17 January 2019
The Night Tube has created more than 3,600 jobs over the past one year. Photo: Londonist
The Night Tube has created more than 3,600 jobs over the past one year. Photo: Londonist

London’s all-night subway service a big success

London is celebrating the first anniversary of the Night Tube, which has created economic value far more than expected.

The underground train service was launched on five routes in the downtown area on Aug. 22, 2016. From proposal to reality, it actually took London about two decades to put Night Tube into service. The Tube now runs 24 hours a day on Fridays and Saturdays.

Several London mayors have made the proposal to offer through-the-night service. But they’ve made little progress for three main reasons.

First, there was widespread concern that it might create a lot of noise and annoy those who live in properties above the subway stations. Second, many London residents used to believe that the service is unnecessary as very few would take the subway late at night. Third, the proposal had been strongly opposed by taxi drivers, who view Night Tube as a threat.

Technological advances have since eased noise concerns. Competition from taxi-hailing apps like Uber has also weakened the bargaining power of taxi unions.

Meanwhile, the changing lifestyle of city dwellers implies a bigger need for a 24-hour train service.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson eventually managed to achieve a public consensus in March last year.

The past one year proved Night Tube “a huge success”, according to London Mayor Sadiq Khan. It has created more than 3,600 jobs, far more than the expected 1,900 new jobs, and it has boosted the capital’s economy by 171 million pounds (US$219.2 million) in its first year.

Less than half of London residents would take Night Tube at least once per month, and 79 percent of them believe the all-night service would benefit the city, according to a survey by YouGov. And it’s been reported that Night Tube would extend to another nine lines from December.

Much like the mindset of Londoners in 1990s, many in Hong Kong believe a 24-hour MTR service is not necessary and won’t generate meaningful economic benefits, quoting reasons like there are other options (e.g., all-night minibuses) and taxi fares in Hong Kong are more affordable than in London.

However, Night Tube’s success has demonstrated that all-night train services might surprise everyone on the upside. For example, more people might consider flexible working hours and more businesses might consider opening 24-hour shops.

New York, Berlin and Copenhagen have also introduced weekend 24-hour subway services and they are all working well.

That is why Hong Kong, which prides itself in being Asia’s global city and having a vibrant night life, should consider introducing the service in some routes.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 22

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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