A beefed-up Thames Clippers fleet promises ferries every 15 minutes as London’s daily river commuters reach 12,000…
The success of Thames river “taxis” reflects Londoners’ changing relationship with waterside living. The city once turned its back on the river but today thousands of new glass-and-steel flats stand along its banks.
The river’s renaissance as a working waterway is largely driven by MBNA Thames Clippers, which has just announced further investment of more than £6.3 million in two new fast passenger ferries, coming into operation next year.
The company says its vessels will have transported “over four million commuters and visitors around London” this year. The new 170-capacity boats, built at Wight Shipyard Co on the Isle of Wight, will increase this performance by 14 per cent.
Sean Collins, MBNA Thames Clippers chief executive, says the new boats will allow for a more frequent service, with ferries departing every 15 minutes at peak time. It’s impressive growth, on top of the two ferries that were added at the end of last year.
By next summer, MBNA Thames Clippers expects to be the “biggest commercial passenger fleet operating solely in English waters”.
All this is a far cry from the late Eighties and early Nineties when the then RiverBus lurched from one financial crisis to another. Initially focused on transporting City workers from their luxury pads in Chelsea Harbour and London Bridge to their offices in Canary Wharf, the service was scuppered by the Wharf’s underwhelming occupancy rate.
It fared better in its second incarnation, helped initially by a temperamental Docklands Light Railway. But the 1992 recession and improved rail links hit the costly service hard.
In 1993, RiverBus went into receivership. Then in 1999 came MBNA Thames Clippers, founded by Collins with a single vessel carrying fewer than 80 passengers a day. Now he suggests the fleet regularly carries 11-12,000 people daily.
Also increasing rapidly is the number of Thames piers. Passengers can hop on and off at 21 stops between Putney and Woolwich Arsenal and 11 more are planned with the intention of extending the service to Barking.
This lengthy route is possible thanks to the ferries’ clever design by One2three Naval Architects, which allows them to access the piers in little more than a dribble of water.
Blackfriars to Canary Wharf takes just 16 minutes and all boats are wheelchair accessible and buggy friendly, as are nearly all the piers. Cyclists are welcome, even at peak times, with 10 bikes allowed on a “first come first served” basis.
The company’s good relationship with Transport for London is crucial. In 2009, the Thames briefly disappeared from the transport map. Thanks to an Evening Standard campaign and the Mayor’s intervention, it was soon reinstated.
ON THE MAP
Today the ferry piers are on the map, reflecting the integration of the service into London’s transport network — while finally, Oyster cards are accepted for payment.
However, ferry trips are not included in TfL travelcard fares — holders simply get a discount. A single ticket to travel across central London costs £6.30 with an Oyster card, £5 for travelcard holders and £7.50 without.
For those who want to travel solely by water, an annual all-Zones Clipper season ticket costs £2,016.