Route 108 set for bigger buses and switch to Olympic Park

108 bus

Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham could soon have a direct bus link to the Olympic Park under plans revealed by Transport for London today.

The 108 service through the Blackwall Tunnel would have its route altered north of the river so it runs via Stratford City bus station, beside the Westfield shopping centre, to Stratford International station. The new route would see it run alongside the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with a stop at the London Aquatics Centre.

The route would gain bigger buses – though still single-deck, due to height restrictions in the Blackwall Tunnel.

It would also be rerouted away from the Blackwall Tunnel’s northern approach to serve Chrisp Street in Poplar, passing Langdon Park and Devons Road DLR stations rather than Bromley-by-Bow tube.

The change is part of a revamp of routes serving the borough of Tower Hamlets. Another change sees the 277 rerouted through the Isle of Dogs, bringing Greenwich town centre within walking distance of a 24-hour bus from Dalston and Hackney.

Bigger buses on the 108 would certainly provide some relief on what’s a chronically overcrowded route – although without an increase in frequency the route will continue to struggle with demand.

A switch to run via Stratford City would cause some problems for people changing buses in Stratford itself – in 2013, TfL said it would break 600 trips each day – although the two bus stations are only separated by a short walk via the Westfield centre. What’s not clear is if the diverted route would be affected by West Ham United moving to the Olympic Stadium this summer.

And while rerouting the 108 via Chrisp Street would mean the service avoids the A12 traffic jams, some passengers may miss the link to Bromley-by-Bow, although the new service passes close to Bow Road station.

Tower Hamlets2

What’s the view from north of the river? Bow’s Diamond Geezer thinks this is more about getting double-deckers on another bus…

There’s a consultation now open on the scheme – if you’re a 108 user, have your say by 20 March.

PS. You read it here first, three years ago…

Greenwich in roadbuilders’ sights as Mayor Johnson revives long-dead Ringway scheme

Two years ago, this website reported on vague Transport for London plans to revive Ringway 1, a controversial 1960s road scheme that would have demolished great chunks of inner London.

Here’s a video about the Ringways. The Blackwall Tunnel approaches are among the few parts of Ringway 1 that were built. The rest of it would have obliterated Brockley, built a huge junction at Lewisham, and carved through Blackheath. (And that’s before we get to Ringway 2, which would have gone through Oxleas Wood.)

Today, those plans to revive the Ringways have been firmed up a little. And Greenwich is in the roadbuilders’ sights. So I thought I’d put something together very quickly…

Johnson’s plan is for a northern tunnel from the A40 at Park Royal to the A12 at Hackney Wick (in other words, the Blackwall Tunnel northern approach), and a southern tunnel from the A4 at Chiswick to the A13 at Beckton.

Unfortunately, all we have to go on at the moment is this tiny map, nicked from the Evening Standard’s story, and ITV London’s assertion that the scheme involves two tunnels under the Thames.

TfL map of new roads

It’s interesting how TfL’s map de-emphasises the River Thames. I’ve blown it up, and it looks like it’s ploughing straight from a junction on the Old Kent Road through Deptford and the bottom of Greenwich Park. It certainly looks like it’s aiming for an interchange with the A102 at the Woolwich Road flyover, before heading towards City Airport and Beckton.

The Silvertown Tunnel was always going to be toe in the water to test the acceptance of new road schemes, and although the most recent consultation revealed massively increased opposition to the scheme, local politicians’ collaboration with the roadbuilders has helped give them the confidence to come up with schemes like this.

I wonder if Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and ex-leader Chris Roberts ever realised their unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel would lead to the Greenwich world heritage site sitting under a roadbuilders’ map?

My guess is that perhaps what the plan’s actually for is to build across the Isle of Dogs to meet Bugsby’s Way, a plan which appeared occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s as the Docklands Southern Relief Road, and in the 1990s in aborted ideas for a Greenwich by-pass. Although this would make four tunnels under the Thames, not two.

But who knows? TfL used today’s announcement to hide news that it’s formally applying for permission to build the Silvertown Tunnel, leaving it down to the next mayor to cancel the scheme. What we do know is that via the Silvertown Tunnel, the roadbuilders are back. Do we have the the politicians who can stop them?

The Dear Leader returns: Greenwich councillors to consider honour for Chris Roberts

Roberts with London mayor Boris Johnson at the opening of Ravensbourne college in 2010

Roberts with London mayor Boris Johnson at the opening of Ravensbourne college in 2010

Greenwich councillors are to consider awarding the rarely-awarded freedom of the borough to former leader Chris Roberts next week – despite the politician-turned-developers’ consultant being embroiled in a series of bullying accusations before he stood down 18 months ago.

Roberts ran the council for 14 years but stepped down as a councillor at May 2014’s election, finally relinquishing his role as leader the following month. He is still in frequent contact with his successor, Denise Hyland, multiple sources have told this website, with some claiming he still wields considerable influence over the council.

His final months on the council were blighted by bullying accusations, notably in October 2013 when he threatened current deputy leader John Fahy with the removal of his cabinet position in a row over the Run to the Beat half-marathon, which raised funds for a charity Roberts set up as council leader, Greenwich Starting Blocks. He was let off any council punishment over the voicemail, but did get a written warning from the party.

Two councillors – Alex Grant and Hayley Fletcher – stood down from the authority, complaining of a bullying culture in Roberts’ Labour group. Grant has since said that intimidation of councillors was normal practice, particularly in planning matters.

The leader himself was also accused of throwing his keys at a council cleaner who woke him up while he was asleep in his office early one morning in 2009, a charge he denies. His conduct was explored in a BBC Sunday Politics investigation in December 2013. A secret Labour Party investigation declared no further action should be taken on his conduct.

Now Roberts is in line for an award reserved only for councillors if they have “distinguished themselves beyond that level of service normally expected”. “Recipients should have demonstrated commitment to the principles of public life and adherence to the relevant codes of conduct,” the paper for next Wednesday’s meeting says.

Past recipients include Nelson Mandela, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, the Duke of Edinburgh, and local institutions such as Charlton Athletic Football Club, Royal Museums Greenwich and the Royal Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

Roberts with now-colleague Bob Neill after the Woolwich riot in 2011

Roberts with now-colleague Bob Neill after the Woolwich riot in 2011

Roberts was known for his close relations with property developers, and is now the deputy chairman of Cratus Communications, a local authority lobbying firm chaired by former Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Merrick Cockell. Bromley & Chislehurst’s Tory MP Bob Neill, a former local government minister, is a non-executive director.

“His passion for regeneration will provide Cratus with a platform to move to the next level of support for our development clients,” the firm’s website says of Roberts.

Long-serving Labour councillors Janet and Jim Gillman are also on the list of consideration for the honour, as is veteran Conservative Dermot Poston, who also stood down in 2014. Retired teacher Poston was first elected to the council in 1968, serving under the only Tory administration in the borough’s history. The honour for the former Eltham North councillor, a genuinely popular figure at Woolwich Town Hall, may make it difficult for the Conservatives to object to Roberts’ award.

Tariq Abbasi, former director of the Plumstead-based Greenwich Islamic Centre and now director general of the World Muslim Congress, is also in line for an honour.

The decision will be made at next Wednesday’s council meeting. If you’re a Greenwich resident and want to ask leading councillors a question about the council and its policies, email committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk before noon on Wednesday 20 January with your question, your name and address. 

Time’s up: Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper to cease this summer

Abandoned copies of Greenwich Time left at flats in Charlton last week

Abandoned copies of Greenwich Time left at flats in Charlton last week

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council has agreed to stop publishing its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, by June, the government has announced.

Council leader Denise Hyland had planned to go to court to defend the paper, which is distributed to the vast majority of homes in the borough each week.

It is the only council weekly left in England following Tower Hamlets’ decision last week to phase out East End Life.

Greenwich has now agreed to comply with laws restricting local authority publications to four times a year, beginning from June.

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said: “We have agreed that Royal Borough of Greenwich will be fully compliant with the Publicity Code from the end of June 2016, settling the matter without having to go to court.”

The department did not provide further details of the agreement.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told this website: “We are pleased that Royal Borough and the Department of Communities and Local Government have settled the matter without having to go to court.

“We are pleased that the Department has accepted the Royal Borough’s need to continue to produce regular and frequent communication for residents, in order to keep them up to date on Council services, job opportunities and other important information.”

Greenwich says it will still be allowed to produce “regular and frequent communication of information” to residents who choose to receive it in whatever format, so long as it does not look like a newspaper, news-sheet or similar.

News Shopper and Greenwich Time front pages

Propaganda? The News Shopper and Greenwich Time compared

Last month, Hyland told a full council meeting that Greenwich had spent £35,350 on preparing for the court action, plus an estimated £12,893 on staff time.

The council has consistently claimed it saves money by publishing a weekly newspaper, as otherwise it would have to pay one of the local newspaper groups to carry its public notices advertising planning application, road works, and other formal announcements. In December, Hyland claimed it would save £21,000 per month.

But critics have dismissed the paper – which features council and community features rather than hard news – as merely a propaganda tool for the authority’s leadership.

Greenwich Time was a target of former communities secretary Eric Pickles, who announced plans to take legal action against the council last March. In response, the council announced it would seek a judicial review of the decision.

But Greenwich’s last line of defence – that government-appointed commissioners at Tower Hamlets were continuing to publish a weekly paper there – started crumbling last autumn, when its paper, East End Life, switched to fortnightly. Last week, Tower Hamlets’ elected Labour mayor John Biggs announced East End Life would cease publication altogether this spring in response to a direction from the commissioners.

Biggs said of East End Life: “In over 20 years of weekly publication the world has changed, particularly with the use of the internet, and it is time we looked again at it.”

Greenwich will now have to rethink its communications strategy, which largely revolves around the paper. For years, rumours have claimed Greenwich would attempt to transfer GT to Greenwich Leisure Limited, although Pickles’ direction to the council would appear to rule that possibility out.

Neighbouring Lewisham switched its Lewisham Life magazine to quarterly some years back, but also sends out weekly emails with information about council and community services.

The paper was first published in 1984 as a campaigning monthly, at a time when Labour councils were openly fighting decisions made by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

It went fortnightly in 1991, softening its tone during Len Duvall’s 1990s reign as council leader. But in 2002 it began to mimic the style of a local paper, going weekly six years later.

How did Sadiq Khan get caught by the cable car’s finances?

Happy new year. Sorry, back to the cable car again.

Greenwich cable car, 18 June 2012

If you use public transport in London, 2016 opened with a fare rise – and that included the Emirates Air Line, which slapped 10p on an adult single trip. The annual round of fare rises also kicked off campaigning for May’s mayoral election, with the Greens’ Sian Berry demanding London’s fare zones be axed (Woolwich residents fuming at being stuck in zone 4 take note) and Labour’s Sadiq Khan pushing his plan to freeze fares.

Khan told the Evening Standard he would fund the £450m freeze by scrapping Boris Johnson’s “vanity projects”, with our very own cable car in the firing line.

“I’ll start by ending any further public funding for the Emirates cable car as soon as the contract allows — if that means it closes, then so be it,” he said. “It has been a disastrous waste of money and costs more than £5 million a year to run.”

This is cobblers. The cable car’s operating costs are certainly about £5m – but its popularity as a tourist attraction means it’s making a sum quite near that back in fares. This is a bit like Khan demanding the 177 bus is scrapped because it costs £4.6m each year to run – he’s ignoring what it makes back in revenue.

Indeed, I’m indebted to Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik for chasing up the figures with TfL – the accounts show it makes a surplus.

An analysis of Transport for London’s audited accounts show that, instead of receiving a “subsidy”, the scheme’s fare revenue met or exceeded operating costs in each of the last three financial years.

In its first nine months of operation, the period covered by TfL’s 2012/13 accounts, just under two million passengers were carried, generating fares revenue of £6m.

During 2013/14 passengers numbers, which were boosted the previous year by the scheme’s novelty and London’s hosting of the Olympics, fell to 1.5 million passengers with fare revenue of £5m.

Passenger numbers remained flat in 2014/15 at 1.5 million but revenue increased from £5 million to £6 million.

We know that operating costs have fallen – which is why a story last summer that the cable car was losing money fell apart. Transport Commissioner Mike Brown’s most recent report to the TfL board said the Emirates Air Line has made a £1m surplus since it opened.

Boris Johnson launching the cable car in 2011

Boris Johnson launching the cable car in 2011

This doesn’t suddenly make the cable car a brilliant idea – user numbers have pretty much flatlined, and Boris Johnson’s stated aim of it paying its build costs (£16m (£60m minus £36m from Emirates and £8m from the EU)) looks like a tricky proposition.

It’s also certainly so far failed as both a commuter link and a generator of significant extra employment, both justifications used for building it.

But Khan was wrong to have highlighted the operating costs.

The big flaw in the cable car is that £16m that could have gone into, say, improving the botched bus infrastructure on the Greenwich Peninsula (where a pedestrian died yesterday morning) has instead gone into a tourist attraction that sits apart from the public transport system with incompatible fares.

Indeed, as Mayorwatch points out, the Emirates sponsorship contract ties TfL into operating it until 2021, by which time London could be on its fourth mayor. There is a break clause in 2017, but it’d be costly for TfL to break the contract and it would lose a big chunk of the Emirates sponsorship cash.

So the mayoral candidates are stuck with a tourist attraction that seems to just about tick over financially. It’s one to watch – maybe tinkering with fares could boost weekday usage – but with TfL losing all its government grant by 2019, there are bigger things to worry about, like protecting bus services.

Asked to comment on the scheme’s published finances, a spokesman for Mr Khan’s campaign said: “We’ll review it… and the likeliest option is it closing in 2021”.

But Sadiq Khan doesn’t know what the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula will be like in 2021, when the Emirates contract ends. Nor do any of us. I’m not sure whether there’ll be a significant commuter traffic (you’d need a lot of people living on the peninsula and working in the Royals, or vice versa) but there’s clear evidence of plenty of leisure traffic. Closing it would leave London one river crossing down – however flawed it may be, and may leave TfL recording an overall loss.

The mayor in 2021 could sell the cable car, which could guarantee an instant return); could cut opening hours (the current contract mandates opening up by 7am, when hardly anybody uses it); or could go the other way and integrate it into the public transport system (which could cost a bit but most public transport costs a bit).

Or the 2021 mayor could carry on as now, with a new sponsor contract, maybe wiping the build costs once and for all, and leave the issue for few years in the future.

The cable car is an intriguing problem for the next mayor – and how they react to it will tell you a lot about them. What we’ve learned about Sadiq Khan is that he needs some new advisors – fast.

What next for the cable car? It still has no Oyster card commuters…

Greenwich cable car, 18 December 2015

Last year, this website told you there were no Oyster card commuters. Guess what? There still aren’t any. There’s more in this story I’ve written for Londonist: Cable car still has no regular users.

It’s the fourth year I’ve surveyed cable car usage in a typical October week. In 2012 and 2013 I did it for Snipe, just for this website in 2014, and for Londonist in 2015, where the week was 11-17 October. If you want more, Diamond Geezer has drilled down into the full dataset to see just when you can guarantee a cabin all to yourself. (All this is thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, currently under threat from the Government.)

The easy figure to home in 2012 was the number of people using it to commute, since Boris Johnson had banged on about it being such a vital link. Back then, 16 people tapped in with their Oyster cards more than five times in a week, enabling them to obtain a rebate on their fares. The following year this dropped to four. Last year, there were none at all. And it’s the same this year.

The handful of people who do commute on it use paper multi-trip tickets, which are valid for a year, and are less fiddly to use. About 30 are sold each week, although because the tickets are valid for a year, it’s hard to tell who’s using it to work and who is using it for fun. This year, I’ve seen figures for these paper tickets going back to opening day in June 2012, and sales don’t seem to tally with big events at the O2 or ExCeL, either. That said, a load were sold on 23 December last year, so maybe someone was giving out a load for Christmas presents (and they’ll have to be used up by today).

It does seem rather strange that TfL runs a public transport service that it discourages regular travellers from using its main public transport ticketing system on, but there you go.

Here’s a table of the week’s journeys:

0700-
0759
0800-
0859
0900-
0959
1000-
1059
1100-
1159
1200-
1259
1300-
1359
1400-
1459
1500-
1559
1600-
1659
1700-
1759
1800-
1859
1900-
1959
2000-
2100
2100-
2200
2200-
2300
Sun 11th 115 291 550 681 771 807 903 968 791 543 397 154
Mon 12th 18 19 44 230 191 206 210 218 200 238 189 214 122 72
Tue 13th 26 27 61 98 193 262 226 225 245 174 189 158 129 95
Wed 14th 22 46 74 249 294 231 307 244 213 263 197 183 111 115
Thu 15th 22 123 148 175 291 195 298 219 282 300 157 200 161 105
Fri 16th 21 33 40 149 225 217 230 232 241 213 211 250 181 137 96 85
Sat 17th 42 167 393 563 670 809 793 854 894 727 591 463 348 180 134

Individual Emirates Air Line journeys, hour by hour, between 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL.

And here’s a graph:

Cable car hourly usage, October 2015

It’s bad news all round. Usage is pretty much the same as it was last year, the only rises coming from the opening hours being extended to 9pm on weeknights and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Tourist-friendly tickets were also well down in our sample week. Combined “experience” tickets, which allow admission to the Emirates Aviation Experience at the Greenwich Peninsula terminal, were down from 5,292 sales to 4,099. Sales of tickets allowing travel on the cable car and Thames Clippers river buses were also down, from 539 in 2014 to 291 this year.

Sun 11th Mon 12th Tue 13th Wed 14th Thu 15th Fri 16th Sat 17th
North 3,154 960 890 1,029 1,150 1,095 3,479
South 3,817 1,211 1,218 1,520 1,526 1,466 4,149
TOTAL 6,971 2,171 2,108 2,549 2,676 2,561 7,628

Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL

Here’s how it compares with previous years:

Cable car usage 2012-15

So the cable car opened with a bang on 2012, slumped in 2013, rose slightly on the back of some touristy promotions in 2014, and has been lifted by night flights in 2015. What happens for 2016?

Not a lot, I imagine. We’ll have a new mayor who’ll be less beholden to mayor Johnson’s little projects. But the next mayor’s hands will be tied by the Emirates sponsorship contract signed by TfL in 2012 which, among other things, bans the next mayor from criticising that contract, and mandates a minimum level of service (which is why it opens up at 7am for a handful of punters – albeit a bigger handful than in the very early days.

TfL wanted the cable car because it wanted a river crossing that would bring in an income. Furthermore, it needs that income to pay off the £16m in taxpayers’ money that has gone into building it (plus £8m from the EU and £36m from Emirates). But it’s only made £1m in three years. The last TfL commissioner’s report states that usage will go up as the area around the cable car develops, and the cash will start rolling in.

But will it? At present, most development is going up on the Greenwich Peninsula – if you’ve moved there, would you want to pay a premium fare to go to the Royal Docks? (Would you go to the Royal Docks at all?) On the north side, development is around Canning Town station (notably the hideous London City Island) or at Royal Wharf to the east – too far from the cable car to be convenient.

It’s likely that it won’t be the next mayor’s call what to do with the cable car, but the one after – whoever is in charge in 2022, when the Emirates contract ends. By then, there might be some critical mass on both sides of the Thames, but will a premium-fare link be a help or a hindrance?

Another sponsorship deal could wipe out the loss, then the fares could be cut and it could just become part of the transport network. Or it could just be sold off as a tourist attraction.

That’s all a long way off, though. The more I find out about the cable car, the more questions seem to come up. Whoever wins in May, the Dangleway’s going to be an object of curiosity for some time yet.

More at Londonist. Thanks to Excel ninja Clare Griffiths for the graphs.

Bakerloo brush-off for Catford: Tube to Lewisham ‘set for 2030’

Waterloo Tube station
This has been kicking around for a few days, but as this website’s gong through a bit of an infrastructure phase, it’d be daft to ignore it – Transport for London’s commissioner has said the Bakerloo Line could be extended to Lewisham by 2030, running via the Old Kent Road and New Cross Gate. (See original London SE1 story and page 38 of the TfL commissioner’s report.)

But Mike Brown’s preferred plan is to build only a first phase to Lewisham – instead of extending the route over National Rail lines through Catford to Hayes.

Bakerloo Line proposals/ TfLIt’s mixed news for Lewisham Council’s campaign to bring the Tube to the borough, as while Lewisham itself – undergoing rapid redevelopment – would get a much-needed Underground link, its southern neighbour faces being stuck with inferior overground services, despite also being home to big regeneration schemes.

On first sight, it appears a remarkably short-sighted proposal. If you consider how congested North Greenwich is now, a Bakerloo terminal at Lewisham – attracting passengers from all points south and east – could make that look calm and peaceful.

Furthermore, the really big costs would be in tunnelling to Lewisham – converting the old Mid-Kent rail route through Ladywell, Catford Bridge, Lower Sydenham and out to Hayes would be relatively cheap.

(Readers with very long memories will remember we’ve been here before – the original 1965 Jubilee Line (then Fleet Line) proposals would have seen the line extended in phases to run to Hayes by 1980.)

But as mentioned last year, Bromley Council has long been unhappy about losing direct trains to the City from Hayes – even though the Bakerloo can shift far more people, and is likely to be at least as quick for suburban travellers than existing services.

If Bromley’s rather inexplicable opposition continues, it’ll also remove one of the key benefits of the scheme – freeing up extra National Rail routes through Lewisham after the Hayes line is transferred to the Underground.

Of course, this does open up the opportunity for others to belatedly come in – last year the Eltham Labour Party agreed a motion backing a Bakerloo extension along the Bexleyheath line, a slightly more sensible proposal than the DLR on stilts on top of the A2.

Lewisham Council studied a variety of different options in a report five years ago, but its findings were largely ignored this side of the border. More recently, Greenwich Council has lent its backing to a Lewisham extension. Local Tories are also supporting the idea.

Bakerloo campaigners will now look at persuading London’s next mayor to look afresh at the scheme so he/she opts to implement the whole extension, rather than just a link to Lewisham. But with TfL losing all its government grant from 2019, the future of the whole scheme isn’t fully guaranteed yet.

17 December update: TfL has now published its full report into the Bakerloo line extension, confirming the above – and indicating that a route through Catford has not so much been kicked into the long grass, but booted into the pond, but also opens up the possibility of a route through Eltham and Bexleyheath to Slade Green. “Planning and engineering work for options to Lewisham will be undertaken on the basis of avoiding preclusion of a future onwards extension including to Hayes and potential other locations such as towards Bexleyheath. This will include working with stakeholders to safeguard necessary delivery of the infrastructure that may be required.”