Eleven new piers planned along The Thames from Putney to Barking:demand for Thames Clippers increases as one million Londoners commute by boat

Almost a million Londoners now travel to work on Thames Clippers. To cope with increasing demand, 11 new piers are planned and the service may be extended into Kent.

A record number of London commuters are getting to work by boat. Almost a million now travel to the office by MBNA Thames Clippers, the largest operator of River Buses in the capital, which forecasts that it will see 4.2 million journeys made on its central to east London services this year, up from 3.3 million three years ago.

To cope with increasing demand, no fewer than 11 new piers are planned, which will open up the service to thousands more people as far afield as Barking. Plans to extend into Kent are also being discussed.

The piers at Blackfriars and Embankment are being extended. A newly extended Westminster Pier opened this month.

Sean Collins, chief executive and co-founder of MBNA Thames Clippers, which launched in 1999, says that over the next year, piers will be opened at Battersea to serve the new development taking shape around Battersea Power Station.

In east London piers at Canary Wharf East and Providence Wharf will open up the Isle of Dogs to river transport.

There are also imminent plans for a new pier at Enderby Wharf, close to the O2 and the location of a major Barratt Homes development. It is hoped that this pier will be up and running by 2018.

Another new pier is proposed at Royal Wharf, a Ballymore development close to the Royal Docks and London City airport.

Transport for London also hopes to see piers developed to the rear of The Savoy hotel and in Wapping, Rotherhithe, Greenwich, Beckton and close to the new Barking Riverside development.

About 40 per cent of current Thames Clipper journeys are made by regular commuters. Another 250,000 trips will be made on the western branch of the service, which operates from Putney during the morning and evening rush hours only.

The increase in users comes despite the fact that a river commute can be slower and slightly more expensive than travelling on land. “What we offer is a very unique form of transport to people who would rather not travel by train,” says Collins. “They are arriving at work in a totally relaxed frame of mind.

“At Barking around 15,000 homes are being developed so it has got the potential to become a very significant hub for river transport, and provide phenomenal access to Canary Wharf.”

Collins hopes the service will one day run as far out of central London as Ebbsfleet in Kent, via Greenhithe, home of the Bluewater shopping centre, and Swanscombe, where a £2 billion Disneyland-style theme park is planned.

It will not be possible to extend the River Bus service further west than Putney — shallow water plus a strict speed limit make the idea of commuting by boat from Richmond or Kew to central London “impossible” adds Collins.

An annual season ticket is not cheap. For example, to travel from Royal Arsenal to Bankside costs £1,200. The journey takes 46 minutes and services from central London run every 20 minutes until about 11pm. However, this ticket does not allow travel by train or bus, and Collins says that the level of public subsidy required to develop a fully integrated season ticket makes the concept unviable.

He hopes to see more express services in future to cut journey times, and in 2017/18 will add another two boats to his 15-strong fleet of clippers.

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