London businesses have demanded the resumption of the Night Tube after Transport for London (TfL) said earlier this week the service will not return until at least 2022.
Andy Byford, the transport commissioner for London, said the capital’s struggling transport body lacked the resources to reinstate all-night Friday and Saturday services on the Victoria, Jubilee, Central, Northern, Piccadilly and Overground lines.
The Night Tube was first suspended in March last year and had been due to restart this spring.
However, Byford told the Evening Standard the service is unlikely to resume until at least 2022, with potential delays running well into next year.
“We need the personnel to keep the day services going and frankly there isn’t the demand for it, so there are no immediate plans to restore the Night Tube within a year, and certainly not before 2022,” he said.
Byford added that “securing the whole network is more important than keeping the Night Tube going”.
The news incensed businesses in the night time economy, which have seen the bulk of venues shuttered for more than a year during the pandemic.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), said the decision would prove “catastrophic” for London businesses.
“The Night Tube is fundamental to the operation of the night time economy in London,” he said. “The suggestion of this service not returning until 2022 will be catastrophic to the sector and will without doubt leave many frustrated given the volume of customers expected over the next few months.”
Nightclubs in England are not due to reopen until 21 June at the earliest under the Prime Minister’s roadmap for leaving lockdown. By that time, almost all clubs in the country will have been closed for 15 months.
A report published earlier this year by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Night Time Economy found that UK nightclubs have been forced to make 51 per cent of their staff redundant since last year.
Casinos, which have also remained shuttered since restrictions were first introduced last March, will be allowed to reopen from 17 May at the earliest.
Boris Johnson has said on-the-door lateral flow tests will provide the key for allowing “the toughest parts of the economy to reopen” in the final stage of lifting lockdown measures.
The government is also reviewing whether to introduce vaccine passports for entry to clubs, pubs and restaurants once the majority of the UK population has been vaccinated.
Simon Thomas, chief executive of The Hippodrome Casino in London’s Leicester Square, said the decision not to resume the Night Tube alongside the easing of lockdown measures was “nonsense”.
“The Night Tube was brought in to support the progressive 24-hour ambitions of London, and it’s more essential now than ever before,” he said.
Thomas urged TfL to “stop putting hurdles in the way of a true West End recovery and face facts”.
“We need a reliable transport infrastructure that serves all audiences. People want to experience everything London has to offer and support the recovery of thousands of night time businesses,” he added.
TfL’s finances have been crippled by a plummet in footfall during the pandemic. Revenue slumped more than 90 per cent last March during England’s first national lockdown.
London’s transport network is more vulnerable to a fall in journey numbers compared with Underground networks around the world due to its reliance on fare income.
Over 70 per cent of TfL’s costs typically come from fares, compared to just 35 per cent in New York and Paris, which fund services through local taxes and central government budgets.
The transport body last month squeezed out its third government bailout in the past year, ensuring that services will be able to continue running until at least 18 May.
A previous bailout worth £1.7bn handed to TfL in November was set to run out at the end of March.
Andy Lord, managing director of London Underground, told City A.M. “the full introduction of Night Tube services is not possible in the immediate future due to a number of factors”.
He said Night Tube drivers are currently being redeployed to run the Tube’s daily services when demand is at its highest.
Lord added that TfL would explore “the feasibility of reintroducing some services on one or two lines more quickly”, alongside plans to restart a weekday service on the Waterloo & City line from June.
“We are playing, and will continue to play, our full role in London’s recovery from the pandemic,” he said, adding that TfL would continue to review options for resuming service on the Night Tube “in a safe and viable way”.