Head of Night Tube: "Safety concerns do not match reality"
The wait for Londoners is nearly over as a date for the introduction of the Night Tube has been set with the capital about to join cities around the world including Berlin, Stockholm and New York.
As levels of crime continue to fall across the London Underground network, TfL will no doubt be faced with fresh challenges once the new service comes into effect later this year.
After almost 18 months of gridlock discussion, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) have agreed to the pay and conditions deal over the Night Tube and the 24 hour service at weekends will be introduced on 31st August, that is 11 months on from when it was supposed to arrive back in September.
One of the trade unions' core arguments for taking industrial action last year was not having been properly consulted on key aspects of health and safety. With this in mind, should passengers and staff be concerned about their safety on the night tube when it arrives and are TfL doing enough to reduce the risk?
Crime statistics on the London Underground (LU) have improved in recent years. Crime across the whole tube network fell by 12.4% last year according to their figures. However, to contradict this there was a 32.2% increase in reported violent and sexual assaults, with 567 sexual offences in 2014/15, a figure up from 429 the previous year. This seems to paint a worrying picture on aspects of criminal behaviour, although it is has been argued that sexual related crimes are being reported more frequently.
Keith Foley, the Head of Night Tube, advises caution when interpreting crime statistics pointing out the low crime nature of the LU and the fact that it’s a secure and gated environment. Yet, he does believe there is a perception issue in the public domain which suggests the LU could become a breeding ground for drunkenness and anti-social behaviour overnight.
“No matter how many times you show people the stats, that does not necessarily change people’s belief. You can tell people things until your blue in the face but if it’s not going in what can you do”, said Mr Foley.
Following a number of benchmarking studies on international cities which operate an overnight metro, TfL found that levels of crime and anti-social behaviour were no different overnight compared to the day. Mr Foley is confident that these results will translate to the LU once it joins the elite list of cities to offer a 24 hour service, something which is in many eyes long overdue.
He said: “All of the evidence from worldwide cities is that you have all that fear of a rise in drunkenness and anti social behaviour through the night but none of it materialises.”
He continued: “Stockholm put in a large security presence initially and it’s all been withdrawn because it’s not necessary.”
In response to the perceived threat, TfL in conjunction with the British Transport Police (BTP) have agreed to put 100 BTP officers on patrol at 144 stations once the night tube is introduced.
TfL have undertaken London-wide customer surveys to gather responses on topics surrounding passenger safety on the tube. The overwhelming feedback from customers revealed that they are reassured when they see visible staff in any type of uniform, increasing the levels of perceived safety.
Not everyone feels that this addition of extra police is sending the right signals. Paul Jackson, who looks after engineering staff at the RMT, feels that an increase in armed officers demonstrates a lack of confidence.
He said: "They are having to take on 100 police, how is it safer? If it's safer why have we not cut 100 police?"
Staffing levels have been dramatically slashed over the past 12 to 18 months. 800 station staff were axed last year and TfL have planned to recruit back 500 to operate the extra service. Earlier in the year, LU announced it would recruit back 300 tube station staff, their first recruitment campaign in three years.
"The staffing levels in each station are lower across the board and some stations are going to be unstaffed," said Mr Jackson.
The RMT remain anxious about how TfL will cope with the deficit in staffing levels and have considered the safety implications that come with it, something which Mr Jackson believes has been overlooked.
In a scenario involving a train breaking down between stations and needing to be evacuated, he fears that with a limited number of fully competent staff, passengers with little or no help would have to make their way through the pitch dark, winding tunnels on their own. He argues these passengers could become lost, isolated and walk into places where the shouldn't be, becoming vulnerable targets to ant-social behaviour and criminal activity.
The RMT are also concerned that TfL have not fully considered the logistics behind moving equipment down tube stations during the early hours given that stations will need to be kept open.
Referring to sub surface re-signalling works currently taking place on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, District and Circle lines, they are worried about their staff coming into conflict with the night tube demographic when transporting material underground.
Mr Jackson said: "Carrying anything down in any kind of way with the rugby club that has just come out of the local pub is going to create chaos. No one has ever given a satisfactory answer of what they are going to do."
Despite this, TfL want to be on top of the safety risk and manage it to keep it to an absolute minimum. They will operate the same staffing model through the night as they operate during the day. 12,000 CCTV cameras are active throughout the LU and each member of staff is equipped with radios which are one click away from alerting BTP officers should they need help.
"From a staff perspective, all the same support services are going to be in place and response rates are really good and they will be better overnight," affirmed Mr Foley.
The Fit for Future Stations initiative which forms part of the night tube package, contains a list of priorities that TfL are standing by to deliver an efficient and safe network. One of the ways in which they are looking to minimise the risk is by focusing on methods to improve response rates so victims are not left stranded and in risk of finding themselves in a deteriorating situation.
The Head of Night Tube is clear that come the end of August, TfL must keep their eye on the ball where safety is concerned.
"We never want to be complacent about it," added Mr Foley.
"The moment we say safety is not an issue is the moment we get it wrong. If at some point we are not actively managing the risk, this is when we could let someone down."
One thing is for certain, none of us want to be waking up to headlines in the morning newspapers depicting casualties on the tube overnight and let's hope this will not be the case.