This autumn, despite further delays announced today, we should have our promised Night Tube which will be running on five major lines throughout Friday and Saturday nights. Immediately there should be benefits; TfL’s analysis suggests that the Night Tube will create 1,965 new jobs adding £360m to the economy over the next 30 years, a reduction of the average journey time by 20 minutes and a massive boost for London’s night time economy. Nevertheless, there is the potential for so much more. Of course, the Night Tube will not make everyone happy. No doubt London’s taxi drivers and private hire companies like UBER will face a reduction in demand. In addition, with TfL’s planned frequency reduction in night buses along Night Tube routes, this will also affect bus drivers.
The real purpose of this Night Tube should be to confirm London’s position as a 24 hour city – certainly on the weekends – and this needs to be a step towards a fully 24 hour tube service 7 days a week. If we look at the 2008 night bus survey (the same that was used in the work TfL commissioned to look at the benefits of the Night Tube on London’s night-time economy), we see that around 50% of people use the night bus to travel to/from work and around 45% for Leisure (including visiting friends and relatives). Yet, the 50% of people who use the night bus for commuting will likely be working on other days of the week as well; so the Night Tube running only on Friday and Saturday nights is not sufficient for them.
The idea behind the economic benefits of the Night Tube is very simple; consumers will be in London for longer and so can spend more as there would be no risk of missing the last tube. Whilst the night bus has always been a possibility; this is significantly harder to use (especially for those visiting London) and has much longer journey times. With the Night Tube; tourists, who added £16bn to London’s economy in 2013 should be willing to spend more time and money at various museums, shops and other attractions which could now stay open later.
However, whilst a Night Tube should mean restaurants, bars, clubs and pubs can stay open much later this ignores the problem of licensing; indeed 24 hour licensing is still extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain in Central London. Moreover, even high street shops do not stay open really late – so tourists could not spend much more money there – and opening them later could be problematic; Friday and Saturday nights will not be the most popular time to work, yet these could be key times for tourists.
Nevertheless, these problems are not insurmountable and even with a small initial increase in opening times, the rise in spending may encourage local authorities to further extend licensing hours and shops to stay open later. This Night Tube could be another step towards a truly 24 hour economy in London but more is needed.