Every now and then, I like to check in on how some of the other global subway systems are faring. Today, we have some interesting news out of the United Kingdom where Boris Johnson and Transport for London have ushered in a move long necessary.
As far as mad rushes go, it’s quite a sight to stand in Trafalgar Square a little before 12:30 a.m. on a Friday night as Londoners and tourists alike stream through the fare gates in an effort to catch the last Tube train home. TfL makes its operating hours very well known, and as that last train time inches closer, walks become jogs, jogs become sprints. That is one train no one wants to miss.
Because the Tubes don’t run for five hours every night, London is a relatively early town. The night owl bus service is far superior to most cities’ bustitution plans — Boston, I’m looking at you — but restaurants and bars close up shop far earlier there than here. It’s always been a sore subject for Londoners, but change is a-comin’.
Last week, London mayor Boris Johnson announced that, starting in 2015, some Tube trains will operate overnight during the weekends. It is a major sea change for London. Katrin Bennhold has a report for The Times:
The London Underground is facing one of the most drastic overhauls in its 150-year history. Starting in 2015, its trains will start running throughout the night, and most of its ticket offices will be replaced by upgraded machines or turnstiles that accept contactless bank cards as part of a plan meant to bring the world’s oldest subway system “into the 21st century.”
The announcement on Thursday brought mixed reactions. In a capital that prides itself on its theater scene and night life, the prospect of 24-hour train service has been one of the most popular campaign pledges of Mayor Boris Johnson. But at a time of sluggish economic growth, declining real wages and austerity policies, the planned closing of ticket offices, which will cost about 750 Underground workers their jobs, has angered transport unions. Some warned that it could prompt the first major strikes in four years…
The 24-hour service will start in 2015 on five lines during Friday and Saturday nights and is expected to eventually be extended to other lines and nights of the week. Among the pilot lines are the Piccadilly, the Victoria, the Central, the Jubilee and important sections of the Northern. Ticketing and the current system of payment cards, known as Oyster cards, will start to be phased out next year, when the Underground will encourage passengers to move to a system of direct payments by using bank debit cards. Already, ticket offices sell less than 3 percent of the tickets used for the system, down from 10 percent 10 years ago, Transport for London said.
This is a small story, but there’s a lot going on here. Besides the welcome news that Tube service will run throughout the weekend on some of the busier lines, that London is phasing out the Oyster card before New York even adopts a contactless payment system is intriguing. London is looking to a bank card-based system just as New York is. Hopefully, the two transit systems are keeping each other appraised of their moves and the payment standards.
So London gets its 24-hour subway, finally, in 2015, and the Oyster Card will go the way of the token. Our MetroCards will be around through the end of this decade, but at least we’ve had overnight train service since the beginning.