The Platinum Jubilee: The UX of the Elizabeth line
For the last addition to our Tech Through Time: The Platinum Jubilee series, we thought we’d take a very UX-focused approach to a topic everyone has been talking about: The Elizabeth line. Recently opened and renamed in homage to Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, it has been highly anticipated for the past 13 years! Connecting Reading all the way to South-East London (through use of separate branches), it has been labelled a ‘high-tech train’ that incorporates new technologies and advancements into the London Underground. So, we went out and conducted field research to give you the full run-down of the user experience of the Elizabeth line, and what you can expect from London’s newest underground line.
To make this as accurate as possible, we thought it best to actually take a ride on the line, and get the full Elizabeth experience. The journey began at Canary Wharf and ended at Liverpool Street, on Saturday the 29th of May. It was a purposeful choice to choose a central spot that had only recently been opened in the latest phase, to experience a new, expansive station.
The Results: Positives
First, let’s go over the positive UX elements regarding the user experience of the Elizabeth line.
Compared with Tubes’ average speed of 20.5 miles per hour, the Elizabeth line’s operating speed of 90 mph is four times faster. Taking the Elizabeth line from Abbey Wood (the south-east end) to Paddington is estimated to take 30 minutes, which is about half of the travelling time with other trains. Yet even the journeys within Central London are faster with the Elizabeth line. The journey from Paddington to Tottenham Court Road can be shortened to 5 minutes, which is one-fifth of the time through 2 buses.
The Elizabeth line stretches over 100 kilometres from the west ends of Heathrow and Reading to the east ends of Abbey Wood and Shenfield, with 41 stations in between. Certainly, it is going to benefit a huge number of passengers who rely on public transport, let alone the fact that 10 of the Elizabeth line stations are new. With the Elizabeth line, people can reach their destination via less changes. For example, business travellers will be able to arrive at Canary Wharf from Heathrow Airport without a change after autumn this year when the full line is up-and-running.
A key thing we did notice was that all 41 stations along the line are step-free from platform to street level, and all 10 central stations also step-free from train to street level. This was a very important aspect we looked out for, as the London Underground is notorious for its lack of accessibility for wheelchair-bound and eldery passengers. It was great to see lifts and staff assistance on hand for those who need it. Hopefully, this makes travelling across London slightly easier for those who cannot use escalators.
A new feature we noticed was how information-rich the platforms were in the new stations. Above each platform door is a passenger information screen, providing up to date destination information. This was very useful, especially as the platforms are so long. A usual annoyance along the older platforms is that screens can be heard to see depending on where you are on the platform. That issue is seemingly solved with this line, as you are never too far away from a useful information screen.
The new line is home to 200-metre long trains, which can accommodate up to 1,500 passengers, which is incredible compared to older lines such as the Northern line (which can carry 800 passengers). This allows for less congestion within the carriages, which is a key factor after the pandemic. Having some distance between ourselves and the other passengers was a strong positive of the experience.
The Results: Negatives
However, our test did show us that there are always things to improve on when it comes to UX.
Though this line is far more accessible than any other underground trainline, there are still some downsides in terms of amenities for elderly or disabled passengers. There are no toilets aboard the train, which seems strange for a line running as far out as Reading. The reasoning behind this is that average commute times should be around 25 minutes from Reading to Paddington, but if the train were to break down or come to a halt, the lack of access to a toilet could cause a lot of stress and anxiety for some passengers.
Another issue with the line is the frequency of trains. Though still running a good number, there are slightly less trains per hour than other lines, such as the Victoria line. This wasn’t necessarily a problem within our test run, but may be during busier commuting hours.
As pointed out by Transport for All, the handhold grab rails aboard the train are black and silver, which has been stated previously as an issue for the visually impaired. We noticed that the rest of the interior followed a purple colourway, with both lighter and darker purples running throughout the carriage. The rails could have used these brighter purple shades to make the overall experience more inclusive and accessible.
The three branches of the Elizabeth line are not yet connected, with this scheduled to happen in Autumn 2022. This means that changes at Paddington or Liverpool Street are usually necessary if you’re going further down the line, which is inconvenient, especially for less able-bodied people. Though, this is obviously due to change, so we can’t be too harsh.
One last negative was that the service is not currently running on Sundays (apart from Jubilee weekend). Sunday can be a hard day to travel around London due to delays, cancellations and planned closures across the transport systems, so a Sunday schedule for the Elizabeth line would be very handy indeed.
It’s great to see a new Underground line (the newest in over 30 years) that is far more accessible and inclusive than any other line through central London. Faster, easier journeys are always appreciated, and connecting more parts of London is always a positive thing. However, there are still improvements to be made to the overall user experience of the Elizabeth line, especially when taking into account those who are less able bodied than ourselves. Empathy is necessary to good UX, and we can always work to make sure that every user’s needs are accounted for – even on the London Underground!
UX Connections, the UX agency with UX/UI consultants to help your digital product succeed.
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