Is the night tube good for London?

First night of the night tube. Image: Getty.

After months of delays and industrial action, London’s long-awaited “night tube” is finally a reality. This will be music to the ears of punters who want to party on beyond one o'clock in the morning, and night-time workers who want to get home quicker after their shifts.

Successive London mayors have been trying to deliver a 24-hour tube service for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it will make the city even more attractive to international investors and visitors. Non-stop mass public transport will place London in an exclusive group of cities with 24/7 metro services, including New York, Chicago, Melbourne and Copenhagen, and help it continue to compete in a post-Brexit environment.

The second reason is that a 24-hour service would allow the city’s night-time economy to prosper. A recent study estimated that the night tube would give London a £360m boost over the next 30 years. In particular, clubs, bars, theatres and restaurants stand to make solid financial gains.

The bright side

Those who already have to move around at night will experience immediate benefits. The tube is faster than taking the bus, walking and cycling, and much cheaper than taxis and Ubers.

Keeping the London Underground running around the clock is expected to cut anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour off night-time commutes, as well as providing a cheap form of transport for people on low incomes who travel in the early hours of the morning.

It also means that more drivers will be able to leave their cars at home: less emissions, less pollution, less noise and fewer traffic accidents are to be expected.

Transport for London expects that nearly 180,000 trips will be made on the night tube between 00:30 and 06:00. This is good news for night-time businesses: they will have more clients and earn more money.

It is also going to benefit all sorts of companies that run night shifts. They will have a larger pool of potential employees to choose from, as the night tube enables more people to travel quickly to and from work during unsociable hours. This will smooth the way to help global businesses implement flexible working hours, which will help them to operate more effectively.

Not so bright

Unfortunately not everything is bright in the cities that never rest. If the night time economy grows, it follows that there will be more people working and commuting at night. This might be good for business, but there is evidence to suggest that working night shifts can have significant negative impacts on the health and well-being of employees and their families.

What’s more, the quality of life of people living nearby tube stations, clubs and bars is likely to fall – as is already being seen in some central areas of London, such as Soho. Many Londoners won’t enjoy being exposed to London’s hectic streets during the day, only to come home to the noise of a bustling night life in their neighbourhood. And there are several other documented drawbacks to the night-time economy; from damages inflicted on town centres, to growing power centred in the hands of large chain pub companies.


A bit grim. Image: Stròlic Furlàn/Davide Gabino/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Property prices in areas served by the night tube are likely to change. Some will see their values decreasing because of exposure to noise and other nuisances. But the majority of houses will see their values increase even more. The long-term consequences of this are increased gentrification and more debt.

Roughly 90,000 of the 180,000 night tube journeys are expected to come from people switching over from other night-time transport services – including the night bus, taxis, car sharing schemes, private hire vehicles and night parking services – so these will inevitably lose some clients. But these alternative services are also likely to benefit from the anticipated boost to the night economy.

In the long term, a 24/7 tube service might prompt more people to move out to the edges of the Greater London area. As people realise that travelling to London is becoming easier and can be done at any time of the day, the appeal of cheaper accommodation outside the inner city rings will increase.

Striking a balance

Whether or not the night tube is a good thing depends on what you value. Investing in the night economy and facilitating it by means of better transport services means greater revenues, a more competitive city and more night-time fun for those who want it, and can afford it. But it also means that many could see their quality of life diminishing.

There are a few general principles, which could help London to make the most out of its night tube. The first is to co-ordinate the time and fares of different transport modes, including regional train, bus, cycle schemes, taxis and even airport services. This will improve the overall efficiency of all transport systems, taking the strain off service providers and making logistics easier for travellers.

Next, decisions about transport and urban land use must balance the need for movement with the importance of sustainability and high-quality of urban spaces. This will ensure that the city stays functional and liveable for decades to come.

It’s also important to keep thinking about transport on a human level. This goes beyond measuring the impact of changes to the system in terms of time savings and efficiency. It also requires city planners to think about what possibilities different transport systems offer, to meet different passengers' needs. It also means considering how various types of transport can affect local communities.

So, is the night tube a good thing? It’s up to you, really.The Conversation

Enrica Papa is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.


It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).

Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.