windows are in short supply. But such is the demand for luxury living hereabouts that these mews hideaways sell for almost a million pounds... and the tenth and final house double that! An estate agent's brochure is available here if you'd like to see what you're missing.

But you can also get a good view of these expensive properties from an Overground train, immediately to the north of Shillington Park. A long drab brick wall rises up, deliberately windowless to shield out the rattle of trains, and daubed with graffiti along its entire length. Local youth must regularly venture out along the embankment to use Zulu Mews as a canvas for their aerosol tags, and not even in a particularly artistic or colourful way. How residents must hate having LAGER, VODZ or some other scribble on the other side of their luxury bathroom wall, and not being able to do anything about cleaning it off.

And why is it called Zulu Mews? All the original streets on the Falcon Estate commemorate British Army victories which took place while the houses were under construction, including Afghan Road, Khyber Road and Candahar Road. The list also originally included Zulu Crescent, but that name proved too bloodthirsty for some of its residents so within a couple of years was it was renamed Rowena Crescent. Hence when a new mews development was slipped in behind Rowena Crescent it was gifted the original Zulu name as a nod to the past, and perhaps in recognition that society's no longer quite so squeamish. Had its name not changed then Zulu Crescent would have been the last street in the London A-Z, indeed in every edition since 1936... but where would be the story in that?

 Monday, January 08, 2018

Now that the new tube map is out, let's point the spotlight at a tiny addition in north London. It's on the Goblin - the Overground line from Gospel Oak to Barking - and it's an interchange which previously wasn't there. You could have walked it, that's always been possible, but someone's suddenly decided it deserves to be on the map. It's Archway to Upper Holloway.

I went to Archway to give the new connection a try. It's quite a walk, which anyone choosing to interchange here might not be expecting. From Archway it's a walk down the Holloway Road, and from Upper Holloway it's an uphill climb instead. Nobody's erected special signs telling people where to go, but a map outside each station shows the location of the other, if you think to look. Both maps suggest a walk of just over five minutes. I walked it in 4 minutes 20.

Adding this connection to the tube map introduces a link between the Goblin and the Northern line for the first time. Previously a traveller trying to get from Finchley to Walthamstow might have assumed they'd have to go all the way into central London and back out, whereas now a change at Archway looks the way to go. And even though it involves exiting one station and entering another it doesn't cost extra, because TfL have this link set up as an Out of Station interchange (or OSI).

But why have the map designers suddenly added this link, and not some of the other possible Goblin connections? Maybe a look along the line will help us find out.

Goblin stationOther stationOn map?Walking timeNotes
Gospel OakGospel OakYes10sObviously this is on the map. What's new is that the two blobs have suddenly been nudged apart, whereas they used to be touching.
Upper HollowayArchwayYes4 min 20sNever before shown on the tube map. Now shown on the tube map. [OSI]
Crouch Hill---There are no other stations within a 10 minute walk of Crouch Hill.
Harringay Green LanesHarringayNo6 minNot on the tube map, because Harringay isn't a TfL station. [OSI]
South TottenhamSeven SistersNo4 minReally ought to be on the tube map, because it's a shorter walk than Archway to Upper Holloway, but someone seems determined not to add it. [OSI]
Blackhorse RoadBlackhorse RoadYes30sObviously this is on the map.
Walthamstow Queen's RoadWalthamstow CentralYes3 min 45sAdded in 2014, with the opening of a new staircase and direct link via Edison Close. [OSI]
Leyton Midland RoadLeytonNo-Don't be fooled, Leyton Midland Road is a mile away from Leyton.
Leytonstone High RoadLeytonstoneNo7 min 30sA bit of a hike, but is signposted, and an entirely practical interchange between the Goblin and the Central line. [OSI]
Wanstead ParkForest GateYes3 minHas been on the tube map ever since TfL Rail first appeared in 2015. Straightforward. Line of sight. [OSI]
Woodgrange ParkManor ParkNo4 minNot on the map because Wanstead Park to Forest Gate is a better interchange. But still very doable. [OSI]
BarkingBarkingYes5sObviously this is on the map. Amusingly TfL depicted it wrongly on the May 2017 map, using one blue blob, whereas it ought to have been one white blob and one blue blob, which it is now. What a mess.

I still think South Tottenham to Seven Sisters would be a better addition, practically speaking, but looking on the map it would be an awfully messy thing to squeeze in, so maybe that's why the designers haven't bothered. In the meantime expect hundreds more people to end up walking down the Holloway Road in future, because the tube map told them so.

Now that the new tube map is out, it's time for a Dagger Check. This blog has always loathed excess daggers, so it's a pleasure to report that there are still only a dozen, rather than the thirty-something in the dagger's evil heyday. Unfortunately the use of daggers on the tube map is utterly broken, as we shall now prove.

Although there are 12 daggers on the tube map, there's only room in the key to explain what three of them mean. It's interesting to see which three daggers TfL's mapbods think are the most important, and the answer is "the ones with step-free issues". Hounslow West's dagger has been on the map for 10 of the last 11 years, warning that step-free access is for manual wheelchairs only. But the other two are new - Brixton because the lifts are out of action for eight months, and Victoria because step-free access is only available at the new Cardinal Place entrance.

As for the other nine daggers, the red ones, TfL don't reveal on the map what these mean. They introduced this ludicrous system two years ago whereby you're supposed to go online and find out why the station's daggered, because the map's not going to tell you. What's more there isn't an actual list, instead you're supposed to
  a) open up a search engine or search app
  b) search for 'TfL stations'
  c) click on the top link in the list, which will be Stations, stops & piers
  d) type in the name of the station with the dagger
  e) look for the box that says 'Xxx Station has reported access issues'
  f) click on it

Who in the course of their normal journey is going to go through all that palaver to find out what a dagger means? More importantly, most of the time step e) doesn't actually work. Amazingly, at the majority of the red daggered stations, nobody has thought to add the information you're supposed to be looking for on the website, or else it used to be there but it's disappeared. Here's a list to demonstrate how useless the red daggers are.

 StationWhat's the dagger for?Does the map
say this?
Does the website
say this?
Turnham GreenPiccadilly line trains sometimes stopNoNo
HolbornExit only, weekdays 07:30 - 10:00NoYes
Goodge StreetReduced lift service until late 2018
Exit only, weekdays 07:30 - 10:00
Camden TownExit only, Sundays 13:00 - 17:30NoNo
Cambridge HeathTrains to/from Chingford don't stopNoNo
London FieldsTrains to/from Chingford don't stopNoNo
West India QuayTrains from Bank don't stopNoNo
Canning TownLifts out of service until June 2018NoYes
Emerson ParkTrains stop by 10pmNoNo

Some of these issues are quite important, either temporarily or always, but in the majority of cases neither the map nor the website reveal them. The Camden Town issue is the most glaring omission, a closure which inconveniences thousands of passengers weekly, but whose start and finish times aren't actually stated anywhere.

It seems TfL's tube map designers have abdicated responsibility to TfL's website designers, and TfL's website designers haven't realised they have this responsibility so have allowed gaping holes in the information they provide. Agile auto-generated coding, alas, isn't a patch on a carefully thought-through printed list. This red dagger protocol is a lazy copout, thoughtlessly delivered, and entirely unfit for purpose.

 Sunday, January 07, 2018

A new tube map has just been released. A new night tube map has just been released. Both were due to be released last month, but have been held back until this weekend for unspecified reasons. Which begs the question, how and why did the December 2017 map become a January 2018 map?

Here are the covers of the two maps, and a striking pair they make too. The tube map cover by Marc Camille Chaimowicz depicts the interior of an imaginary room and features "a large neon tangerine arch" and "a slim mint green ladder". It's the first pocket tube map cover since Tracey Emin in 2012 to have an off-white frame. The night tube map cover by Marianna Simnett depicts a multi-species flock of luminous birds in semi-consciousness migratory flight. What's proven important for scheduling purposes is that Marc is a man and Marianna is a woman. Keep this at the back of your mind as we progress.

There absolutely definitely should have been a new night tube map in December 2017. The Night Overground launched in the middle of the month, at which point the previous map (showing only five tube lines) should have become obsolete. It was updated online, and on station platforms, but no new paper version was forthcoming, and the previous gorilla-fronted version remained in the racks. That's mystery number 1.

And we know that a new tube map was scheduled for December 2017 thanks to Art on the Underground.

Art on the Underground always make a fuss of their new cover designs, and did precisely that with Marc's pastel room. In mid-December they produced a limited edition travelcard wallet "to coincide with the launch of the 27th edition of the pocket Tube map 2017", even though no tube map was ready at that time. The wallets were available in Visitor Centres as a free giveaway, and you could have grabbed one for yourself had you read Ian's report. Art on the Underground also slapped up lots of posters at stations showing an enlargement of Marc's design so that we could all see how excellent it is. Most tellingly, their publicity included a photo showing a new tube map with "December 2017" written on the cover, because that had been the intended publication date.

But the dummy version in the photo never materialised, and the new tube map eventually ended up being launched one month after its cover. Even now Art on the Underground are insistent that the new tube map launched on 11 December 2017, even though it didn't, but are happy to admit that the new night tube map launched on 5 January, which it did.

There is a very good reason why Art on the Underground might want to claim that the new tube map launched in December, and that's suffragettes. 2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which Art on the Underground are celebrating with a year-long programme of women artists. They've already announced that Romanian artist Geta Brătescu and French artist Marie Jacotey will be providing the artwork for tube map covers later this year, one of which will be the map which launches Crossrail.

Night tube map artist Marianna Simnett is a woman, remember, so there's no issue with her being linked to a 2018 publication. But tube map artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz is a man, hence shifting his cover into 2018 would have wrecked a carefully planned annual theme. Art on the Underground can't have been happy when they were told that Marc's tube map cover was actually coming out in January, hence they've maintained the charade that it came out in December.

The big question is what on earth compelled TfL to delay the publication of two new pocket tube maps. Did they put Morden in the wrong farezone again, or is something less blundery going on?

A big clue is that tube maps on station platforms were replaced last month, or at least most of them were, and the new design says "December 2017" at the bottom. That's odd, because the small and large tube maps are normally updated at the same time, but on this occasion they're a month apart. We always expect subtle differences between the two layouts because the poster map has more space and its frame is a different shape. But even taking that into account there is one glaring difference between the two, which is the depiction of step-free access at Bond Street station.

The poster map, dated December 2017, shows no step-free access at Bond Street and is incorrect. The pocket map, dated January 2018, does show step-free access and is correct. But step-free access was introduced at Bond Street station on 17th November 2017, so technically any map published in December or January should have included it. Why is it missing from one map and present on the other?

It could well be a proofing error. Perhaps TfL failed to spot the missing wheelchair blobs at Bond Street before they sent the poster map to the printers, and were left with an expensive mistake they had no choice but to use. We know from last time they messed up that every poster map costs in the region of £2 to produce, and TfL print 4000, so that would have been a sizeable sum down the drain. But the flagship pocket map gets a lot more attention, so that did need to be updated, so either they pulped the first run and reprinted, or held back until a proper version was ready and then pressed the button.

But it could also be cautiousness. Step-free projects don't always complete when they say they will, so maybe TfL were unwilling to risk adding blobs at Bond Street until they were absolutely certain it would be ready. That does seem unlikely give that Bond Street's lifts were fully operational two weeks before December 2017, but lead times for print runs can be lengthy, so maybe nobody wanted to risk having egg on their face. As a case in point, step-free access to the Waterloo & City line at Bank was due to be operational before Christmas, so might have been added to the latest map, but that's now running a few months late and so its omission now looks wise.

The delayed reopening of Custom House DLR is a fortunate winner in all of this. It's no longer crossed out on the new pocket map, which coincidentally is being launched on the same weekend the station reopens rather than a few weeks previously. But elsewhere we now have the awkward situation whereby a mobility-impaired passenger looking at a tube map on a platform won't realise there's a fully-functioning set of lifts at Bond Street they could use, but anyone holding a paper map will.

Whatever issue intervened - Bond Street's blobs or otherwise - it must have been truly compelling to delay the publication of the night tube map. This really really ought to have been published in mid-December but it wasn't, and has only appeared in print three weeks after the first Night Overground train. What's more, a January night tube map ought to have included something else that isn't on the published map, and now also appears to be running behind schedule.

Back in November TfL's media team issued a digital night tube map clearly indicating that the Night Overground would extend from Dalston Junction to Highbury & Islington in January 2018. Look, it says so in the key. But the newly published night tube map includes nothing of the sort, nor any indication that this extension is on its way. Will the journalists who merrily cut and paste every TfL press release ever notice the delay, let alone investigate?

To be fair, it's always been the plan that the Night Overground would be extended after major engineering works at Highbury Corner are complete, and these weekend closures are now due to linger on until mid-February. That might mean services to Highbury & Islington commence on February 23rd, although "from spring 2018" is all the TfL website now claims. At least until then the new night tube map is correct, which may be another hint that TfL are reluctant to depict anything with a dubious start date on a printed map.

The one common factor in all of the above is that a lot of things are running late. Bank's new Walbrook entrance is running late. The reopening of Custom House station is running late. The launch of the Night Overground extension is running late. The publication of the pocket tube map and the pocket night tube map are running late. However valid TfL's reluctance to overpromise in print, it can't be a good thing that so many deadlines are being missed.

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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