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Thames Vision 2035: Passenger transport growth study, London

Achieving safe and sustainable growth on one of the world’s most iconic rivers

The River Thames is central to shaping communities and has underpinned economies throughout London for over 2,000 years. Despite recent investments to improve the river’s operations through upgrades to boats and piers, many of its river facilities are still under strain and reaching capacity during peak periods.  

The Port of London Authority (PLA) and Transport for London (TfL) commissioned Arup and Populus to identify options to achieve safe and sustainable growth in relation to passenger journeys on the Thames in London, Kent and Essex. The study responds to the Thames Vision 2035, which sets out an ambitious target to double the number of people travelling by river to 20 million trips every year.  

Arup’s multidisciplinary team of economists, transport planners and maritime engineers worked collaboratively to analyse whether this was an achievable target. We identified four future growth scenarios to support the ambition of accommodating an increasing number of passengers safely. These scenarios considered different levels of intervention, from organic growth to new routes, new piers and better integration with existing transport modes. Read the full report here. 

Project Summary

20 million passengers by 2035

50%potential reduction in emissions

Supporting the vision

Identifying how current users experience this river transport was an important consideration from the outset to provide a robust assessment of demand and supply. Existing data was fragmented, which required new reliable data to be collected. Public surveys were conducted to build a holistic picture around current user experiences as well as barriers for those who choose not use river buses. We coupled this with an economic demand analysis and assessed the practical implications for achieving growth. This all-encompassing approach allowed us to deliver an action plan and set of recommendations that focused on addressing the fundamentals right to drive the most effective growth safely and sustainably.

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In assessing passenger growth scenarios, we have considered the wider current and future purpose of the river Thames.

Overcoming existing barriers

Public awareness of river bus services was limited and perceptions of high prices also proved to be a barrier. By better integrating river boat services into TfL’s competitive pricing systems and integrated timetable planners so that prices are capped and suitably feature in journey plans apps will help improve accessibility and affordability for commuters and tourists. The development of a real-time operations centre will enable stronger real-time timetabling and traffic control to ensure river buses are a valid and reliable mode of transport for all passengers.

A strategy to improve is required to attract demand from commuters and tourists alike. We suggested creating a ‘River Task Force’ as a step in the right direction to begin putting these measures in place.

A new river experience

As part of this study, we proposed having the city re-orientate itself around the River Thames. Our ideas incorporated the opening of six new piers to move people into central London, moving other transport modes, such as bus stops, closer to the river to make river transport a natural part of the user journey. New art installations on river journeys have also been proposed to create a vibrant experience for passengers. This integrated vision promotes a culture of innovation to bring new markets to the Thames that will excited users now and in many years to come.

Exploring greener fuel services

To achieve PLA’s environmental targets and net zero agenda, we explored the impact of alternative fuel services such hydrogen and electric for greener vessels. Switching to alternative fuels options would lower carbon offset. Increasing capacity sustainably could also be achieved by having larger boats running on alternative fuels to reduce emissions per passenger. When coupled with the forthcoming PLA Net Zero strategy, and adoption of new tech by vessel owners, there is an opportunity for future emissions to be 50% lower than today, and for water quality, biodiversity and noise levels to improve.

Only a significant step-up in investment will lead to a doubling up in river demand by 2035. ”

Matthew Dillon Matthew Dillon Associate Director

Driving sustainable growth

A significant rise in passengers per annum by 2035 requires a step change from the business as usual ways of working. To deliver the Thames Vision 2035, the industry needs to re-focus on sustainable delivery, with clear leadership and governance. There is a huge opportunity for other regions globally to realise the potential of green recovery in river transport which can be achieved by a similar economic model to establish ways to make traveling on the river sustainable. Note that this work was undertaken prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, recommendations remain relevant as there is a case for action to be taken to support the sector.