Friday 20 December 2019 4:17 am

All Londoners want for Christmas is some kind of public transport

Alexander Jan is chief economist at Arup.

This week, newspapers are reporting how the great Christmas get-away is about to begin — or better still, that the fabled seasonal shut-down is about to commence.  

For many readers, the break can probably not come soon enough. For sure, it has been a year of ups and downs for London and the South East’s hard-pressed commuters.

But spare a thought for those Londoners — and visitors to the capital — who are here on Christmas Day. With a tiny handful of exceptions, all Tube, bus and train services will come to a standstill. 

For the best part of 24 hours (and longer in some cases), a city of nine million people — where nearly half of households do not have access to a car — will be deprived of public transport.  

This is a remarkable phenomenon. A quick glance at other cities’ metro and bus timetables reveals that from Paris to Philadelphia, Brussels to Berlin, New York to Naples, everyone else is running some sort of transport service over Christmas. 

Our rail and Tube tracks fell silent in the oil crisis years of the 1970s. Some public bus services operated after then, but for some reason no longer today. The result is that London is probably unique among major cities in having no public transport on Christmas Day.

Some may argue that Tube and bus workers deserve a well-earned rest, and that vital engineering work needs to take place. 

This is for sure true. But some employees might wish to volunteer to work, and would welcome the extra pay, as they do in other sectors. And while engineering works do need to take place, they rarely involve shutting more than a few lines (on the Tube) at any one time. London’s road network remains open for everyone else to use.

Many Londoners — including care workers, cleaners, NHS staff, police, and those employed by hotels and airports — don’t have a choice over the festive period. They need to be able to get to work to provide vital public services and to help keep the economy going. 

Then there are the less well-off London households who struggle to make ends meet. They don’t own cars and their budgets won’t stretch to taxis or minicabs. Many of them might wish to spend time with relatives or friends, but are unable to travel. 

Of course, we might not be able to run a full timetable across all our transport services on 25 December. And there is something special in seeing London quieten down over the festive period.  

But in the same way that Transport for London has successfully delivered 24-hour weekend Tube services, operating some sort of Christmas Day schedule would help more people to get out over the holidays and enjoy their well-earned break. That would bring London back up with many other global cities and provide the opportunity for Londoners of varied religious and cultural backgrounds to do Christmas their own way.  

With London elections looming in 2020 and mayoral manifestos soon to be drafted, a commitment from all the candidates for restored services would surely be a vote winner. 

Now that’s something that would be worth waking up to on Christmas Day

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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