River services remain 'poor relation' of transport modes


River services remain the poor relation of transport modes in London despite an increase in passenger numbers, according to a report.

A lack of clear strategy and poor integration with other transport services in the capital mean the mayor’s ambition of 12 million passenger journeys a year on the river may not be realised, the updated report from the London Assembly’s Transport Committee said. It also criticised Transport for London’s (TfL) “half-hearted” commitment to the services.

Transport watchdog London TravelWatch said mayor of London Boris Johnson will need to take a more hands-on role with the river services if passengers are to benefit.

Tim Bellenger, the group’s director of policy and investigation, said: “The Assembly report highlights an area of the transport sector that could be developed further for the benefit of passengers, if there were the appropriate mechanisms to do so. It would require the mayor to take a more active role in regulating and/or subsidising fares and services provided on the river.

“This would need legislation and the co-operation of operators to enable this to happen.”

The Transport Committee’s report also outlined problems with underdeveloped or poorly maintained piers, mapping and ticketing, while river services have not received the same level of support from TfL that has seen the cycle hire scheme, or ‘Boris bikes’, thrive, according to the report.

Caroline Pidgeon AM, who chairs the Transport Committee, said: “While there have been some developments and passenger numbers have grown, it’s frustrating that progress is so slow on expanding a service that has so much potential – particularly for the 2012 Games.

“Our last report described the Thames as London’s forgotten highway and unfortunately in many ways it still is.

“It’s all a bit half-hearted. If TfL were to direct the same attention and energy at river services that it’s lavished on the cycle hire scheme it could turn the tide.”

The report recommends four specific improvements which could see the number of passenger journeys rise.

It suggests the creation of a TfL-owned strategic plan for the development of river services, while a representative should also be appointed to TfL’s board to demonstrate greater commitment to river services.

The report also calls for further improvement to piers, while there also needs to be better signage, mapping, publicity and ticketing to bring in more passengers.

TfL has been asked to report back on its progress by June.