Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Tuesday, 22 February 2005

Will the early worker catch the Tube?

By Alison Freeman
BBC News, London

Tube sign
Many early morning workers rely on the Tube

Anyone who has been for a night out in London will know how difficult it can be to get home.

Not long after midnight the Tubes have stopped running and the chances of finding a black cab with its yellow "for hire" light on seem slim to none.

The warnings about illegal mini-cabs are constant, but they can seem an attractive option if getting a night bus home means a change in the centre of the capital.

So surely the latest proposals for a Tube service which runs past 0100 GMT at the weekend should be welcomed?

Is getting home at night more important than going to work in the morning?

But, according to Transport for London (TfL) the issue is not straightforward because the Tube, as well as the revellers it has ferried home, will need a lie-in the following morning.

The reason, TfL says, is that maintenance work that would be carried out on a Friday and Saturday night must be still be done.

This would mean later start times of 0700 GMT on a Saturday and 0830 GMT on a Sunday.

Unison, Britain's biggest trade union representing public service workers, says it could cause problems for a variety of essential staff.

A Unison spokesperson said: "How is a hospital going to survive when you have people who need to get there early to get breakfast, to do the cleaning?

I find it hard to believe that in the 21st Century working practices cannot be improved so that we have engineering works five nights out of seven
Transport writer and broadcaster Christian Wolmar

"Housing is expensive in London so naturally people tend to live further away from their place of work."

He added: "It's (later Tube times) for people's pleasure, and without being a killjoy about it, I think the workers have to be seen as more important."

Rufus Barnes, director of the London Transport Users Committee, says the schedule of maintenance work cannot be shortened at this stage of the Tube's development.

"We do know that the Underground has been short of money for decades and now that the money is going in through PPP (Public Private Partnership) we are seeing more engineering work that's needed to bring the Tube up to standard.

"A lot of engineering work is long overdue [but] do we want to make sure the underground runs properly day to day or do we want to provide for the 21st Century city that London is?

"Ideally we want to provide both but there has to be some order in the work to make up for years of underinvestment."

London buses
Should buses take the strain in the hours the Tubes is shut?

Transport writer and broadcaster Christian Wolmar does not agree.

He said: "I find it hard to believe that in the 21st Century working practices cannot be improved so that we have engineering works five nights out of seven.

"Admittedly working in a Tube tunnel is difficult but do we really need to close every line every night of the week?"

Mr Barnes believes the Mayor and TfL now need to decide whether clubbers or workers take priority on the Tube.

"There are buses that run throughout the night and the service has expanded over the years but it's possible it may need to expand even more," he says.

"Is the Tube for service workers or clubbers or should we have more buses to meet the need?"

TfL says these issues are why it is holding a public consultation on the proposal.



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