If the rumors are to be believed (and admittedly this is is a very big if) London Underground is mulling about changing the iconic and much loved "London Tube" map. Anybody who has ever been to Greater London has seen and used the "Tube Map". They are free and easily available at the underground stations. Transport for London has managed to forever print them in an incredibly handy, folded size. Just perfect to stick into your wallet, purse or your back jeans pocket. These maps are constantly updated and I have never seen one of the map racks at a station empty. Quite a few of the continental European transit systems could well learn a valuably lesson from the London Underground in matters of tourist information and system map availability. On my last foray to Berlin I could not find a subway/underground map pamphlet to save my hide! Paris and Amsterdam or no better. My hat's off to you LfT!
So, my dear reader, you can imagine that I am quite used to orienting myself around London with the current system map. (I do go to London quite frequently, probably much to the chargrin of my friends who are putting me up)
Here is the current, most up-to-date LU map:
This map has been around since about 1938. Sure, there have been "improvements", tweeks and some redesign, however basically it has kept its unique layout. Because it was so successful most cities in the world have copied this design to show their puplic transportation system.
It was a London Underground employee by the name of Mr. Beck who came up with the original idea on how the map should look while giving the most information to the traveller. Mind you he did this all on his time and the London Underground muckety mucks were really not very receptive to his idea. Indeed Mr. Beck realized that a topographical map was rather useless when one zooms about in a subway car tens of feet under the surface. Station distance would not have to be shown in "real" distance, but rather could be manipulated to give a much better overview of an underground line alignment and it's transfer stations to other lines of the system. Thus the "Beck" map was born in 1938. The London Underground management was not too keen on it.
Here is Mr. Beck's map:
However the traveling public loved it. It is easy to see why. Below is a map from 1908 used in various incarnations until Mr. Beck's design came along:
One of the major problems was the fact that not all the rail lines and their connections were shown. At that point in history the lines in London were run by private companies and there was absolutely no incentive for them to cooperate on coming up with a "unified" map.
In any case, eventually London Underground paid Mr. Beck about 10 guineas for his work and idea. That comes out to about 2650 UK pounds or about US$ 4165 in todays income level. Just think what that man could have gotten if he had copyrighted his design and idea, and gotten himself a lawyer...
So that is the very inconcise and very short history of the London Underground map.
Now the London Underground and London for Transport are reportedly thinking about changing the map to this:
This was designed by Maxwell Roberts and released just a few days ago. No word on how serious London Underground is contemplating this!