London Underground

London commuters ‘mind the map’

NYU (US) — Passengers on the London Underground rely less on experience and more on “distorted” transit maps when choosing routes.

That’s according to new research by Zhan Guo, a professor at New York University. His recent study found that the schematic transit map, replete with conscious distortions to make everything fit, can at times be misleading to riders.

Overall, the “map effect,” as Guo calls it, is two times more influential on riders’ decisions than their direct experience using the London Underground.


Tube map from the London Underground. (Credit: Zhan Guo, NYU)

“In other words,” he writes, “Underground passengers trust the tube map two times more than their own travel experience within the system. The map effect decreases when passengers become more familiar with the system, but it is still greater than the effect of the actual experience, even for passengers who use the Underground five days or more a week.”

The study has implications for both riders and those who work to ensure that transit systems perform optimally.

“Transit maps can have a profound impact of passengers’ travel decisions and system performance. Both individual passengers and transit agencies should ‘mind the map’ in order to make their best planning decision,” writes Guo.

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