5 Points to a Decent Public Transport Map

Guest post by Adrienne Elks
Ever found yourself in a foreign city struggling to understand their public transport map, or ended up somewhere you shouldn’t because it was so confusing? Perhaps you’ve wondered why some maps are so much more user-friendly than others? The classic London Underground Map, for example, has been refined over the course of over a hundred years and is widely considered to be one of the best pieces of design of the twentieth century.
Designed by Harry Beck and first published in 1933, the map was based on an electrical circuit diagram. The colours are bold and punchy; the lines uniform and angular. The map was revolutionary at its time, and was at first rejected by the Underground when Beck submitted it in 1931 for this reason.
The map was refined over time, and then completely removed from circulation for 30 years when Beck had a falling out with the authorities. It was, however, reinstated in 1990 and iterations of it continue to be used today.
So what are the key features of the London Underground map that makes it so appealing and easy to understand, and how can Public Transport Victoria (PTV) learn from its motherland?


Image: London Underground map
Source: www.bbc.co.uk

1. The lines run at only right angles, parallel or at 45 degrees to one another

This is probably the biggest contributing factor in making the map easy to read, as the brain is not distracted by lots of lines running in different directions. The Japan Bullet Train map shown below is a case in point.


Image: Japan Bullet Train map
Source: Mappery

2. Make the text legible.

Whether it’s reading it on their smart phone or carrying it in their pocket, the majority of people need to be able to read the text on their transit map. The above map is a perfect example of how to make a map illegible – particularly the station names written in yellow and grey. Stick to black, and there’s less chance of angry passengers ending up at the wrong destination.

3. It’s not too crowded.

The London Underground consists of 11 different lines, and yet there is enough white space around the lines to make it readable – even the pocket-sized version! In contrast, the Tokyo Subway is made up of only two more lines (13 in total) and yet it is far more difficult to read because there is barely any white space.


Image: Tokyo Subway map
Source: Mappery

4. Keep the palette simple.

Another reason why the Tokyo Subway map hurts the eyes is because it’s so bright. The London Underground map, on the other hand, primarily uses variations on the primary colours – red, yellow and blue. Again, this contributes to the overall readability of the map.


5. Don’t outline the lines.

Lines do not need outlining. It’s completely unnecessary and just makes the map look messy. This map of the Zahgreb tram network would be far easier to read if they did away with the black outline around each coloured line. (The colour palette could also be worked on for added further clarity).


Image: Zahgreb Tram network map
Source: Mappery
All images courtesy Mappery (unless otherwise indicated) http://www.mappery.com/tags.php?tag=transit&nearestto=16181

How does Melbourne’s Metro Train Network map compare?

In comparison to the other maps shown, the Melbourne train network map doesn’t distinguish between the various lines, but rather only shows where they change from Zone 1 to Zone 2. The usability of the map could be vastly improved simply by using a different colour for each of the different train lines. It would avoid, for example, such catastrophic situations as Sandringham passengers accidentally jumping on the Frankston line. Zones could then be shown in grey and white bands, as they are in the London Underground map.
On the other hand, the little green squares and orange triangles indicate an interchange where stations are serviced by buses and/or trams respectively. This is useful feature that should stay in any future maps issued by PTV.


Image: Melbourne Train Network
Source: PTV
Stay tuned for a critique of the new Melbourne Metro Train map, which is expected to be released very soon!