Policy Exchange have produced a report considering the feasibility of expanding transport on the River Thames. Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London on the basis that he would boost river transport. Transport for London have resisted to some extent claiming the cost would be too high. But one of the report's authors Andrew Gilligan says £30 million of capital spending on more boats and longer piers would provide an extra 12 to 17 million passengers – a capital cost of £1.76 a passenger in the first year.
“TfL says that 12 to 17 million is only the capacity of a busy bus route. But to put our proposal in perspective, the recent extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Woolwich was projected to carry five million passengers a year. It cost £180 million, a capital cost of £36 per passenger in the first year. Phase 1 of the East London Line upgrade is projected to deliver an extra 23.8 million journeys a year – at a cost of £900 million. That’s £37.80 a passenger. Quite rightly, no-one questioned these projects on the basis that they would only deliver the capacity of a busy bus route – because that argument, in truth, is an argument for never doing anything at all.
“So in hard-headed cost-benefit terms – in transport bang achieved per taxpayer buck – this is about the best value of any new project undertaken in the last ten years. It benefits a number of areas, particularly in west London, that have seen almost no public transport improvements for the last half-century. It helps meet the galloping needs of Canary Wharf and Docklands, particularly before Crossrail arrives. It could be the silver bullet that finally breathes life into that mythical beast – the Thames Gateway. And if anyone says TfL can’t afford it, I’d point out that this is an organisation which is still planning to spend £28 million on a new headquarters for itself."
The report believes it isn 't all about subsidy. The speed limit west of Tower Bridge should be reviewed to see if with better traffic management journey times could be reduced. The Riverbus should be included on the tube map and piers given better signage. Ticket offices should make clear whether they are selling commuter or tourist tickets.
On the speed limit point there is a problem over the potential disadvantage to couple of dozen house boat occupants in Wapping. Tough, says Gilligan hundreds of thousands of commuters could benefit if speeds were increased. The greatest good of the greatest number, as Jeremy Bentham would say. I used to see Andrew Gilligan a bit when I worked at the Evening Standard but I have not talked to him about philosophy. I think Betham's approach needs to be balanced with protection for the individual. As there are so few Wapping houseboat owners this should be perfectly practical. If I was in Boris's shoes I would go and visit them (trying not to fall in the river) to see what deal could be reached. Could we phase in the increased speed limits to see what difference it would actually make? Could we lower their mooring fees? Or find alternative moorings at other points on the river where there could be more house boats without there being a difficulty on speed limits?
There is lots of interesting and sensible material in this report. But the central message – that TfL should pull everything together including owning, or at least managing all the piers – strikes me as being at odds with TfL's resistance to make progress. Extending the dead hand of state ownership isn't usually a recipe for progress. Wouldn't a new entity make more sense? With TfL being given explicit instructions to cooperate.