I never covered Andrew Gilligan’s latest contribution to screwing up London’s transport system, in the form of the Policy Exchange report ‘At A Rate Of Knots’, which basically advocated transferring subsidy from buses used by everyone to boats used by, er, Andrew Gilligan. TfL’s Surface Transport Panel has considered it, however, and to say they’re cool is a bit of an understatement – indeed, it’s rather unclear how responding to a right wing wank tank report co-written by a notoriously unreliable journalist could be considered important enough to be on the agenda, but I presume it’s different when said journalist is a personal friend of the boss.

Anyway, the River Thames Improvement item is a bit of a masterpiece at telling Policy Exchange to f*** off and leave it to the professionals. In particular the plus points of river services are nicely itemised:

  • River journey times are comparable with tube and rail in inner London
  • Cross river journey times are generally quicker than by other modes
  • Niche markets can be developed where the river has a journey time advantage e.g. Bankside to Millbank [Tate Modern to Tate Britain, in fact]

As are the drawbacks:

  • The curving nature of the river and the availability of parallel rail routes make it difficult for the river to compete on journey time on long journeys to the east of London
  • River journey times to the west are constrained by the need to operate a reduced speed where the river is shallower and is used for recreation.
  • In cities such as Sydney and Vancouver, waterborne transport is successful as journey times across harbours are quicker than by land based modes which travel around the edge
  • On rivers with parallel rail routes, the development of transport services is more challenging

In other words, TfL’s view *from their own river service people* is that river transport would be great if London was a different shape, but since it isn’t it’s only going to be a niche service in a few areas, as beyond that rail is going to beat it. To which I’d add that very few of the river piers have a direct interchange with rail, which naturally limits things (Embankment being the honourable exception, and even there you have to cross a road) and this, in consequence, limits the amount of money that can reasonably be spent on it.

What of ‘At A Rate Of Knots’? Well, a mere paragraph is devoted to summarising the report, which mentions a subsidy shift (from buses), £15-30m spent on pier extensions and TfL having ‘air traffic control’ over river services. The Mayor is reported as ‘welcoming’ this (but then again he did launch it). TfL then skilfully pour cold water on the idea of radical change along the Gilligan model:

  • A toolkit of low cost extension options and plans to extend other key central London piers is being developed. [translation: £15-30m, you’re having a laugh, matey – we’ve got £500k out of the Olympics for a shelter at Greenwich, so be grateful for small mercies, eh?]
  • [Boris] also made it clear that he thought that there was no short term solution to high carbon diesel boats and further thought needed to be given to how river boats can be made more environmental friendly. [translation: if you think running 200 person capacity high speed catamarans with powerful diesels starting and stopping all the way down the river is going to make sense against our air pollution and climate change targets, you’re having a laugh, matey]
  • The report recommends a level of capital and operating expenditure which is not provided for within the current TfL Business Plan. [translation: f*** off, your maths doesn’t add up]

So, like the mutant multi-doored multi-staired Son-Of-Routemaster* what starts off as a precious bit of Gilligan reshaping the world according to his personal tics and inherent unhappiness becomes, in the hands of evil David Brown and the human-hating Satanists at TfL an exercise in doing enough to keep the Mayor stocked with PR opportunities without screwing things up too badly. Which leaves Mr. Sock up shit creek without a paddle, where he can stay, as far as I’m concerned, he’s wasted enough of everyone’s time.

* Apparently Wrightbus ‘is now making progress with the underlying engineering design of the major structural frame and has entered into negotiations with the principal component suppliers. Work is progressing on an engineering mock-up which is expected to be available for functional and geometric testing in March.’ so where’s the pictures, then? Must have some idea what it looks like, chaps.

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