London grinds to a halt as Night Tube fails to launch
There was chaos across the capital last night as London's long awaited Night Tube failed to materialise.
Thousands of clubbers and late night partygoers were left stranded on the streets, while London's army of cleaners failed to turn up for work. In Soho queues for taxis stretched round the block, while millions of pounds are estimated to have been lost from the night time economy.
The Night Tube was supposed to be a boost to London's global reputation as a party capital, and a necessary lifeline to hundreds of ailing businesses. Instead the scenes of mass panic and gridlock shared around the world on social media have been an embarrassment that has shamed us all.
When the Mayor announced the launch date for the Night Tube last September, many of us circled September 12th 2015 on our calendars in red pen. Social plans were made, hotel rooms quickly sold out, and several wedding venues were fully booked. But last night on the war-torn streets of London, Boris's firm pledge proved nothing but a hollow sham.
"It was ghastly," said mother-of-two Olivia Declerque, 31, from Clapham. "My husband and I were all ready to stay out for an extra half hour after martinis in town, we'd even rung the au pair to warn her, but with the Northern line running down after midnight we didn't dare risk it."
The blame for the Night Tube's collapse is being laid firmly at the feet of greedy tube drivers. Unions insisted that their members be paid extra for more holidays and a weekend lie-in, while hard working Londoners stood flailing in despair at the gates of locked stations.
"It's just another nail in the coffin for London's night time economy," said Simon Pusey, boss of new start-up delivery app Nightbanquet. "London's inability to provide services past midnight is massively holding back the capital, and its reputation for being cosmopolitan, diverse and vibrant is being challenged. Also, we might now go bust."
Some of the ugliest scenes were in Piccadilly Circus where hordes of revellers gathered after failing to find any means of escape. Cycle hire docking stations were quickly emptied, and 4G coverage collapsed across large parts of the West End as thousands of people attempted to dowload the Uber app in sheer desperation.
"We took on extra staff to help us prepare for the Night Tube boost," said Martin Hamilton, manager of a nightclub in Neasden. "But nobody came. Now I fear that when the Night Tube does finally start up, whenever that might be, we may not still be in business to see it."
The leader of Redbridge council, whose residents stood to gain most from the new services, urged Tube bosses to pull their fingers out. "They had a full year to sort this," she said, "but TfL's inability to organise a few rosters in advance has given drivers the upper hand. We need firm decisive negotiations and we need them now."
In Hounslow there were reports of office cleaners wandering the streets unable to make their way into central London. In Tooting bars and restaurants closed early to prevent punters from having to fight for taxis home. And at Paddington there were riots when travellers discovered that none of the four underground lines through the station were ever planned to be part of the Night Tube operation anyway.
Passengers in Bexley expressed sympathy for all those caught up in the pandemonium. "I don't see what all the fuss is about," said hospital porter Azmol Khan, 27, stepping out of his Ford Focus. "We don't have the Underground out here, and what trains we do have always close down early. But even so, this sort of transport deprivation must be terrible if you've not grown up with it."
"We've had to scrap our entire marketing programme," said Ayesha Moran, PR manager for superfood berry drink Juiceboost. "We'd scheduled a major advertising campaign in September themed around overnight hydration on the go, it was so creative, but we've had to cancel the lot and pump all the money into alternative digital media instead."
In an official statement last month the Mayor announced that the Night Tube will now begin later in the autumn, although his last timed pledge didn't work out that well, so who's to say? Meanwhile sources close to the Mayor have suggested that the actual start date might in fact be next Easter, which is months away, once inoffensive fully-funded crew rosters have been painstakingly assembled.
As an emergency stopgap, hundreds of emergency vehicles have been requisitioned to provide what TfL are calling a Night Bus service. These red double deckers will ferry overnight travellers along prescribed routes around the capital at regular intervals, and will be much cheaper than trains, although they may run relatively slowly and are likely to stink of kebabs.
Similarly chaotic scenes are anticipated across London tonight, as the Underground's most essential upgrade again fails to materialise. It seems that Londoners will simply have to cope as best they can until Night Tube services can be introduced, or alternatively go to sleep between the hours of 1am and 5am and therefore suffer no inconvenience whatsoever.