Help! The Covent Garden-Leicester Square tube ride needs a nudge

Reader William Bray sends along an interesting example of a congested environment that seems like it could benefit from a nudge (or two). Time Out London explains the problem:

Leicester Square to Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line. It’s the shortest tube journey in town – less than 300 yards long. It’s the briefest tube journey in town – just 45 seconds from platform to platform. And it’s also the most expensive tube journey in town – four quid to travel a quarter of a kilometre. But does this deter thousands of tourists every year from making the trip? Of course not.

London Underground are worried. Tourists are irresistibly drawn to Covent Garden, teeming as it is with fashionable boutiques, silver-faced mime artists and juggling unicyclists. But Covent Garden station is 100 years old, and struggling to cope. There’s no space to install escalators, so every year 16 million people have to fight their way in and out via the lifts and stairs. A major infrastructure upgrade is long overdue.

London has started a public education campaign–”Please don’t follow the crowd” to encourage people to walk between the two stops. Thanks to the sluggishness of those lifts and stairs, the Time Out writer estimates that the tube ride is 50 percent longer than the above ground walk. Bray thinks tourists are the major problem because they navigate the city using the Underground map. At least on the tube they won’t get lost. Bray thinks some more above ground choice architecture might help.

Why not simply colour code foot print trails from Leicester Square tube to Covent Garden Tube to ease congestion and match sign posts with colours of foot print trails (stickers on the ground) to make it easier to walk than get the tube. This would remove the risk so people would automatically choose to walk. This would be a more pleasant experience for the Tourist so they like London more i.e. spend more money or make a return visit and the commuter has eased congestion.


  • Elad Sherf

    They also put the walking path on the map of the underground itself… if people use that map anyway, let them know the walking path is available where they are looking for it!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting idea, especially in summer when the tube can get very hot. Maybe the walking routes could be marked using paving in the same colours as the tube lines are shown on the plans?

    Covent Garden – Leicester Sq isn’t the only example. The following plan shows many:

  • Caitlin

    Underground users aren’t lazy, or stupid, if you hold your breath between the two stops you get to make a wish!

  • Jonathan MacDonald

    I reckon one of the reasons there is little reaction is Hostile Media Effect (the tendency to see a media report as being biased due to one’s own strong partisan views).

    There is also a considerable element of Semmelweis reflex, the tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts an established paradigm, leading to new nudges running the risk of being spotted as blatantly guiding (you may or may not segment colour coded footprints in this camp..)

    Without investigating the problems too much, on the potential solution side, I think TFL could perhaps introduce a level of collaborative filtering and mention in comms that a higher percentage of people prefer to get off at Leicester Square.

    Alternatively, using Unit Bias, there may be a way of establishing some form of points system as a reward mechanism for avoiding Covent Garden.

    Either way, the choice architecture as it stands is far removed from anything that would actually make a difference, hence the on-going challenge.

    This, in part, is what we help companies with at Human Dialogue (

    • Jonathan MacDonald

      I’ve fully answered here by the way, in the 3rd part of ‘Choice Architecture in the Wild’ – with full accreditation:

  • Philippa Dunjay

    I think a lot of this is information asymmetry – took me ages to realise how close the two stations were. A big sign on an obvious place on the platforms saying “It’s quicker to walk than catch the Tube! Follow the signs.” would work.

    Also it’s warmer down in the Underground, and also less effort (especially for tourists with luggage/young children), while it adds nothing to the ticket price due to being in the same zones. Time isn’t the only factor in journeying.

  • Simon Fried

    As a Behavioural Economics consultant and researcher ( I think this is wonderful example of habitual behaviour (Londoners) and assumptions (Tourists).
    What is needed is a two pronged approach:
    1.Challenge the Londoners habits by forcing behaviour change. Changing behaviour is after all the best way of changing behaviour! Get travellers to experience using Leicester Square by selling reduced tickets that aren’t valid at Covent Garden. E.g The ticketing machines can give an expensive Covent Garden option or a cheaper Leicester Square option.
    2. More importantly as tourist traffic is the main culprit… Rename the stations. Leicester Square becomes “Leicester Square / Covent Garden West” and Covent Garden becomes “Covent Garden East”
    The beauty of using behavioural psychology (aka choice architecture) is that you can create massive change at next to no cost. The same can and is being done across a range of company communications and marketing activities from consumer behaviour, to pricing and advertising. The key to it all is understanding the science and not fearing the odd experiment.