Transport carnage: Fast ferry sunk and DLR extension hits the buffers

The Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe cycle bridge always seemed destined to be filed away under the heading “too good to be true”. Now it has receded further into the distance.

It achieved universal acclaim, and no-one could find fault in the idea – but no-one could find the money either. Half the time, during its brief ascendancy, it was used to mitigate the hard politics around the Silvertown Tunnel.

Money was always the stumbling block. The block has become a mountain.

TfL’s pre-Covid thinking was this:

“So far, an opening bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf is our preferred option. But such a bridge in this place is complex and will cost more than we can afford right now, so we have decided to pause our work.”

Fast ferry grounded

Next up, as something as a sop, came the fast ferry between the two sites. This would meet, to a limited extent, the twin demands of better cross-river cycling routes in east London and the increased pressures on Canary Wharf transport links.

There were some compelling ideas about its operation from Beckett Rankine.

Now the fast ferry is joining the bridge in the Fantasy reading section. TfL is grappling with a catastrophic decline in passenger numbers and the consequent hit to the bottom line.

The crucial word here is “paused”. The project is “paused”.

About its latest budget thinking, TfL said: “While latest modelling shows that ridership on public transport is likely to remain significantly down for the foreseeable future, there remains a large degree of uncertainty around future social distancing assumptions and the threat of a further pandemic-related suppression of demand.

“This could mean that TfL may see passenger income vary within a range of approximately +£500million to –£235million.”

We shouldn’t also forget that TfL has three options for the Canada Water to Canary Wharf link:

  • Cycle bridge
  • Fast ferry
  • Tunnel

The last of the three is the least likely because of the expense, both financial and political. Maybe file under Horror.

What about the DLR to Thamesmead?

Time was when there was nothing but talk about East London River Crossings (Mayor Khan picking up the baton from Mayor Johnson).

That bright chatter has all been sucked into the black hole of the Silvertown Tunnel which, viewed through a Covid / environmental lens seems, at best, something of an anachronism.

The one popular survivor of the decimated strategy is the extension of the DLR from Beckton to Thamesmead. That always seemed like a winner – especially in light of what has happened to a DLR-linked Woolwich which groans under the weight of waterside regeneration.

The finger on the “pause” button of the Thamesmead link isn’t so resolute and unforgiving. There’s some wavering here as this project fits in with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. Money, as always, the sticking point.

The language is more nuanced. The DLR extension, along with projects such as Crossrail 2 (which will offer some marginal benefit to east London), are, according to TfL, “still relevant and aligned to the government’s decarbonisation plan”.

TfL said it would continue discussion with government regarding these projects while “being realistic about what will be affordable over the next decade”. In the meantime, work would continue to safeguard relevant sites and carry on feasibility studies.

What the new boss is saying about money

Andy Byford, London’s (new) Transport Commissioner, said, “The pandemic revealed that the current funding model, with its unusually heavy reliance on fare revenue, simply doesn’t work when faced with such a shock.

“Our revised budget looks to keep our services running safely, while we do what we can to continue the vital capital investment which will help London recover from the pandemic.

“Inevitably, very difficult choices have had to be made about the pace at which projects can be funded and completed. In the current climate, some projects will have to be paused.”

And what about Crossrail?

News broke last week that Crossrail opening was delayed again – this time due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Most people shrugged their shoulders.

Can anyone remember when it was due to open? Does it matter any more that it is further delayed? Is it too late to convert it into a cycleway?

The Jubilee line sardines who sat in their offices dreaming of a seamless and airy escape from Canary Wharf at the day’s end may never travel the line if they can wangle their WFH. Think about that.

As a reminder, the latest – now abandoned – “window” was going to be a year from now – summer 2021. We’ve been primed to travel the eighth wonder of the world since December 2018, so we’re no longer counting the hiccups.

In light of the latest postponement, Crossrail has opted for a more sensible PR policy – it’ll happen sometime, the beleaguered company says. We’ll let you know when we know.

No rush, guys.

Read more: Green shoots? Cabot sells for £380m in London’s largest deal

 

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