River Bus Futures

Labour Mayor would re-launch riverbus

by Paul Waugh (Associated Newspapers)
By kind permission of the London Evening Standard

The most extensive riverbus service in Europe willbe set up on the Thames if a Labour candidate wins the race to become London’s first directly-elected Mayor.

The party revealed today that a key priority for a Labour Mayor would be the creation of a fast and reliable river service usable by anyone with a London Transport travelcard.

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High-speed boats would run every 10 or 15 minutes along a network of piers stretching from Greenwich to Chelsea to cover most of the key areas of central London along the river.

The key stops would be the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre and Bankside, the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, Battersea Power Station and Park, and Chelsea.

A Labour source said today: “Just as New York is proud of its Staten Island-Manhattan ferry, we want a river service for the Thames of which all Londoners can be proud.

“This will be the most extensive service in Western Europe, putting even Venice’s vaporetti to shame.”

The new service will build on the £21million plans unveiled by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, last month for a fast boat linking the Dome and central London.

Previous attempts to set up a public transport system on the Thames have all ended in failure, with the last Riverbus service collapsing in 1993 when Government subsidy was withdrawn.

Key problems facing the service have been the dangers of fast boats creating a large wash for other river traffic, the Thames’s strong tides and a lack of reliability that deterred many Londoners from using it.

Bureaucracy and confusion over who actually ownsthe piers and wharfs along the river, together with a lack of political will have also dogged anyone wanting to see a service linking the capital’s historical and cultural “string of pearls”.

If enough Londoners vote ‘Yes’ in next month’s referendum on the Mayoralty, a new London Transport Authority will be created, allowing the Mayor and the Assembly to take direct control over any Thames service.

The riverbus is exactly the sort of problem that a strong Mayor can tackle. He can bang heads together to make sure that we get the service that will attract both commuters and tourists in large numbers” a Labour spokesman said.

The last Riverbus cost £6 to get from Chelsea to Canary Wharf and many commuters preferred the tube, but if the new scheme is covered by the Travelcard many more people are expected to use it.

The Port of London Authority would retain responsibility for safety on the river, but under current by-laws there is no speed limit for the Thames east of Wandsworth so the new boats could travel as quickly as planners hope.

Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP whose Poplar and Canning Town constituency covers Canary Wharf, said that the party recognised that an efficient riverbus service was key to the development of the capital. “There have been attempts to set up a service in the past and they have all failed for various reasons. The difference this time is that the centre of gravity of London has moved eastwards in the last 15 years.

There is now a much greater demand from business and tourism, as well as all the new residents in Docklands, to make the service viable. If we can make river travel convenient, then we can persuade more people to use it. A mayor would really push the boat out on this one,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 22 April 1998

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