LONDON — The world's oldest subway system will take a step into the 21st century Friday night when London’s iconic "tube" finally begins all-night services — at weekends — after years of obstruction and delay.
While New York and Chicago have long had 24-hour train service, London’s party-goers and shift-workers rely on the city’s extensive but often slow and daunting night buses to get home.
Riders have long been promised a round-the-clock service but opposition from workers’ unions, seeking better pay and conditions in return for working antisocial hours, has delayed plans.
It has left the city’s 8.6 million residents with a subway system that typically closes at midnight — 11 p.m. on Sundays — and doesn’t reopen until as late as 7 a.m. at weekends.
Starting Friday night, the "Night Tube" will see two major lines run through until 5:30 a.m. at weekends, creating an almost 24-hour service on Friday and Saturday night.
The change is predicted to boost the city’s economy by $100 million a year as customers no longer need to rush from theaters or restaurants to catch their last train.
It also provides a timely boost for new mayor Sadiq Khan, who is running a “London Is Open” campaign with the message that the British capital — where voters rejected Brexit — still has an appetite for international tourism and commerce.
It comes 153 years after the system first opened — it now carries over 1.3 billion passengers a year — and will be supported by 100 extra transit police officers.
However, Londoners have expressed concern that late-night trains will be too dangerous or rowdy — a longstanding problem on crowded, boisterous night buses.
Earlier this month, Transport for London (TfL) conducted out-of-hours trials for workers at which cans of vegetable soup were emptied onto seats to simulate vomit from drunken passengers. "Don't be shy about it,” one TfL manager reportedly told workers. “Our customers aren’t.”
A Facebook group called for parties to celebrate the new service. That should sound the alarm for authorities after the “Last Round on the Underground” bar crawl in 2008 — in protest at the introduction of a total booze ban — ended in disorder and 17 arrests.
And while younger Londoners cheered the opportunity to stay out later, others were more subdued. “30-somethings from Brixton are mourning their excuse to leave the party early,” said one user on Twitter.