The Woolwich Ferry was beset by strike action last year

Transport for London is to take over the operation of the Woolwich Ferry, after “unacceptable” delays over the past year.

The free river crossing, which carried an estimated two million passengers each year between Woolwich and North Woolwich, is currently run by the Scottish contractor Briggs Marine on behalf of TfL. It has been run by private companies since Greenwich Council gave up the service and handed it to TfL in 2008.

There have been serious disruptions to the service since new boats arrived at the beginning of last year. In the six months from February 2019 there were more than 600 hours of delays – equivalent to more than 26 full days’ service lost. This compares to just two days’ disruption in the previous six months.

London mayor Sadiq Khan today said he “shares passengers’ frustration at the unacceptable closures they have faced over the past year”.

He said: “The Woolwich Ferry is an important part of London’s transport network. I am delighted that TfL is set to take over the contract – bringing a renewed focus on Londoners’ needs including better reliability and customer service.”

The mayor admitted in November that he had “dropped the ball” on the ferry. TfL spent £20 million on two new boats, built by the Polish shipyard Remontowa. But there were problems with generators that powered the boats, and with the magnetic docking system by the Dutch manufacturer Mampaey.

Ferry users also faced disruption as ferry workers downed tools in an ongoing pay dispute with the contractor. Two more days of strikes are planned for 28 February and 13 March – but Unite now says it could suspend the walkouts.

The union’s regional officer, Onay Kasab, said: “We are prepared to suspend these two strikes if TfL engages directly with us to resolve these outstanding issues. We are keen to engage constructively with TfL management so that the Woolwich Ferry can be operated in a fashion that truly benefits the users and the workforce.” 

The ferry contract with Briggs expires at the end of next month, but TfL will extend its work with the contractor for up to a year while it moves the service in-house.

A spokesperson for Briggs Marine said: “We welcome TfL’s extension to its current operating contract.  The company looks forward to continuing close co-operation to ensure safe and effective transition of the operation to TfL.”

Len Duvall, the London Assembly member for Greenwich & Lewisham, said: “I welcome this announcement today, and this should bring some much-needed stability back to the service. After local people have been let down by consistent closures and disruption over the last year, the decision put the Woolwich Ferry in the hands of TfL should lead to a renewed focus being placed upon improving customer service standards and reliability.”

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Jessie Mathewson is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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