The night tube and the night czar – London’s economic push to become a 24-hour city

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After it was first announced in 2014, by former London Mayor, Boris Johnson, London’s night tube service finally came into being in August of this year.

Its introduction has come at a pivotal time for for our capital. In recent years London has become increasingly unaffordable, with average rents rising to 50% of earnings. Additionally, a number of landmark entertainment venues (Fabric and Madame Jo Jo’s) have recently been closed down due to luxury redevelopment plans or issues with local authorities.

In a post Brexit economy, additional consumer activity, tourism and spend from the Night Tube is to be welcomed. Transport for London predicts that it could boost London’s economy by £77 million per year.

During its first phase, the night tube initially operated on the Victoria and Central lines.

Sadiq Khan, the current mayor, launched the new service during its first evening in operation by travelling from Brixton on the Victoria line.

Hailing its introduction, he said:

“It’s wonderful that so many thousands of Londoners were able to benefit from a faster and simpler journey home overnight. The night tube is going to provide a huge boost to our capital.”

By October over 750,000 journeys had been made on the service.

The most popular night tube station is Oxford Circus. It is likely that its popularity is due to servicing both the Victoria and Central lines, as well as being located close to theatre land, and a number of the city’s most popular bars, clubs and restaurants.

Contactless payments are used on over one in five (22%) night tube journeys. During normal service their usage represents 15%. This may indicate that younger passengers, more familiar with making payments by contactless technology, are using the evening time service.

Mixed fortunes for Uber

The night tube has resulted in mixed fortunes for Uber.

In October the company released data showing that the number of trips taken in Central London during the night tube’s hours of operations. However, this has created increased demand for cab journeys which begin near night tube stations outside of central London.

Overall, journeys starting at these stations have increased by 63%. Some of the biggest beneficiaries include Newbury Park, Woodford and North Action, which have all seen an increase of more than 300%.

Night time and shift workers

The night tube also creates an alternative method of transport for people whose work requires them to commute in the evening and during anti-social hours.

This consists of individuals who work in hospitality and shift workers (i.e. office cleaners).

The cost of the night tube, currently set at the same price as standard off-peak fares, may be unaffordable for many shift workers due to their work being so badly paid. Due to the contracting nature of such working arrangements they are unlikely to benefit from the living wage.

This could create an opportunity to lobby for cheaper night tube fares for those earning below a certain level of income.

Economy boost

The hospitality industry is already benefitting from the night tube.

Data released by payments specialist Worldpay reveal that businesses served by the Central and Victoria lines benefitted from an 18% increase in turnover during late night transactions, during the month of August.

The findings also revealed a 16% boost to grocery and convenience stores, including big names such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, alongside smaller independents.

Meat Liquor, a restaurant chain with six different sites, three of which are located close to stations night tube stations, celebrated the launch of the night tube by offering 50% off food, between the hours of midnight and 2.00am, during the first weekend of service.

The economic effect has most notably been felt by the restaurant’s W1 site, which has been selling increased volumes of The Dead Hippie Burger and Buffalo Wings during late night hours.

Yianni Papoutsis, Creative Director & Co-founder of Meat Liquor thinks that the night tube will result in increased footfall in parts of London that were not previously accessible by transport late at night.

“The night tube provides the much needed backbone for London’s night time economy and opens up parts of the city to each other that have until now been effectively inaccessible after midnight.”

Berlin, New York… London

It is too early to tell whether the night tube will have the same cultural impact which 24 hour weekend transportation services have had on the likes of Berlin and New York.

The city’s cultural kudos has taken a bit of a hit in recent times, with high profile night spots closing due to redevelopment and intervention from local councils, as opposed to a lack of popularity.

Additionally, whilst late licenses have been around for over a decade, there are currently only 30 nightclubs and bars operating with a 24 hour licence in London.

Club promoter Pearse Grady does not foresee the night tube having any cultural impact on London’s night life.

“I don’t think it will have much effect and I reckon bars and clubs will still close at the same time. I reckon that the majority of people will still prefer the choice of a cab.”

Based on its current activity, the night tube looks set to be an economic success –  both as a sustainable transport solution and by increasing revenues in London’s night time economy.

However, the introduction of night tube may not be enough to revive the flagging cultural fortunes of London. The future of a number of entertainment venues are still under threat, with 50% of nightclubs being shut down within the last five years.

New mayor Sadiq Khan has appointed Amy Lamé as the London “night czar” to protect London’s entertainment venues, as well as promoting the night-time economy. The fate of the capital’s status as a 24 hour city is likely to be as much in her hands as the night tube’s.

Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.

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