London night tube: meet the people who travelled on the first night

A few hours on the Victoria lines new night service yield music, laughter, selfies, mice and an encounter with London mayor Sadiq Khan

It was the night that Londons Underground finally became a 24-hour service, or, as one driver put it in an announcement: Its 4am and you lot are still on the tube.

The Victoria and Central lines are the first two underground lines launching a night service. The Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines are expected to follow suit before the year is out.

Fridays service started with little fanfare at Walthamstow Central, as the 00.10 departure, newly classified on the timetable as a night tube, left with only a few people on board. Naso Koutzoukis was one of them. Originally from Athens, and having lived in London for five years, hed travelled on the train specifically to head in to town to see the drunken crowds. It should be fun.

Naso
Naso Koutzoukis travelling in the first night tube train on Victoria line.
Passenger numbers swelled and the volume of chat rose as the train headed into central London. The aptly named Victoria from Brixton was unconvinced it really counted as the Victoria line night tube yet, as a train ran at this time every evening. She began asking people how they felt about being on the almost night tube.

Im a fucking pest on the tube. People either love it or hate it, but Im always asking who are you, where are you going, what are you doing.

Victoria

Victoria from Brixton in full pest mode, talking to fellow passengers.
On the return journey from Brixton, Kevin Chauphary was much more sure he was on an actual night tube. I definitely think its a momentous occasion for all of us Londoners. It increases safety massively. You are not just loitering around waiting for a night bus.

Londons night tube service kicks off

Night bus services have also been improved to coincide with the night tubes launch, with eight routes extended to 24-hour operation to provide additional connections to areas being served by the night tube.

At 1.30am, back at Walthamstow Central, with a flurry of TfL officials, press people and a couple of Guardian Angels in attendance, Londons mayor, Sadiq Khan, boarded the train. This was now definitely, officially, the night tube.

Sadiq
Londons mayor, Sadiq Khan, boards a Victoria line train in front of the press pack.
Asked if he could imagine himself using it when it wasnt launch night, he said he could, and not just after late nights working at City Hall. Weve all been out at restaurants, checking our watches for the last tube home, he said. The joy of the night tube is that we wont have to do that anymore.

He pointedly praised predecessor Boris Johnson for announcing the night tube, but stressed the amount of effort that he himself had put in to get the details right not just with TfL and their workforce, but with entities such as the British Transport police and with local residents.

Cities like Berlin and Copenhagen have 24/7 metros at the weekend, and its time we had one too. By the end of the year well have the five main tube lines running.

Sadiq
Sadiq Khan praised predecessor Boris Johnson for announcing the project

Earlier, between journeys, crews of orange-clad contractors were trying to keep the trains clean. It was the first day on the job for one of the cleaners proof that the night service is already delivering some of the promised economic benefits with new jobs.

But how good are the jobs? Asked about the conditions of those helping the service to operate not directly employed by TfL, Khan said he wanted to raise standards. I want to use the power of procurement at City Hall to ensure not only that we get value for money, but to ensure the people working on services get fair remuneration, and there is trade union recognition, he said.

By now the train was once again in central London, and passengers were gathering around the mayor to take pictures of him. I was shellshocked, said one, about seeing Khan on the Victoria line. Is it appropriate to ask for a selfie with him? she asked fellow travellers.

Bus
Bus driver Julian using the Victoria line to get home from a late shift.
Julian, a bus driver, got on at Brixton for the return journey heading back north. Hed just finished working a shift from 6.20pm to 1.45am. A short one, he laughed, normally it is 10 or 12 hours.

The night tube will make a significant difference to his weekend commute. What used to be a 90-minute journey to Finsbury Park by bus would now be just 25 minutes on the tube.

I think it would be a good idea to extend it to Thursday, he said. For a lot of people Thursday night is when the weekend starts. I wouldnt do it on a Sunday though. Everyone would stay out late and not go to work on Monday.

Charlotte
Charlotte Campbell busks at Oxford Circus as passengers walk by.

Away from the trains, at Oxford Circus station, Charlotte Campbell had been busking through the night packing up at 3.30am. Unsurprisingly, she played her song written about the night tube, Free the Night, on more than one occasion.

Its like New Years Eve, she said. I think the night tube brings that out in people. There hasnt been any rowdiness. Its been happy drunk, not nasty drunk.

That mood was demonstrated on the escalators at Oxford Circus at 3.45am, as two groups of passengers heading in different directions started chanting and singing Night tube! at each other.

Groups
Groups of passengers cheer and sing about the night tube on the Oxford Circus escalators. Alex and Ibbi are on the right. Actors Izzy Meikle, Eros Vlahos and Charlie Rowe are part of the group of the left.

One of them, Ibbi, said that the night tube will mean her getting to do more of London. Its exactly what London is about, and exactly what London needs.

Alex, who was with her, said the main benefit for him will be spending less money on Uber. It was a name that cropped up again and again in conversations about the alternative methods people would have used to get home without the tubes operating. One of Sadiq Khans party asked a passenger: Are you getting the tube instead of an Uber? But the reply was: No, we are getting the tube to go and get an Uber.

A
A carriage full of late-night sleepyheads on the Victoria line.

By 4am, Victoria line trains heading out of town had become less of a night tube party and more of a silent slumber. And there were still some of the finer details to sort out. Instead of stating that only the Victoria and Central lines were running, the automatic train announcements take the longer route of listing every other line in the capital as being suspended, which becomes a rather monotonous soundtrack over the course of a journey.

The consensus of frontline staff seemed to be that there were fewer passengers than anticipated on opening night. On the ticket barriers at Victoria, one of the new night tube workers, who has taken his role as a second job for an extra bit of income, said that people are asking questions that indicate really they dont know much about the night tube. Asking about lines that arent even in the plans. He expected next weekend to be busier, with it being the Notting Hill carnival and bank holiday weekend.

The
The shoulder is a popular resting place on the night tube.

Earlier in the evening, a couple whose flight back from Barcelona was delayed were relieved to find the tube was still running when they reached Victoria, simplifying a journey back to Blackhorse Road that could have added yet more delay to their plans. By 4.30am it was airport traffic heading in an outbound direction using the service instead. The new tube saved at least one business traveller getting an Uber to Victoria in order to head to Gatwick.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/20/london-night-tube-meet-people-travelled-first-night-sadiq-khan

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