Kings Ferry coach
The King’s Ferry will carry on with private hire and contract work (Photo: Lewis Smith via Creative Commons)

The Kings Ferry commuter coaches – a frequent sight for SE London commuters for decades – are running for the last time today, after being driven off the road by the coronavirus pandemic.

With Kent commuters staying at home, coach services through the Blackwall Tunnel are drying up as companies struggle to turn a profit on the routes.

The distinctive mustard-coloured Kings Ferry coaches, which had run since the early 1980s, were among the best-known, linking the Medway Towns and Maidstone with Canary Wharf and the City, with an intermediate stop at the Black Prince in Bexley.

Years of steep fare rises for slow train services plus the convenience of a guaranteed seat and a near-door-to-door service helped the coaches build up a huge and loyal customer base, and the company was bought by National Express in 2007.

But while The Kings Ferry tried to adapt to the post-pandemic working world by offering flexible travel tickets, the Gillingham-based company announced the end of its nine commuter routes last week, just days after the Westminster government told businesses to ensure their office staff could work from home.

Thank you Stanley. This decision was not taken lightly. Our services have been running for 40yrs, and is a major part of our history we’re having to say goodbye too. Upsetting for all the team here too.

— The Kings Ferry Commuter (@commuterupdate) December 16, 2021

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make and has not been taken lightly,” said Ian Fraser, National Express’s regional managing director, in a statement to passengers.

“The ongoing challenges created by Covid-19 have reduced demand to such an extent that means our services are not commercially viable and unlikely to become so in the near future.

“There are no current plans to reinstate the service, however, we will continue to monitor travel patterns and if circumstances change in the future we will look at ways to reintroduce our commuter services.”

The final Kings Ferry coaches will leave Blackfriars at 2pm. However, its contract and private hire services will continue.

The services would have been a beneficiary of the Silvertown Tunnel, which will provide a more straightforward route to Canary Wharf and include a bus and HGV lane when it opens in 2025.

Other coach firms are continuing to provide services to other parts of Kent, including Gravesend-based Redwing and Brookline, which runs from West Malling.

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