A Regrettable Service Reduction: Yömetro Is No More

December 17, 2014


Just as I thought the future was looking bright for public transport in Finland’s capital region, it has been announced that the approximately year-long exercise in (very minimal) night service for the Helsinki Metro is coming to a close and will not be continued. They cite high cost and low ridership as contributing factors for their decision.

The Helsinki Metro hardly even qualifies to be called evening service. Before Yömetro its last run was at ~23:30 (!) every day of the week. Yömetro’s meager improvement extended the service hours to 01:30 (wow! /s) on only Fridays and Saturdays. This increase, woefully inadequate as it was, was lauded by me and participators-in-all-things-happening-at-night across the region as a huge mobility asset. While its anemic augmentation didn’t typically help me get home at the end of the night, it at least helped me get to where I was going.

Night service can be a touchy subject. There are very few systems around the world in which night ridership even remotely approaches day ridership. It’s a subsidy; money spent on lifeline services to keep the city accessible to those who need it. A transit system’s goal, however, is not necessarily to justify all of its runs with crush-loaded ridership. While such a system is vastly more efficient, it misses much of what the population wants, not least of which is the chance of a car-free life.

While admittedly the ridership of the later runs of the Helsinki Metro was not staggering, it was far from deficient and even fairly impressive in many ways. The long headways made for some pretty serious crowds piling on to each run. Most of the riders were in no hurry and just happy to be able to wait inside, shielded from the elements.

This announcement marks the second piece of bad news for public transit in Helsinki in only a matter of days. Not long ago it was announced that the long-maligned automation project for the Helsinki Metro was being scrapped as well (several million euros in the hole at this point). Once automated, the Metro’s operation would have been much cheaper and I was hopeful that more night service was on the horizon. Unfortunately now we’re back to square one: A huge investment, expensive operation, lack of proper integration, and hours of operation more akin to a commuter rail line than an urban transport system.

I’ve long been a staunch supporter of the Metro system here, but in the wake of all these complications I’m wondering if the city would have been better off with something lighter to begin with. What say you, Stockholm?

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