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London's Underground Will Start Running 24 Hours on Weekends but the City's Nightlife Is Dying

Expanding Underground service to run all night could end up making you work more, rather than party harder.
London, GB

People enjoying the London Underground

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

London's tube strikes are a lot like Christmas: they bring everybody together. Admittedly, instead of meeting up with your family to share a lovely meal cooked by your grandmother, this afternoon you'll have to join a load of sweaty marketing consultants and city workers on a dangerously overloaded bus. Like Christmas, tube strikes are also a good time to spare a thought for those less fortunate than you—like the London Underground staff fighting for better working conditions.


In case you aren't aware of the reasons for this latest dispute, it basically boils down to this: the wonks in charge at the GLA want to bring in a 24-hour tube service on the weekends. To most people, this is a brilliant idea. Unless you happen to be a tube driver, in which case—according to drivers' union ASLEF—you suddenly face the prospect of an unlimited number of night shifts totally ruining your life. London Underground has since offered a 2 percent payrise, a £500 [$768] bonus for all staff and £2,000 [$3,000] for drivers affected by the night tube. However, the RMT union's general secretary Mick Cash has dismissed the offer as "divisive and unacceptable," saying it fails to address concerns around drivers' work-life balance. Further negotiations failed, and the strike looks set to run till Friday.

This failure to reach an agreement over working conditions would appear to be a fairly major stumbling block on the path to a 24-hour tube. Still, best not to worry about it too much. After all, with the war currently being waged against London's nightlife, what's the point of a 24-hour tube service anyway?

The desire for a 24-hour tube reveals a massive contradiction at the heart of public policy. Announcing the proposals in September last year, London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "London is a bustling, 24-hour global city and by this time next year we'll have a 24-hour tube service to match." He went on to say that the service would "provide a huge boost to our economy." The problem is, at the very same time that TfL is trying to negotiate terms for this new service, various other public officials are dead set on destroying the nighttime economy.


An industry which has done more than most to boost London's status as a world city is now in danger of being killed off entirely. The chief of the Met Police has called for bars and pubs to be shut down to tackle crime. Globally renowned nightclub Fabric narrowly avoided closure last year only to be slapped with some ridiculous licensing conditions instead. Soho is becoming a ghost of its former self. Bars, pubs, and clubs are closing down on a weekly basis, with the city's LGBTQ scene particularly under threat.

Alan Miller is the founder of Brick Lane's now defunct Vibe Bar and the chairman of the recently formed Night Time Industries Association, which is trying to fight back against the anti-nightlife tide sweeping across London. He believes that while some people at the GLA truly get the nighttime economy, they're facing a losing battle against a large number of local councillors, licensing officers, and the police. "The nighttime industry has some of the most dynamic and successful people in the UK," he says. "All of that is under threat because of what's happening."

Perhaps it just comes down to different ideas of what constitutes a good night out. One imagines that the 24-hour city which these people have in mind is one where you can safely stay for the end of a Bruno Mars set at the O2 in the knowledge you can catch a tube back to Hampstead at midnight.

Or maybe that's being too charitable. Because without a late-night culture worth bothering with, the 24-hour tube seems designed to help meet the demand for 24-hour working. While TfL's cost-benefit analysis of the night tube makes a lot of noises about nightlife, the reality may be less "stay out until whenever you like" and more "work whatever hours your boss tells you to."

The killing off of night culture and the promotion of a city of workaholics are linked. Fears over the existence of the Ministry of Sound were due to the peace and quiet of residents of swanky flats that haven't been built yet. The closure of Madame Jojo's was blamed on attempts to gentrify Soho. The only people likely to be able to afford to live in these places are probably working themselves to death.

What if the 24-hour city is in fact the city presented to us in that " American Psycho" luxury property ad—of "mornings that felt like night," of "days that melted into months, and years"? Viewed in this light, the 24-hour tube looks less like an opportunity and more like a nightmare as, one by one, we find ourselves forced to work day and night with only the dismal prospect of an early morning "exercise rave" to look forward to come the end of our shift.

Viewed in this light, the plight of our tube workers—and their attempts not to get sucked into too many night shifts—seem more worthy of our sympathy after all.

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