Mayor of London Boris Johnson has announced plans for London to have a Tube service all the way through the night on Fridays and Saturdays from 2015. Not every line will run; an initial blueprint suggested that the Central, Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria lines will stay open, plus one half of the extended Northern line, which should by then be complete.
The all-night service will see a minimum of four trains running each hour on these lines, timed to connect with nightbus services, and could be extended to the network's other lines in the future. The initiative will be coupled with a shift to automated ticket sales that will lead to the closure of all ticket offices across the Tube network, also by 2015. This will result in estimated savings of £50 million a year and the loss of 750 jobs, which London Transport hopes to achieve through voluntary redundancies.
These moves are likely to please some of London's night owls, particularly partiers and shift workers, and has also won the approval of some business organisations. Sara Parker of the CBI said: "It's great news that the Tube will now be open later at weekends to support London's 24 hour economy. This will boost London's businesses and make the capital a more attractive place to invest."
However, transport unions are strongly opposed to the plans. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "The savage cuts will leave every job across London Underground at risk and, if they are not stopped, will reduce the tube network to a dangerous and hollowed out shell where safety is compromised and passengers are left at risk the minute they step onto a station or a train."
The unions look likely to receive support on the issue from the Labour party. Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, announced plans to campaign with Labour against the proposal, and Shadow Minister for London Sadiq Khan has also spoken out against it.
Thinking like a...
Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of the mayor's plan to outlaw ticket offices in favour of electronic payment systems like contactless debit cards, it's undeniable that it reflects the huge impact technology is having on the finance world. As this announcement shows, technological innovations are not just facilitating complex trading activities at investment banks, but are also leading to significant changes to the way simple financial transactions we're all involved in every day, like paying for our commutes to work, take place.
Rights and fights
Transport union RMT has already announced plans to take industrial action in protest at the mayor's announcement to attempt to prevent his plans becoming reality. What legal basis do transport workers have to strike, or take other action? Workers' rights in this area in the UK are set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which protects two key principles: the right of workers to organise themselves into a union without suffering discrimination; and the right of workers to go on strike and take other industrial action. Those who take "wildcat" action, however, are not protected by this latter right.
Paying the price
It's been claimed in some sources that demand for the "Night Tube" will mean that the service will pay for itself, which sounds great. But Transport for London's business plan for implementing the proposed changes relies on above-inflation fare increases, starting next year, for what is already one of the most expensive urban transit systems in the world. And remember that the implementation of the new service is also being financially facilitated by the loss of ticket sales staff, which will save money, but which might come at a economic and social cost for London.
Boris's plan consists of improvements that consultants might propose for any organisation today - take out expensive elements that aren't being used and make use of new technology. But what's Boris's personal strategy? The TSSA's Manuel Cortes reckons this populist plan is part of "Boris's Long March to the leadership of the Tory Party". With issues such as UK airport capacity and HS2 likely to remain at the heart of national politics, the mayor's experience of grappling with London transport issues will put him in a good position to make a bid for further power...