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London's Nighttime Economy Expects A Boost From Expanded Subway Hours

Aug 22, 2016
Originally published on August 22, 2016 6:53 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the world's oldest subway system, London's Tube, is running around the clock for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.

MONTAGNE: On Friday and Saturday night, two much-used lines, the Central and Victoria, ran all night, ferrying tens of thousands of partiers and night-shift workers home. Officials have expanded the train schedule on weekends, called Night Tube, to help turn the British capital into a 24-hour city. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London's underground.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: This is the sound you hear at Tube stations across London after midnight as people rush to get the last train of the evening. I'm actually here at Liverpool Street station, before Night Tube is kicking off. And people have been racing down the staircase here to get to the platform.

Henry Chart, a tech worker, arrives as Tube staff prepare to close the gates.

HENRY CHART: Is there any lines which are running tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: To barking only.

CHART: To Barking only? I kind of wanted to go to Baker Street. Is that timed that badly?

LANGFITT: Yeah, hi. My name is Frank. I'm with National Public Radio from the United States.

CHART: All right.

LANGFITT: I'm doing a story on the Night Tube that starts tomorrow.

CHART: Starts tomorrow - I wish it was tonight. Damn it, I wish it was tonight.

LANGFITT: Riders like Chart got their wish over the weekend. Instead of rushing for the train, they stayed out later, took their time, knowing they had a cheap, reliable way to get home.

CRYSTAL SPILLSBURY: I live on the Central line, so it it's amazing for me.

LANGFITT: Crystal Spillsbury is headed to the Tube station after a night out in the city, in London's financial district. A student and part-time butcher, she says, with the expanded Tube schedule, she won't have to cut her nights short anymore.

SPILLSBURY: It used to that it finishes at 12 o'clock. But obviously now it's all night, so I can kind of make sure I can get the train home rather than spend about three hours on the bus.

LANGFITT: And how long will it take you just taking the Tube?

SPILLSBURY: Oh, about 30 minutes, and then I can get a cab.

LANGFITT: London officials hope round-the-clock trains provide a shot in the arm to a nighttime economy here that's already worth an estimated $23 million a year and employs over 700,000 people. David Leam works for London First, a non-profit that promotes the city as a business hub.

DAVID LEAM: There was that direct boost to those - to those sectors that people immediately think of - the bars, the restaurants, the theaters. You know, it might give them more options about when they open, about the sort of services they put on. So, you know, might it mean that there are more late-night showings, late-night openings of different sorts of cultural activities.

LANGFITT: But there's also something bigger at play.

MIRIK MILAN: It's really about competition. And in Europe, the competition is really fierce.

LANGFITT: Mirik Milan serves as night mayor of Amsterdam, which means he helps manage the city's night culture. Milan says European cities compete for the most creative young talent, and nightlife is a big draw. He cites the famed club scene in Berlin, which relies on an all-night subway.

MILAN: It sparked an explosion of creativity. And nowadays, you have, like, best tech startup scene in Europe in Berlin. When there are a lot of young, creative people living in the city, these will direct the creative industry. And everybody knows nowadays that the creative industry is an engine for economic growth.

LANGFITT: Which could prove very important as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union and London, perhaps, loses some of its economic edge. Back out on the street, Night Tube is encountering a glitch or two. Most of the tube entrances to Liverpool Street, which sits amid office buildings in the financial district, are closed. A crowd is trying to find a way in.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Where do we go?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Where do we get into Liverpool Street station?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The other side, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's all blocked off.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's all shut.

LANGFITT: This is totally confusing, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's really confusing, to be fair.

LANGFITT: Can Night Tube help turn London into a city that never sleeps? Not everybody's convinced. Carlo Henrich hit several cocktail bars on Friday night, and they all closed at the usual time. Henrich, who's worked here as a psychiatrist for a decade and a half, says London's a taxing city, and many people, including night-shift workers, aren't looking to stay up later.

CARLO HENRICH: When you're going to restaurants and the bar at around 1 o'clock, you're not very well-received, you know? That's what we experienced this evening. There wasn't any attitude of welcoming the new generation of the 24 hours. It was more, go to bed.

LANGFITT: Either way, Night Tube will expand this fall, as the city runs three more subway lines - the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly - all night on the weekends. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.