It’s been a bit over a year since the Night Tube launched, and a report by TfL has looked back at how it went.
The night tube launched on 19th August on two tube lines, progressively rolling out to the rest of the tubes by 16th December 2016. The subsurface lines don’t offer the night tube at the moment.
In the run up to the launch, a substantial number of physical changes were made to the stations that would be open for Night Tube – mainly preventing access to areas of stations not being used for Night Tube, such as interchange stations with lines not running a night service.
They also had to revamp the ticketing software to ensure customers paid the correct fare when travelling either side of the 04:30 change of ticketing day.
A specific concern raised by stakeholders before the launch of Night Tube was disturbance from overnight noise and vibration. From the outset it was planned that noise at stations and on trains would be removed or reduced on Night Tube unless it was legally necessary (e.g. door closing chimes) or for safety (e.g. train whistles). PA announcements at stations and on trains were reduced in volume and kept to an absolute minimum.
It does raise the question then that if the volume is safe to reduce at night time, why not reduce it during the daytime as well?
The service has maintained a near perfect service record, except on the Piccadilly line. which has suffered from a shortage of train drivers.
With the wait between trains being higher than those in the daytime, one cancellation has a disproportionally greater impact on people than it does during the day. They’ve averaged a 99% performance record though over the year.
Up to mid-November 2017, TfL had received 372 complaints about noise from the Night Tube, of which 222 complaints have been resolved and 150 are in progress or are unresolved.
Resolving the complaints, or preliminary spending to avoid them occuring has cost £2.4 million since 2016. Noise mitigation works are largely around improving the track. In addition to normal track replacement works, over 4.5km of shock absorbent track fixings (11,438) have been installed across all five of the Night Tube lines.
Contrary to what many people expected, crime rates on the night tube are lower than daytime crime rates. However the nature of crime at night is different. TfL says that it experiences more challenges with anti-social behaviour and people under the influence of alcohol.
Smartphone theft from sleeping passengers is also a specific problem.
Of course, the whole point of the night tube is to offer a service, and if people aren’t using it, then it might be seen as a failure.
As it happens, demand has been consistently around the original forecast level. The initial take-up was higher than forecasted, showing the pent-up demand for night time services, and that even the small initial network offered significant customer benefits.
Passenger numbers on night buses paralleling the Night Tube have declined by 13 percent, although the report also notes a general reduction in radial night bus use from central London, which it puts don to increase use of taxi services.
TfL is itself earned an additional £10 million in gross revenue from the launch of the night tube, although the wider benefit is the estimated £171m of economic value for London generated in its first year, supporting over 3,600 jobs.
While a lot of the attention understandably has been on partying people heading home in the hours after midnight, they represent just a third of average night bus traffic, with nearly half of night bus passengers either travelling to or from work, or on employer’s business. The early hours workers who clean the offices, stack the shelves in shops, handle the warehouse deliveries, all able to get to work much quicker.
For many of London’s lowest paid workers, the Night Tube has meant an extra half-hour in bed.