Last Saturday, I was travelling home from dinner in Hampstead, using the Tube as ever. Wandering down the platform with my other half, my attention was caught by a tube map on the wall. Now anyone who has travelled on the Tube will be familiar with its iconic map – something that resembles electrical wiring and has been an unmistakeable feature of London’s public transport system for decades. If I’m so used to seeing these maps, why was I drawn to this one?
It was different.
I presumed that it was actually an older map that had been exposed when a more recent one was removed for some reason. Parts of London Underground’s advertising space resemble a room that has had layer upon layer of wallpaper applied, without ever removing the older (now dated) patterns. So I thought I’d take a closer look and see that the tube looked like in 1978, or whatever.
This is where the confusion set in. I checked the date and it said 2009. Cue puzzled look and some literal head-scratching. This was a new map that was so unlike the previous version… usually, there are slight, evolutionary changes. A new icon here, some additional text there. So what was so different? For one thing, all of the reference to zones was removed. The concentric rings that determine the distance/cost of your journey, with Central London in Zone 1 and so on. A lot of the text that had built up over the last few map iterations was now removed. I liked it. It was clearer and easier to follow. But there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on without an older map for reference.
Oh yes. They’d removed the River Thames from the centre of the map. Probably the most major reference point in the city, dividing north from south and providing Londoners and visitors alike with a venue for waterside entertainment (i.e. drinking). Gone.
I wasn’t the only one to notice. The ever wonderful Annie Mole’s blog summarised the changes. The BBC relayed the complaints from the usual suspects. And the excellent Diamond Geezer summarised the entire event in a single post.
All was not lost. Our ever-vigilent London Mayor, Boris Johnson, noticed the changes upon his return from New York. Sensing some public annoyance at the changes, no doubt amplified by the usual moans from the Daily Hate, he’s demanded it be reinstated tout de suite. So, the river is being reintroduced on Tube Maps.
I mean, if it’s not on the Tube Map, how can we be certain it’s still there and hasn’t been sold off to some American Millionaire? A veritable public transport-related existential crisis.