Traveling on Public Transport

Most people are familiar with maps of public transport systems, including subway and bus maps, but although these maps show the extent of the transportation systems they represent, they do not show the amount of time it takes to get from origin to destination.  And as any commuter knows, the time it takes to make a morning commute has a direct relationship to home prices, with homes closer to commercial hubs frequently costing more than those farther away.  These of travel times and home prices can be mapped to show important relationships of real estate and public transportation.

In 2006, the UK Department of Transport approached to produce maps of public transport travel time using publicly available data.  They leveraged this data to produce a series of time maps that functioned like common topographical charts, with contour lines representing half-hour time intervals, and highlighted with colors to further emphasize the differences.  The map above represents travel time from central London using only public transport, with red areas being accessible more quickly, and those in blue requiring more time to get to.  Click here or on the picture above to see a larger image of the map.

This map shows at a glance how residents of central London can easily move about the city fairly quickly, but that residents of far-out suburbs may have a more lengthy commute if they live farther away from the points of quick access that surround train stations.  For example, although it is relatively close to central London, the areas around Richmond Park, to the southwest, are much more inaccessible by public transport than areas further out served by commuter trains, as indicated by islands of red in a sea of yellow and blue.

The UK Department of Transport, impressed by MySociety’s work, came back to them in 2007 and asked them to improve the maps and relate them to additional data.  They were then able to relate commuting time to local housing prices, developing a set of interactive maps with sliders to show how housing costs related to commute time to three locations in central London. 

For these maps, MySociety revised the “heat map” scheme and simply darkens the areas that meet the requirements set by the sliders.  Click on the picture above to see two of these interactive maps of travel time and home price.

These maps provide valuable data to help people decide where to live or travel depending on where they need to commute to every day.  Imagine if maps like these existed for New York City, Washington DC, and other US metropolitan areas.  They would provide potentially revolutionary ways for people to see where to live and work, and provide valuable information for improving and understanding the impact of public transportation systems.


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Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at

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