Few people would use Silvertown Tunnel buses from Woolwich or Eltham, TfL says

Route 108 in Lewisham
The 108 would continue to run through the Blackwall Tunnel but forms part of the package

Transport for London has said that only a “relatively small number of people” would use buses from Woolwich via the Silvertown Tunnel – despite the £2 billion road link being touted as a “public-transport-focused” river crossing by the mayor.

Details of new bus routes that would use the tunnel, which is due to open in 2025, were revealed in October and a consultation opened last month.

The tunnel will have lanes for buses and HGVs, and mayor Sadiq Khan has claimed that it will enable TfL to transform the cross-river bus network.

But only two routes are planned to use the tunnel when it opens – one will be an extension of the Lewisham-North Greenwich 129 service to London City Airport, Beckton and Great Eastern Quay.

Silvertown Tunnel bus network
The proposed bus network

A new express service, the X239, would run from Grove Park, Lee and Blackheath to Canary Wharf. It would feature a non-stop section from the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout to the Leamouth roundabout north of the Thames, so would only serve a handful of stops in Greenwich borough.

The existing 108 service, which runs from Lewisham to Stratford International, is part of the package and will continue to run via the Blackwall Tunnel.

Together, they would operate 20 buses per hour at peak times – the minimum requirement stipulated in the development consent order which gave permission for the tunnel in 2018.

But the transport modelling submitted to planning inspectors was based on 37.5 buses per hour – the cut to 20 was made at a late stage in the inquiry. Maps were made showing a more extensive network serving Eltham and Kidbrooke south of the river, and Bethnal Green and Upton Park north of the Thames.

The scheme’s backers in Greenwich Council – which officially supported the project until March this year – had hoped for buses serving Charlton, Woolwich and Plumstead.

TfL's bus betwork map
TfL’s “indicative network” from 2016

One Labour councillor who supported the tunnel, Plumstead Common’s Matt Morrow, painted opponents as “well-off rail users” and said that the tunnel would benefit less affluent bus passengers.

But no services will run anywhere near his ward, or his previous Plumstead patch, and TfL analysis says that passengers from his area are more likely to use rail services to cross the Thames.

A TfL spokesperson told 853 that the proposals “make the best use of our resources and match the ridership levels we expect when Silvertown Tunnel opens” and that Eltham and Woolwich would be just one change away from destinations north of the river.

He added: “Our most up to date modelling indicates a relatively small number of people would choose the bus to travel between both Eltham and Woolwich and north of the river, which helped us identify the proposal to take forward and consult on.

“This plan is currently just a proposal. No decisions have yet been made and we encourage people to get in touch with feedback to help us shape our plans.”

A document included with the consultation outlined the process TfL followed when coming up with the routes and the considerations it took into account. The result is an “opportunity zone” which runs south through Charlton, Kidbrooke, Lee and Grove Park.

map showing where TfL thinks buses are needed
TfL’s “opportunity zone” stretches south through Kidbrooke

It says that most passengers from the Woolwich area would take the Elizabeth Line or DLR to cross the Thames. “In other words, passengers will have reached most cross-river destinations by these rail modes before the bus has emerged from the Silvertown Tunnel,” the document says.

“Any difference in the price of the journey between bus and train is unlikely to be sufficient to change how most [TfL’s italics] people would choose to travel.”

Proposals to extend a south-of-the-river route to Wanstead Park were ruled out for similar reasons, while a plan to extend the 335 north of the river was dropped because it involved diverting it through Charlton.

The consultation asks people what they think of the network and asks for opinions on exact routings north of the river, which include several new developments housing thousands of people.

Wood Wharf
The X239 would serve the Wood Wharf development with its public art

The X239 would run through Wood Wharf, the eastern extension to Canary Wharf, and could serve developments at Leamouth. The 129 could be routed through the Thameside West development of 5,000 homes, work on which is due to begin when the tunnel is completed in 2025.

A small tweak is planned to the southbound 108 so it would serve North Greenwich station directly from a new slip road after it leaves the Blackwall Tunnel.

The TfL spokesperson added: “The proposals are for the initial bus network upon the opening of the Silvertown Tunnel. TfL will continue to monitor bus ridership and demand over time to ensure its network best meets the needs of Londoners.

“It is recognised that as travel patterns develop over time the bus network will also need to adapt as time passes and people’s travel patterns adapt to the tunnel’s opening. The indicative bus network showed the potential network in the area, but the scale of that network is unlikely to be required in the short term whilst travel patterns are still developing.”

TfL’s consultation is open until January 11 at haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/silvertown-tunnel-bus-network.

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