As Londoners struggle to get to work today, trade unions are also struggling – to justify their strike. If you listen to the spin from the RMT, the 24-hour Tube (the justification the union is giving for downing tools) is a “rushed and botched vanity project”. Yet the plans were actually announced two years ago. And the RMT seems to ignore evidence from around the world that 24-hour underground transportation is both popular and good for economic growth.
Indeed, far from being a vanity project, a night-time Underground system is increasingly seen as a vital part of the infrastructure of a thriving, global capital. If we were to build the Underground afresh today, there is little doubt that an around-the-clock service would be part and parcel of it. New York – “the city that never sleeps” – has enjoyed a 24-hour subway since it opened 110 years ago. Stockholm, Copenhagen and Berlin already have a night service, while Paris is examining the prospect right now.
If London is to continue to attract more visitors than any other city, we need a transportation service that is second to none. Yet the Night Tube doesn’t only matter to London’s global reputation as a tourist destination. It will also be of tremendous benefit to Londoners themselves. The capital has a thriving night-time economy of restaurants, theatres and clubs for which the Night Tube service will open up new opportunities around when they can operate.
A 24-hour service will also improve the quality of life of those working at night. Indeed, it will save some workers up to an hour of time getting home. It’s not just kitchen assistants and nightclub security staff who will benefit, but a whole array of night-time workers – from doctors and nurses, to those cleaning offices or doing maintenance or IT upgrades.
Of course, it is right that Tube workers are treated well. London Underground has offered a package that appears generous when you consider the constraints in the public sector more generally. And what’s more, the introduction of a Night Tube service not only protects jobs on the Underground, but will also increase the number of them. Research from Volterra found that a Night Tube will create 265 new, permanent jobs through the direct operation of the service, and nearly 2,000 in total when the knock-on effects in the economy are included.
Today, union leaders want to halt the forces of progress. That’s seen not just in their hostility to 24-hour services, but in their criticism of London Underground’s closure of ticket offices. This ignores the massive move by customers towards contactless payments, rather than old-style paper tickets that need to be bought. And the RMT seems blind to the fact that staff will be kept in employment. In fact, deploying station workers outside ticket offices, so that they can help tourists and others who need advice on the right routes to take, will improve the customer service offered.
Such modernisation is vital if London is to continue to increase its quality of life. We need a transport system that supports our changing economy and patterns of travel – not one that hinders them.
Baroness Valentine is chief executive of London First.