One year into his term, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan pledged his vision for a 24hr city, launching a set of ten principles that pave the way for the capital to develop its night time economy, competing with the likes of Berlin, Tokyo and New York.
The principles, focused primarily on promoting cultural, leisure, retail and nightlife activities for all Londoners, rely on an accessible and safe transport network.
Today, London’s £26bn night time economy generates one in eight jobs in the city and the opportunity is set to grow by a further £2bn each year by 2030. The Night Tube, in particular, is projected to bring in £77m per year by 2029.
“We are moving forward as a truly 24hr global capital,” said Amy Lamé, London’s first ever Night Czar, in her keynote speech at UCL Transport Institute’s Night Moves event, a symposium focused on better understanding the challenges of night time transportation. “We can do this safely, we can do it sustainably and I would make the argument that transport is absolutely key to this.”
When the Night Tube was launched in August 2016, it was expected to be an instant hit with night revellers, but with 8.9 million journeys registered in the first 14 months, its popularity has far exceeded expectations.
Crime levels have stayed low despite initial fears of anti-social behaviour, and the Night Tube has now been embraced as a success.
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However, gaps in policy and data mean that certain vulnerable categories of passengers, such as women and young men, can still feel unsafe when travelling at night.
Busting the myths
Weeks ahead of the Night Tube’s launch date, fears of an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour flooded the headlines.
A report by the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee published at the time warned that sexual offences and other crimes were likely to increase with the introduction of the Night Tube, while Transport for London (TfL) predicted “high crime levels” and a “rowdy environment”. A list of ‘red stations’ believed to be at particular risk of such incidents was published, which included Camden Town, London Bridge, North Greenwich, Vauxhall, Brixton, Waterloo and Oxford Circus.
A year has now passed and the numbers paint a very different picture.
“On average, there are 11 crimes recorded on Night Tube services each weekend,” a TfL spokesperson says. “That’s against the backdrop of around 160,000 journeys, so the crime levels of the Night Tube are low and they account for about 5% of total crime recorded by the British Transport Police (BTP) for London Underground services.
“TfL takes customer safety really seriously and we work alongside the police to make sure that both day and night tube services run smoothly and that customers feel like it’s a safe environment.”
The stations open through the night are staffed at all times, while 100 additional dedicated Night Tube BTP officers patrol the grounds, providing a high-visibility police presence.
Campaigns such as Report It to Stop It, which encouraged passengers to call a dedicated number if they suffer from or witness a case of sexual assault, and National Hate Crime Awareness Week have also been positive forces in fighting and reducing crime. According to TfL, the numbers of reports and arrests have increased since the Report It to Stop It campaign was launched.
“This tells us a story about myth-busting,” Lamé said, arguing that the public narrative around the night time economy needs to change.
“[NTE] is not just about night time entertainment. It’s also about people working in essential services,” she said.
More data needed to increase safety
But, as safe as London is now, it can be even safer, especially for women. Between 2011 and 2016, there was a 15% increase in women working night shifts in industries such as care working and nursing, meaning that women now account for more than two-thirds (69%) of the growth in night-working over the past five years.
Anecdotal evidence shows that women still feel unsafe when travelling at night.
“Walking to the tube can be a really daunting experience,” Lamé said. “Not just daunting, it can be harassing and very scary and I think it’s a concern for every woman in London, and it should be a concern for every man in London as well.”
One of the biggest problems passengers face is crossing the ‘last mile’: the distance to and from the train station, a missing link that has received little attention from authorities so far.
In July this year, more than 100 delegates from women’s groups, charities, businesses, councils, transport organisations and the police attended the first ever Women’s Safety Summit. The summit hosted four different workshops focused on policing and crime, culture, transport and work, and looked at ways in which the Mayor, policing agencies and TfL can work together to help women feel safe at night.
“All the workshops were inextricably linked with transport and the conversations we had exposed the gaps in policy, the connectivity issue and that ‘last mile’ to transport stations or home,” Lamé said. “There was a real feeling of the value of ticket barriers in tube stations, that safety element there, that people couldn’t be pursued, that once they go through the ticket barrier then they would be safe.”
A capital-wide Women’s Night Safety Charter is to be published within the next year, outlining guidance for venues, clubs, operators and businesses to sign up to. It follows in the footsteps of Southwark Council’s work, which has seen 62 venues sign up to its charter’s principles.
At the heart of the problem lies data – or the lack thereof. With the Night Tube still in its infancy, early statistics might be encouraging, but insufficient for painting a comprehensive picture of crime patterns and safety levels.
“We need data,” Lamé said. “We have lots of anecdotal evidence but I can’t stress enough how important it is to have numbers and figures and to be able to crunch those and come up with new ideas and new ways to look at the challenges that face us.”
Jon Paris, a member of TfL’s intelligence and analysis team and a speaker at UCL’s symposium, pointed out that information gaps can be found in analysing low-level incidents, perceptions of safety and experience from both staff and passengers. Statistics are already available when it comes to London Underground station staff incidents, workplace violence, Twitter data and recorded crimes from the Met Police and BTP.
The question remains: how can we compile, complement and use this information to make night time transportation safer for all passengers?