Making the Thames a proper highway

On 6 January, Mayor of London Boris Johnson was the featured speaker at the launch of Policy Exchange’s new report At a Rate of Knots, which advocates the use of public subsidies to expand passenger transport on the Thames. London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi has warned that Policy Exchange’s proposals should be treated with caution.

Murad said: "In the heyday of the working Thames, it was indeed a highway – but a highway to move freight rather than passengers. Today there is much scope for increased use of the Thames in transporting goods, building materials and waste, which would have a positive environmental impact by reducing the number of HGVs passing through London.

"But I am unconvinced by the case for large-scale expansion of passenger transport on the Thames. When Transport for London put out an open tender to improve river transport in 2003 the two operators who responded reported that ‘little more than the existing service could be introduced without a large amount of subsidy over a long period’.

"Policy Exchange base their proposal on dubious statistics. They claim that Thames Clippers presently receive a public subsidy of 14p per passenger, whereas Transport for London has put the figure at 69p. This compares with a subsidy of 33p per passenger for buses.

"If Boris wants to improve public transport, he would be better advised to expand bus services, rather than cutting back on them as he’s currently doing."

Murad added: "Bear in mind that Policy Exchange was the inspiration behind Boris’s plan to replace London’s bendy buses with a revamped Routemaster, a vanity project that will cost Londoners millions of pounds. Hopefully Boris will examine Policy Exchange’s river transport proposals more critically to make sure that he won’t be pouring more of our money into another expensive and impractical scheme."