Ongoing industrial unrest has forced City Hall and Transport for London to delay their much-heralded Night Tube service.
The new service was due to start on September 12th and is planned to run on Friday nights and the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings on the Northern and Victoria lines and parts of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines.
It was announced by Mayor Boris Johnson and then Tube boss Mike Brown, currently acting TfL Commissioner, in November 2013.
City Hall predicts the service could boost London’s night-time economy by up to £360 million thanks to the greater ease and lower costs of getting home after a night out.
The launch date was confirmed last September despite not having reached agreement with unions about changes to pay and working conditions for staff being asked to work later shifts.
Unions including ASLEF, the RMT and TSSA, say the imposition of later working hours on existing staff will have an adverse impact on their work-life balance and could disrupt existing childcare and other family commitments.
Tube bosses claim that staff will only be asked to work occasional late shifts and have offered a series of one-off bonuses to those affected by the changes.
However the two sides have been unable to reach agreement on a revised renumeration package and union members have held a series of 24 hour strikes. forcing the complete closure of the Tube network.
In recent weeks there’s been speculation that the launch of the Night Tube will have to be delayed and Mr Johnson has sought to suggest that he and TfL bosses were not tied to any one date.
Today his transport officials said the start date had been delayed “to allow for the successful conclusion” of talks with unions and to avoid “any further strike action.”
LU Managing Director, Nick Brown, said: “Further to the progress made in recent days with the trade unions and the suspension of strike action, we believe we are not far from an agreement that protects the work-life balance of our employees and is affordable, sustainable and fair.
“As such, we have decided to defer the introduction of Night Tube to allow more time for those talks to conclude. Our objective is to reach an agreement that ends this dispute and delivers the Night Tube for Londoners this Autumn.”
Responding to the news, Mick Cash RMT General Secretary said: “This move by TFL proves that our members were right to strike and were right to warn the public about the consequences of the mad rush to introduce the Mayor’s Night Tube plans without agreement.
“The fact that the plans have now been suspended indefinitely to some vague date “in the autumn” is clearly a massive embarrassment to both Boris Johnson and George Osborne but gives us an opportunity to now get the basics that should have been sorted months ago worked out through direct negotiation.”
Today’s announcement will be seen by many as an embarrassment for the outgoing Mayor who in 2008 promised to deliver a no-strike deal should he replace Ken Livingstone at City Hall. Instead he’s been forced to delay what was intended to be one of the flagship achievements of his administration.
Mr Johnson sought to play down any sense of disappointment, saying: “As I’ve previously made clear, I’m not interested in a staring match over September 12th and I want to see Night Tube introduced this Autumn.”
He added: “Agreement on this is in everyone’s interests – Londoners, businesses, visitors to our city and the hard working London Underground staff who are central to making this happen. Further strike action isn’t going to benefit anyone and I’d urge the unions’ leadership to keep talking so we can get on and deliver Night Tube for London.”
Labour’s City Hall transport spokesman Val Shawcross, who has previously called for the Mayor to personally engage in talks with the unions, said: “With Boris Johnson’s blundering approach to launching the Night Tube, sadly this delay comes as little surprise. If you try and launch a major project without speaking to the people you’ll be relying on to deliver it, it’s never going to end well.
“Instead of hiding on the side-lines, Boris Johnson should have been at the forefront of negotiations, making sure staff were happy and that the launch of the Night Tube was running to schedule. He now needs to be completely honest with Londoners about exactly when this service will be delivered and if nothing else offer some certainty to the capital’s businesses who need to put their own plans in place.”
The Mayor and TfL’s failure to reach agreement with staff has also been criticised by Tessa Jowell, one of the frontrunners to become Labour’s candidate in next year’s mayoral election.
On Twitter, Dame Tessa said: “Boris’s refusal to engage with staff at the appropriate time means Londoners [will be] forced to wait for 24-hr Tube – not good enough.”
Rival for the nomination Sadiq Khan, whose Mayoral bid is backed by some of the unions at the centre of the dispute, said: “24-hour tube is a great idea but Boris has turned this into an utter shambles from beginning to end.”
In anticipation of the start of the Night Tube service, TfL has drawn up plans to reduce the provision of Night Bus routes in some areas.
Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly have recently called for those changes to be deferred and today their transport spokesperson, Caroline Pidgeon AM, called for the Mayor to “come clean” about the changes.
She said: “This is a big climb down for the Mayor. His retreat is entirely due to his error in setting a specific start date before all the staffing arrangements and other issues had been settled. By pushing for a set start date the Mayor strengthened the union’s negotiating position.
“The Mayor must now also come clean and explain when the expected changes to Night Buses will take place. It would be totally wrong if any Night Bus routes see a cut in their weekend service before the start of the Night Tube.”