Category: london

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…

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.

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.”

City Hall’s new website reveals an alternative map of London

Alternative Tube maps are objects of fascination for many – but now the mayor’s office has got in on the act with an alternative map of London itself.

GLA website

The new Greater London Authority website features a map that invites you to “find out what we’re doing where you live and work”. You’re invited to select a borough from a dropdown, then you’re presented with some blurb about that borough and a map of neighbourhoods.

GLA website

So here’s Greenwich… with a photo of a building site. And a blurb that’s rather similar to the Royal Borough of Greenwich Wikipedia entry.

GLA website

And here’s the map. Charlton seems to encroach a bit far west and Hither Green seems to be making a bid to escape the borough of Lewisham, where it wholly belongs. But hold on… what’s that in the top right-hand corner where Thamesmead should be? Creekmouth? Wrong side of the Thames…

GLA website

And that’s not Erith and Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce. (Thanks to Teresa herself for identifying the photo as being of the Conservative MP for Twickenham, Tania Mathias.)

GLA website

Let’s switch over to Lewisham, where the blurb also seems to have been lifted from Wikipedia.

GLA website

Where’s Catford gone? It appears to have been almost wholly replaced by Ladywell (yet is being represented by Catford South’s councillorsone of them isn’t impressed).

GLA website

Here’s Bexley. Who says they live in “Blackfen Lamorbey”? (Blackfen & Lamorbey is a Bexley Council ward covering Blackfen and the western end of Sidcup.)

GLA website

Here’s Bromley, where Chislehurst has vanished. Horns Green, a hamlet on the Kent border consisting of a few houses, gets an entry. And what’s “Woodlands?”.

GLA website

Tower Hamlets. Poplar Riverside? (It’s a development zone.)

GLA website

Over in Camden, Camden Town and Kentish Town have been swallowed up by an expanding Gospel Oak.

GLA website

Here’s my favourite – someone clearly stuck Ewell in before realising it’s actually in Surrey, not in Sutton, and so nothing to do with the mayor.

What’s happened here, then? It looks like an odd mix of reality combined with Wikipedia searching, council wards and the wishful thinking of developers and estate agents.

It must have been a good idea at the time to try to map London’s hundreds of neighbourhoods, and present some interesting data to go with them – but it’s actually harder than you think.

Tom “Boris Watch” Barry: An appreciation

I’m sad to report the death of Tom Barry, the co-author of Boris Watch, a site I know many 853 readers will be familiar with.

Tom also chronicled the ups and downs (well, mostly downs) of the cable car, and last year wrote a fantastic demolition of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme that may well come in handy if you’re looking to respond to the current consultation. He was a fantastic character and he’ll be missed by many people.

I’ve written a little bit about him and his Boris Watch work over at Medium.

Are Boris bikes finally coming to Greenwich? The mayor backs it…

London's new hire bikes feature the Dome - even though there are no terminals near North Greenwich

The Dome features on the new London Cycle Hire branding – but you can’t pick up a bike there


The prospect of London’s cycle hire scheme coming to Greenwich came a step closer this morning after mayor Boris Johnson backed a proposal to bring the scheme to the area.

While the ‘Boris bikes’ – formally Santander Cycles after a recent change in sponsor – are a regular sight in Greenwich, it is impossible to hire or dock a bike in the area.

Instead, visitors take bikes from stations close to Island Gardens and take the bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, or they cycle from docking stations closer to Tower Bridge.

The scheme has largely avoided south-east London – despite poor transport connections, particularly around Walworth, Camberwell and Bermondsey – pushing out instead to east London and more affluent parts of west and south-west London. But Greenwich’s status as a tourist destination could now help bring the scheme to the area.

Asked by Conservative Assembly member (and Tory mayoral hopeful) Andrew Boff if TfL would consider three to five stations in Greenwich, Johnson said he would back an expansion to Greenwich – with a larger number of terminals.

Presumably 45 terminals would be enough to fill the gap between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. The answer’s a surprise as TfL has appeared to have been prioritising filling in gaps in the existing area rather than expanding the service further.

Later, Boff gave credit to Greenwich Tory councillor Matt Clare – probably Woolwich Town Hall’s keenest cyclist – for coming up with the suggestion.

Boff also asked about a wider expansion towards New Cross and Lewisham, and suggested asking Network Rail for money as such a scheme would help mitigate the effect of the Thameslink works at London Bridge. We’ll find out a fuller answer to that in the coming weeks.

Could this actually happen, though? It’s likely to end up in the next mayor’s in-tray, and it’s worth noting that past expansions of the cycle hire scheme have required local boroughs to contribute £2 million each – are Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark up for that? The bikes are largely used by tourists and more affluent commuters – but that hasn’t stopped Greenwich, which has stepped up its cycling efforts in the past year, giving funding to Thames Clippers. Other boroughs may take different views.

The level of expansion is also worth considering. The hill separating Greenwich from Blackheath could be a natural barrier (although being hilly hasn’t stopped an identical bike hire scheme taking off in Montreal), but the mayor’s involvement in redevelopment schemes in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal could see even further expansion.

Santander’s new branding includes the Millennium Dome, even though it’s impossible to hire or dock a bike there. Incidentally, Green Assembly member Darren Johnson has asked TfL to investigate a walking and cycling connection from the peninsula to Canary Wharf – a connection that would make the extension of the hire scheme to the peninsula a no-brainer.

If the hire scheme is extended, private hire operators could lose out for the visitor market – tourists can hire less cumbersome bikes from Greenwich’s Flightcentre for £4/hr, but recent changes to the hire scheme now mean Boris bikes match that price.

An expansion to Greenwich is by no means a certainty, but it’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead.

Tower Hamlets mayoral scandal: Consequences south of the river?

Tower Hamlets Council hoarding
It’s an east London matter, but last week’s news that Tower Hamlets’ elected mayor Lutfur Rahman had been booted out of office by an election court after being found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices during an election could have consequences south of the river too.

The particular circumstances of Tower Hamlets are unusual. Elsewhere, the system of having an elected mayor has worked well, with Sir Steve Bullock a popular and respected figure in Lewisham. But Lutfur Rahman turned his office into a personality cult, even sticking his face on humdrum signs in the borough.

A fresh election will be held next month. Labour’s John Biggs, the current London Assembly member for City & East and a former Tower Hamlets council leader, will be hoping to take charge of the authority once again.

Tower Hamlets returning to Labour would have significant consequences for Greenwich and Lewisham, as Biggs – like Greenwich’s Denise Hyland and Newham’s Robin Wales – is one of that generation of London Labour politicians that still believes building new roads can bring prosperity.

He’s been a fervent advocate for the Silvertown Tunnel – believing it would relieve congestion in the borough (although as it’s aimed at Canary Wharf and the City, it’d do nothing to relieve the southbound snarl-ups on the A12).

By contrast, under Rahman, Tower Hamlets has been inconsistent on the issue – opposing it in 2012, cautiously welcoming it in 2014. Just as yesterday’s Supreme Court verdict on air pollution will make it easier for campaigners to challenge the tunnel, a Biggs victory in Tower Hamlets could increase certain local politicians’ resolve to continue with this dubious venture.

Indeed, it’s possible we’ll see a more united front between the riverside boroughs on the huge redevelopments and other infrastructure projects across the area – relations between Tower Hamlets and Greenwich on planning issues haven’t been healthy in recent years, most recently with Isle of Dogs residents feeling left out on discussions over plans to expand the long-delayed cruise liner terminal (more on this to come). The winner out of all this could well be Newham’s muscular mayor, Sir Robin Wales, who recently hosted a meeting of east London boroughs (and Greenwich) to discuss devolving responsibilities from central government.

Of course, this is speculation – intra-borough jealousies don’t depend on them being run by rival parties, as anyone who’s dealt with Greenwich and Lewisham will know. But heads could well be banged together soon, especially with Labour currently poised to take the London mayoralty next year.

East End Life, 27 April 2015

The other consequence to the Tower Hamlets ruling concerns Greenwich Time. Tower Hamlets is England’s only other council to publish a weekly newspaper – one which the local Labour party has consistently criticised for bias.

The two government commissioners recently sent into Tower Hamlets (yesterday joined by two more) have kept East End Life going – something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Denise Hyland – using Press Association copy to report on the election court case. I wonder how Greenwich Time would have dealt with a similar case here.

Whether the next government will implement Eric Pickles’ laws banning “town hall Pravdas” is something we’ll find out in weeks to come – the election has thrown Pickles’ fight with Greenwich into the long grass.

But a new administration in Tower Hamlets may well scrap East End Life as a symbol of reform – or it may well try to find some new solution. All of which could impact on Greenwich’s battle to keep its own weekly paper going.

Again, this is all speculation – two elections mean things are very much up in the air, and after all, this is Tower Hamlets politics.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on events across the water in the next few weeks – the excellent Trial By Jeory and Love Wapping will keep you up to date on what’s happening.