Transit Map Not Always the Best Guide, At Least in London

The London Underground's classic transit map can be more influential than passengers’ own experience when it comes to choosing the best route, according to research by NYU Wagner Professor Zhan Guo.

            A city's transit map, by necessity, is replete with conscious distortions to make every station fit, but the distortions can mislead riders if they take the map too literally. At least in London, the transit system schematic map is significantly more influential than passengers’ direct travel experience -- especially when it comes to their choice of routes, according to a new study by a researcher at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Professor Zhan Guo.          

             Guo’s intriguing analysis, “Mind the Map! The Impact of Transit Maps on Path Choice in Public Transit,” focuses on instances in which the  Underground's schematic map misrepresents the length and direction of a trip in the London tube by not taking into account the actual above-ground distances between stations.

             The “map effect,” as Guo's study calls it, is two times more influential on riders’ decisions than their direct experience using the London Underground; as a result, he found, many people's journeys take longer than necessary.

             “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 significant implications for riders and those who work to ensure that transit systems perform optimally.

             [T]he 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 decisions,” writes Guo.

             Professor Guo is available to discuss the study.  To reach him, contact NYU press officer Robert Polner at 212.998.2337 or via

Press Contact

Robert Polner
Robert Polner
(212) 998-2337