The mystery of the disappearing Tube roundels on Google Maps

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roundel
(Pic by Naparazzi)

If you’ve tried to get anywhere unfamiliar in London lately then you’ve probably noticed something strange. On Google Maps, the Tube’s famous ‘Roundel’ logo has mysteriously been replaced by a more European style “M” logo.

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Whilst this might make things more consistent with similar metro systems around the world, it’s certainly a bit weird for a Londoner to see, as the mere fleeting glimpse of a roundel instills in us a sense of familiarity and place.

So why has it disappeared? A simple technical error or is something else going on?

In the past Transport for London (TfL), the body that runs the London Underground has been extremely protective of its iconic design, doggedly pursuing any organisation or individual that dared use the symbol without permission.

This is perhaps understandable if you’re dealing with mega-corpoations. Imagine the confusion if McDonalds were to replace the Golden Arches with a Golden Roundel? It’d be almost as bad as doing something as ridiculous as naming a chain of sandwich shops Subway.

Sadly though TfL don’t just have a history of chasing down the big guys, but the little ones too. A few years ago Tube blogger and film maker Geoff Marshall – a tube enthusiast – felt the heat from TfL’s over-zealous solicitors after posting some funny Tube maps on his website. As you might expect when something ridiculous like this happens, it fell victim to the Streisand effect – with plenty of media coverage and thousands of people mirroring the unauthorised roundels on their own websites. It was a massive own goal.

(Geoff has since made a brilliant web series about the tube – check it out).

So has TfL set the lawyers on to Google this time? I reached out to both TfL and Google for comment to try and figure out what is going on and the results are… sadly not quite as scandalous.

Whatever is going on, it seems that it isn’t TfL worrying about trademarks, with their spokesperson telling me “It’s a fault with Google, not a deliberate change. Google can tell you more”.

Meanwhile, Google has suggested it is simply a bug in the code, telling me:

“There are currently engineering works on the Google Line. Normal services will be resumed shortly.”

Brilliant. Here’s hoping the Roundels will return soon.

James O’Malley