Who actually wants a 24 hour Tube? Not Uber drivers, not TfL strikers and not me either

The death of the last Underground train of the evening removes the greatest, easiest and politest social excuse there is. I'd quite like to keep my 'last train home' excuse to leave boring parties, thanks

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The Independent Online

There are few things on earth less interesting than someone giving you a full rundown on their daily commute. Gridlock on the M5, was it? Had to take the Overground train, did you? The Number 9 bus drove straight past you even though you clearly had your arm out? Excuse me while I give this wall two coats of Magnolia Dulux and watch until it’s dry.

And yet, next week, for the third time this summer, it will be all that Londoners talk about, because next week there will be a Tube strike for four days. Dig out your earmuffs; Tuesday to Friday in the capital will be one long, smoggy moan. Buses will burst at the seams, bridges will groan under the weight of a city having to rediscover its feet, fairweather cyclists will wobble and weave through the storm, and offices will echo to the sound of a million workers saying sorry-not-sorry for being an hour late – and then leaving early, even though the bus runs all night.

The reason for this summer striking frenzy is the imminent introduction of a 24-hour service on the Underground on Friday and Saturday nights. For now. One imagines that if Transport for London finally manages to placate the unions and gets a handful of Tube lines trundling, in time they will try to roll it out all week long. Employees are not happy, saying their working conditions and contracts are being changed without consultation into “rosters from hell”.

What about the rest of us? Where was the consultation of the Oyster Card masses? Maybe it’s not just Tube drivers and station staff who aren’t so keen on the 24-hour Underground.

Transport for London says that the capital is a 24-hour city, which will be news to anyone who has tried to use a bank, post a parcel or book a doctor’s appointment after 5pm. Therefore, it argues, a 24-hour Tube is crucial to the capital’s night economy, and by extension to the UK economy as a whole. Cabbies and Uber drivers, whose work will be decimated by the new services, probably have a thing or two to say about that economic plan.

The “night economy” includes weekend shift workers – for whom night Tube trains will be a noisy revelation – but it’s also a coy way of saying “pubs, bars and clubs”. They will be the real beneficiaries of the new hours, of course, as the curfew of the last Underground train is wiped out.

It would be nice to think that removing the urgency which an 11.30pm deadline imposes on an evening’s fun might slow all the binge drinking, but it probably won’t. What one saves on a taxi fare will end up being spent on a couple more pints. Good news for the Treasury, bad for the individual’s bank balance – and hangover.

Britain is not ready for 24-hour party wagons. London already has all-night Tube trains once a year that run over New Year’s Eve and anyone who has ever travelled on one will know that it is not all wine and roses. Actually, it’s just plenty of the former – both in its pure and regurgitated form.

It doesn’t need to be a feast day: the last Tube train on any given Friday produces scenes that even the Chapman Brothers would think a bit gross. A safe and cheap way of getting home it might be, but it’s also reasonable to expect all-night Tubes will involve lots of shouty banter, fancy-dress bores, carpets of vomit and strangers passing out on your shoulder.

But even that’s not my real worry. The death of the last Underground train of the evening – which will, in time, be the death of the last train or bus or tram right across the country, as Britain styles itself as a “24-hour economy” – removes the greatest, easiest and politest social excuse there is.

Find yourself at a rubbish birthday party and can’t wait to get away? The last Tube is your best friend. Unsure how to turf out the people who came round for one drink and stayed for eight? Simply point out that it’s quarter to midnight, “but if you leave right now you might just make it”.

All-night transport will be the end of leaving early, the end of Saturday mornings, the end of the end of the night. A terrifying thought, indeed. Still, they’ll probably be on strike most weekends anyway.