Excited Londoners and tourists jostled to be among the first to take the Night Tube, London’s new overnight subway service that plans to host 50,000 riders each weekend.
At midnight at the bustling Oxford Circus Underground station in the heart of London, a band played and weekend revelry was only just beginning for some residents of the Big Smoke.
The new service will see the Victoria and Central lines run all night on Fridays and Saturdays.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan inaugurated the service and took the first Victoria line train early on Saturday, chatting with passengers and marking the milestone. City leaders hope the new service will make the British capital a truly 24-hour city on weekends and bolster its economy.
“It’s great that the tube’s going to be open all night,” said Omar Khan, a 27-year-old clothing designer who planned to party through the night with his friends.
London boasts a vibrant nightlife that attracts millions and the Night Tube is seen as a boost for revelers and tourists, who will now be able to travel on the network at any chosen hour on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I think it’s about time that London caught up with other major cities in the world,” said Jade Hectol, an English language teacher.
But the service is also meant to serve doctors, cleaners and others who work graveyard shifts.
Police say they will be able to keep revellers in check. Chief constable Paul Crowther of the British Transport Police said that “someone who’s had a lot to drink at 11 o’clock is no different from someone who’s had a lot to drink at 3 o’clock”.
Relatively few venues in London are open past 1 am, an early finish compared to cities such as New York, and most pubs still serve their last drinks at 11 pm.
Washington and Berlin’s subways stay open all night on weekends, while New York and Copenhagen’s metros run 24/7.
Advocates of the Night Tube emphasise its benefits on the rest of the cultural sector, with theatres and galleries now able to stay open late if visitors can get home.
“This is about offering access to people who work in London throughout the night as well as those who enjoy the entertainment of London as well,” said Steve Griffiths, chief operating officer for the Night Tube.
“So we are serving many different people with many different requirements and this is fantastic for London and now we are part of that 24/7 operation.”
There are plans to extend the scheme later this year to the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, with the latter reaching Heathrow airport. It is expected the Night Tube will transport about 200,000 people between now and the end of the year.
The night-time service was scheduled to start in September last year but was delayed by a dispute with trade unions over staff conditions and pay.
Concerns have been expressed about the safety of the new service, after a leaked internal assessment by operating firm Transport for London indicated sexual offences and other crimes are likely to increase.
The British Transport Police are providing 100 more officers to patrol 144 stations that will be open all night when the service begins.
The Tube dates back to 1863 and carries more than one billion passengers every year.