London River Services

Infobox Water transit
name = London River Services

logo_size =150

image_size = 250
locale = London, UK
waterway =River Thames
transit_type = Commuter boats, ferries and tourist/leisure services
began_operation = 1999
ended_operation =
system_length =
lines =
vessels =
terminals = 25 (8 managed by TfL)
ridership =
operator = Various boat companies
owner = Transport for London
website =

London River Services is an arm of Transport for London (TfL), which manages passenger transport on the River Thames in London, UK. They do not own or operate any boats but license the services of other operators. The services they regulate are a mixture of leisure-oriented tourist services and commuter services. [cite web
title=About London River Services
author=Transport for London

The River Thames is generally no more than 300m wide as it runs through central London, and is easily crossed by bridge or tunnel. River boat services in London therefore mostly travel east or west along the Thames rather than across it, and the only major cross-river ferry services are to be found further downstream where the river is wider.

London's river service network is not as extensive as those of Hong Kong or Sydney, but with recent investment in river public transport and the creation of London River Services, water transport in the British capital is experiencing a revival. More than 2,000 commuters a day now travel by river [ [ ThamesClippers: Surf the Thames!] ] which adds up to three million people per year, a figure that is set to increase with preparations for the 2012 Olympics and tourist traffic during the games.


Before the construction of London's bridges and the Underground, the River Thames had served as a major thoroughfare for centuries. Attempts to regulate the transport of passengers and goods began in 1197, when King Richard I sold the Crown's rights over the Thames to the Corporation of the City of London, which then attempted to license boats on the river. In 1510 Henry VIII granted a licence to watermen that gave exclusive rights to carry passengers on the river. [ [,,998562,00.html Making waves | Society | The Guardian] ] , and in 1555 an Act of Parliament set up the Company of Watermen and Lightermen to control traffic on the Thames.

For centuries the only bridge across the Thames was London Bridge. Crossing the river by wherry (small wooden rowing boat) was a common mode of transport. [cite web
url =
title = Wherry model
accessdate = 2008-05-13
author = London Transport Museum
date = 2008
work = Online Museum

The 19th Century

Passenger steamboats were introduced in 1815 and the use of the river as a means of public transport increased greatly. River services ran from Gravesend, Margate and Ramsgate via Greenwich and Woolwich into central London. By the mid-1850s about 15,000 people per day travelled to work on steamboat services – twice the number of passengers on the newly emerging railways. [cite web
url =
title = 19th century London - On the water
accessdate =2008-05-13
author = London Transport Museum
date = 2008
work = Online Museum
] With increased congestion on the river, collisions and other accidents became correspondingly more frequent, most notably with the Princess Alice disaster at Woolwich in 1878. [cite web
url =
title = 19th century London - River traffic declines
accessdate =2008-05-13
author = London Transport Museum
date = 2008
work = Online Museum

While the introduction of large steamboats and bridge construction had taken business from the Thames watermen, the growth of the railways took passengers away from the steamboat services and the use of the river for public transport began a steady decline. River service companies struggled financially, and in 1876 the five main boat companies merged to form the London Steamboat Company. The company ran a half-hourly service from Chelsea to Greenwich for eight years until it went bankrupt in 1884. Nevertheless, river services continued under different management into the next century. Many of the Thames paddle steamers around this time were built by the Thames Ironworks at Bow Creek. [cite |author=Stephen Croad |title=Liquid History - the Thames through Time|publisher=English Heritage|date=2003 ISBN 0713488344


The 20th Century

In 1905 the London County Council launched its own public river transport service to complement its new tram network, acquiring piers and investing in a large fleet of 30 paddle-steamers. [LCC steamers were supplied by a number of different shipbuilders: Thames Ironworks, the Glasgow shipbuilders Napier & Miller, J I Thornycroft of Southampton and Rennie of Greenwich - cite web
title=Paddle Steamer Resources - London County Council
] Frequent services operated from Hammersmith to Greenwich. The LCC river service was not a success; in the first year it ran up debts of £30,000. It was shut down in 1907 after only two years' service. [cite web
url =
title = A London County Council paddle steamboat 'The Rennie' at Lambeth Pier
accessdate =2008-05-13
author = Exploring 20th Century London
date = 2004
work = Exploring 20th Century London
] [cite web
url =
title = Paddle steamer "King Alfred", built 1905
accessdate =2008-05-13
author = London Transport Museum
date = 2005

Numerous proposals for "river bus" services were considered throughout the Twentieth Century, although the few that were realised were cancelled after a short time in service. [cite web
url ='t+go+down+the+river/
title = Ideas that don't go down the river
accessdate =2008-05-13
author = Patrick McGowan
date = 2000-10-12
work = Evening Standard
quote = One thing links every Thames transport scheme in nearly a century: failure.
] In 1940, a temporary wartime river bus service was introduced using commandeered pleasure cruisers to replace train and tram services which were disrupted by the bombing of the Blitz. [cite web
url =
title = A conductor selling tickets on a Thames river bus
accessdate =2008-05-13
author = Exploring 20th Century London
date = 1998
work = Exploring 20th Century London

With the move of the Port of London downstream in the 1960s, regular river transport was limited to a few sightseeing boats.

Revival of passenger services

In 1997 the then Secretary of State for Transport, John Prescott, launched Thames 2000, a £21-million project to regenerate the River Thames in time for the Millennium Celebrations and boost new passenger transport services on the Thames. [cite web
url =
title = Hansard
accessdate =2008-03-30
author =
date = 1998-04-08
work = Hansard, 8 Apr 1998 : Column 796
quote = We expect a million people to travel by boat from central London. There will be new piers and new river services and there will also be a certain number of park-and-ride facilities.
] The centrepiece of these celebrations was to be the Millennium Dome, but there was also a plan to provide a longer-term legacy of public transport boat services and piers on the river.

The Cross-River Partnership, a consortium of local authorities, private sector organisations and voluntary bodies, recommended the creation of a public body to co-ordinate and promote river services. This agency, provisionally titled the Thames Piers Agency, would integrate boat services into other modes of public transport, take control of Thames piers from the Port of London Authority, and commission the construction of new piers. cite web
title=About London River Services
author=Transport for London

The result was the formation in 1999 of London River Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Transport for London.

Ken Livingstone's "Transport Strategy for London" 2005 states that: "The safe use of the Thames for passenger and freight services should be developed. Passenger services will be encouraged, particularly services that relate to its cultural and architectural excellence and tourism. Use of London's other navigable waterways for freight, consistent with their roles for leisure use and as ecosystems, will be encouraged." [ [ Mayor of London - Transport Strategy - River] ]

LRS today

LRS is responsible for integrating river transport with the rest of the public transport network, such as the Tube and buses. It promotes boat services under the London River Services brand, issuing timetables and river maps.

LRS is also responsible for directly managing eight piers on the river, and has invested in LRS-branded signage and passenger information.

Following its launch the service was criticised for its lack of subsidy for private boat operators. [cite web
url =
title = Commuter service sold down the river
accessdate =2008-03-30
author = Robert Lea and Jonathan Prynn
date = 2003-02-12
work = Evening Standard
quote = Andy Griffiths, head of TfL's London River Services division, said that the question of subsidy for commuter river services has thus far been thrown out by TfL on a value-for-money basis. 'The capital cost of the craft and the crewing costs are just so vastly out of kilter with other modes of transport on cost-per-passenger basis,' he said. The view within TfL, Griffiths added, is simply that the Thames will just never be suitable as a mass transit market.
] LRS now supports the Thames Clipper commuter service financially and has increased the peak service frequency to a boat every 15 minutes.

London River Services is not responsible for maintaining the river itself; the Port of London Authority takes care of river traffic control, security, navigational safety (including buoys, beacons, bridge lights and channel surveys) [cite web
url =
title = About the PLA - Safety
accessdate = 2008-05-16
author = Port of London Authority
date = 2008
work = Official website
] , and the RNLI operates Thames lifeboat services.


The public presentation of London River Services is visually associated with existing TfL design standards, using identical graphic design elements to those used on London Underground publicity, signage and other elements, drawing on the design heritage of Harry Beck.

The London River Services brand is a sub-brand of TfL which uses the familiar Tube roundel, originally devised for London Underground and now established as the corporate branding for all TfL services. The River Services roundel is a dark blue bar (Pantone 072) on pale blue circle (Pantone 299).

Corporate signage, stationery and literature all use the New Johnston typeface in common with other TfL services. [cite web
url =
title = Design standards - River
accessdate =2008-05-14
author = Transport for London
date = 2008
work =

LRS publishes diagrammatic river maps in the tradition of Harry Beck's iconic Tube map. Tube maps published by TfL since 2000 denote river interchange stations with a boat symbol.


The service patterns advertised by TfL can vary according to season. They are divided into three main typescite web | url = |title = River Timetable | publisher = Transport for London | accessdate = June 12 | accessyear = 2007] :

Commuter services

These river services run to a timetable through the day with more frequent services during peak rush hour times. Most services run seven days a week, although some do not operate at weekends. Many operators offer discounted fares to Travelcard holders. Oyster card pay-as-you-go is not valid on any of these services. The main lines of operation are::* Embankment - Woolwich:* Putney - Chelsea Harbour - Cadogan - Embankment - Blackfriars

The catamaran-hulled vessels have on-board coffee bars, airline-style seating, are wheelchair-accessible and have bicycle racks.

Ferry services

In central London, the River Thames is narrow enough to allow it to be crossed by many bridges; further downstream however, the river widens and there are fewer bridge crossings. Two ferry services are still in operation:
* The Canary Wharf - Rotherhithe Ferry (also called the Hilton Docklands - Canary Wharf Shuttle) operates between Canary Wharf Pier and Hilton Docklands Nelson Dock Pier at the Hilton Hotel in Rotherhithe. Boats operate roughly every 10 minutes, and can be used both by guests of the hotel as well as by passengers not staying at the hotel.
* The Woolwich Ferry is a free ferry service for vehicles and foot passengers, operated by the London Borough of Greenwich. It connects Woolwich and North Woolwich, and is close to King George V DLR station. For vehicles, the service links the London ring roads, the North and South Circular roads, at their eastern ends.

Two other ferry services operate upstream in west London: Hammerton's Ferry and the Hampton Ferry. These services are independent of London River Services as they do not serve LRS-managed piers.

Leisure services

Leisure boats are aimed mainly at the tourist market; as they do not usually provide rush hour services, they are not normally suitable for commuting. Some boat companies run regular scheduled services, others may run twice daily, only on certain days of the week, or only during certain months of the year. Boats may also be chartered for private hire. Destinations are often tourist attractions such as the Tate Galleries or Hampton Court Palace. During the summer, the Scottish paddle-steamer PS Waverley operates tourist services on the Thames.:* Bankside - Waterloo - Millbank (Tate to Tate):* London Eye River Cruise:* Multilingual Circular Cruise:* Greenwich Sunday Evening Sightseeing Cruise:* MV Balmoral and Paddle Steamer Waverley Cruises from Tower Pier:* Richmond - Kingston - Hampton Court:* Tilbury/Gravesend - Greenwich:* Westminster - Kew - Richmond - Hampton Court:* Westminster - St Katharine's Hop-on, Hop-off circular service:* Westminster - Waterloo - Tower - Greenwich:* Westminster - Greenwich - Barrier Gardens


Scheduled tourist and commuter services on the river are operated by a number of private companies, including:


Unlike the underground and bus networks, boat operators have their own separate ticketing arrangements and charge separate fares which are generally higher than corresponding journeys by tube or bus. Travelcards and Oystercards are not valid, although most boat operators offer discounts to card holders, as well as to freedom pass holders and students. The only exception is the Woolwich Ferry, which is free of charge.

Ticket sales at piers are managed independently by the operators, and tickets are sold at separate kiosks with no facility for cross-ticketing. Many piers have a line of several sales desks, each owned by a different boat firm. Single tickets can often be bought on board the boat, but this is down to individual operator arrangements.

Some operators offer their own season tickets and carnets of single tickets. Thames Clipper, for example, offer a one-day Roamer ticket which allows multiple journeys within off-peak hours; Roamer tickets cease to be valid at 5:00pm on weekdays, however.


External links

* [ London River Services Website]
* [ Collection of Google Earth locations of London River Services Piers] (Requires Google Earth) from the Google Earth Community forum.
* [ Summary of Thames steamer services] - historical information on former steamboat companies of London (Tramscape)

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