Messing about on the river

So, Oyster cards can now be used on river bus services – good news for me, because I live fairly close to piers and have a small fortune in pay-as-you-go funds on my Oyster card thanks to a few years of Tube refunds I haven’t been able to do much about spending (unless I want to make 15 trips to Chesham). It’s a nice way to travel. you can booze on the boats from Embankment to Woolwich (unlike other forms of Boris-run transport, let’s not forget) and it’ll probably be a boon for well-off Canary Wharf commuters who’ll find it a realistic alternative to the awful Jubilee Line service to and from London Bridge.

On the downside, mind, this is very much a minority sport (the deal doesn’t cover the very limited boat services that head west to Putney), the boats are much slower than alternative forms of transport (and slower than they used to be thanks to restrictions west of Wapping), and the service’s timekeeping and service information is terrible, especially late at night at Embankment Pier when they offer a tempting alternative to trains from Charing Cross, only for them to run early and miss passengers, and the indicators don’t reflect this and the telephone lines are closed.

On balance, it’s a welcome development, but it’s been flagged up for some time and set against the recent cancellation of schemes like the Greenwich Waterfront Transit and the Docklands Light Railway to Dagenham Dock, and the painfully slow progress in getting Oyster accepted on mainline trains, it’s really not a lot. Getting the riverboat network extended might be a goer – boats can’t run fast heading west (although I can recommend the Putney boats – sat on top of a tiny launch on school assembly chairs, with the ticket man selling cans of Stella) but they can speed up east of Wapping, making Thamesmead just-about doable for potential Canary Wharf commuters. I don’t see Boris doing much about that, though…

Nor do I see Greenwich Council doing much, even though it wheeled out a very odd campaign to get Oyster cards accepted on boats (1,000 signatures – woooo!) even though it must have known such a deal was in the offing. Of course, Greenwich could have campaigned for Oyster cards to be extended to mainline trains, or for further extensions to the service, but they wouldn’t necessarily have benefitted riverboat operator Thames Clippers‘ parent company and Dome owner AEG, or Royal Arsenal developer Berkeley Homes, with which the authority has forged close links. Only a cynic would suggest that there was any connection, of course.

Curiously, Greenwich Council claims the boat service to Woolwich is under threat

Despite this good news, we are waiting for a clear commitment from the Mayor to support the riverboat service between Woolwich and Greenwich. The subsidy for this service is currently due to run out in July.

[Council leader Chris] Roberts said: “We need to see commitment by the Mayor for the long-term future of the Woolwich service.”

The riverboat service to Woolwich is actually subsidised, according to this 2006 report from the London Assembly, by Berkeley Homes – which last year was due to pay 54p per journey (down from £4.30 in 2006). Indeed, they were only due to make the payments if a subsidy was still required, which according to the council it still is.

Clearly Berkeley – which is also helping fund the planned Woolwich Crossrail station – has a commercial interest here. Perhaps the council should be asking Berkeley what its commitment “for the long-term future of the Woolwich service” is before it asks the mayor for taxpayers’ money.


  1. I think this is a positive step forward. I don’t think it will result in a massive influx of new passengers for the river boat as some have suggested, but it does make it more convenient option. It’s timed quite well before the Summer when the prospect of the tube or Southeastern is simply too much to bear and we might start to see some more people use it for their evening journey home. There’s no escaping the fact that it’s slow and that will of course affect some people’s choice. It’s still a little too expensive, even with the discount, for most people to be convinced to use it daily but I think it’s a good step forward. If it becomes more popular those improvements you mention will follow. It’s not perfect but it’s a ray of light amongst a plethora of dreary transport news of late.

  2. […] they? Greenwich Council’s propaganda rag, Greenwich Time, decides to splash on the agreement that’ll allow Oyster card users to use Thames Clippers boats from later this year. The council had held a “campaign” to make this happen which […]

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