London mayor Sadiq Khan has admitted that the new £20 million boats brought in to run the Woolwich Ferry, which have been plagued by technical faults, are “not good enough”.
The ferry service has been plagued by delays and strikes since the new vessels, Ben Woollacott and Dame Vera Lynn, came into service at the beginning of the year.
Figures released to 853 showed that that in one four-week period between May and June, the service was only operating for 53% of its hours because of industrial action and technical issues. Between 23 June and 20 July, when there were no strikes, the service was still only available for 83% of its hours.
Between 3 February and 20 July, the ferry was out of action for 691 working hours, although 10 one-day strikes over pay, working conditions and safety account for 280 of these. Another 111 hours were lost to weather and road closures.
Khan told LBC radio – which has obtained similar figures – that Transport for London, which he chairs, had “dropped the ball” on the issue.
“The ferries aren’t good enough. They were supposed to be good enough, but they haven’t been,” said this morning. “Hands up, we’ve dropped the ball on this. They are energy-efficient, hybrid ferries, but in my view, there are basic problems in how they dock on to one side of the river compared to the other.
“TfL have to put our hands up and admit these problems should have been sorted out in the factory, not in the River Thames. Thousands of people have been inconvenienced. We think we’ve turned the corner, but can I apologise to all those affected by this.”
Khan added: “Since August, I’ve been told the reliability is about 95%, it needs to get to 100%,” Khan added. The staff work incredibly hard, the users have received a poor service, and I apologise.”
Power management problems
The boats, which cost £9.7 million each, were billed as being a cleaner than their three predecessors, which were withdrawn from service last October after 55 years and scrapped. The new vessels were meant to be introduced at the beginning of January, but entered service about four weeks late.
Problems with the power management system meant the boats initially couldn’t be used properly in hybrid mode. One of the reasons for the ferries being out of action during May was for tests to be carried out, according to an answer given by Khan to Liberal Democrat assembly member Caroline Pidgeon last month.
The Unite union has called for TfL to take the ferry, which is operated by Briggs Marine, in-house when the current contract ends on 31 March. The ferry was run by Greenwich Council until 2008, when it was given to private contractors working for TfL. Khan told LBC: “One of the things I’ll be looking into is whether TfL should be running the ferry rather than the private company.”
Danny Price, general manager of sponsored services at TfL, told LBC: “We’re sorry for the issues that Londoners using the Woolwich Ferry have faced this year – it isn’t acceptable and we have repeatedly made that clear to the vessel manufacturer.
“A taskforce of engineers has been created to resolve the power issues the hybrid engines have experienced. The Woolwich Ferry is an important part of London’s transport and we take its operations very seriously – that’s why we’ve invested in new vessels with much cleaner environmental standards and increased capacity.”
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