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24-hour subways signal new era for London, night owls

Danica Kirka
Associated Press

London — London bills itself as a global city, the world’s biggest financial center and a creative hub to rival New York. Until now, though, getting home after midnight meant taking the bus.

Not anymore.

The London Underground is starting its first-ever overnight service, a move city leaders hope will make the British capital a truly 24-hour city and bolster the local economy.

The new service will only run on weekends and initially be available on just the well-traveled Central and Victoria lines. But the initiative reflects London’s growing population and cosmopolitan mentality, marking a coming of age for a city that many in the Big Apple regard as quaint and sleepy.

“It’s a psychological step because metros and subways and the Underground are always such totemic parts of cites,” said Tony Travers, an expert on urban issues at the London School of Economics. “They are like the circulation system of a city.”

Economists like to point out that London is already a 24-hour city, with West End theaters, Michelin-starred restaurants and trendy nightclubs attracting customers from around the world well into the wee hours. Thousands of doctors, cleaners and maintenance workers also work graveyard shifts.

But the expanded Tube service comes at a good time for London, which has been anxious to reassure the world that the city is open for business and ready to welcome tourists despite Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union.

Efforts to keep the city humming around the clock have already produced $52 billion of economic benefits for the city, and the Night Tube service could be worth another $100 million, according to the business group London First.

“At a time of economic uncertainty— particularly following the Brexit vote — this is a welcome boost to London’s economy,” London First said in a statement.

Unlike New York, where a four-track subway system makes it possible to keep lines running while doing repairs at night, London’s two-track system previously meant shutting the Tube from just after midnight until the early morning for daily maintenance, and even more limited hours on Sunday.

London Underground managers now believe they can complete all necessary maintenance work on weeknights, allowing them to offer overnight service on weekends.

Until now, the main late-night option for most Londoners was the city’s famous double-decker buses. London’s iconic black cabs and, more recently, ridesharing services like Uber, also have allowed people to get around after dark.

But the Tube, with its sturdy reliability and uniformity, offers a security blanket for commuters and tourists. Riders never get stuck in traffic, as you might on a bus. The stops never vary, whether you are watching for them or not.

Some 100 British Transport Police officers will patrol the network on Friday and Saturday nights, offering assurance to revelers, commuters and tourists on the system.