Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Woolwich Ferry service deteriorates under Serco

Anyone using the Woolwich Ferry within the last year will have noticed a severe deterioration in the service.

The route which Boris Johnson transferred to Serco last year, has run with just two or even one boat for much of the year.

So poorly operated has it been that at one point Serco closed the entire crossing due to no seaworthy boats being available.

The reasons for this were revealed in full farcical detail today:

Writing in response to a question from one local Assembly Member, Boris explains that:

"During 2009, all three ferry boats – which are now 45 years old - had to undergo their 5 yearly out-of-water surveys in order to certify their use for the next 5 years. This work is undertaken in Hull where the maintenance facility is located."

Okay, so the boats had to be surveyed. Why did it take so long?

"When the first boat returned from its survey, it developed a problem with one of its propulsion units. Unfortunately this left a one boat service as the second ferry was already on its way to Hull. At this point it was decided to extend the scope of the survey on the remaining two boats, to include an overhaul of the propulsion units, given the boats’ age. The first ferry boat was subsequently fixed in Woolwich.

It goes on:

Shortly after the second boat returned, one of its propulsion units developed an oil leak. Despite the experience of the boatyard’s staff, who carried out the overhaul, and an engineer from the manufacturer, the leak proved very difficult to trace and rectify. This defect occurred twice and resulted in a combined loss of service of 33 days...

And on:

"More recently, one of the ferry engines suffered a broken governor spring. Then, on 5 December, another ferry struck a piece of floating debris. This resulted in serious damage to one of the propulsion units and the unit is being exchanged for an overhauled one. As the third ferry was in Hull at the time, consequently the Woolwich Ferry service had to be suspended until later that day.

What a shambles.

It is anticipated that once the third out-of-water survey is completed at the end of the year and the ferry is delivered back to Woolwich, then the reliability of the service will significantly improve."

Earlier this year Boris awarded operation of his flagship bike hire scheme to Serco.

Hopefully their level of service will "significantly improve" quite soon.


Anonymous said...

How does Serco keep on getting all of these contracts? A few backroom sweeteners perhaps?

Anonymous said...

"How does Serco keep on getting all of these contracts?"

There are a limited number of companies that have developed the skills necessary for getting contracts for public services. They don't necessarily have the skills to run the service; they buy those in later. They have however developed the skills in lobbying for contracts, ticking all the right boxes, managing the various risks (such as legal ones). There are a limited number of companies who have developed these skills, so they divide up the contracts between them. Even if a company makes a mess of something, there are only two or three alternatives (and they've usually made a mess of something as well).


John B said...

I don't see any signs of poor operation by Serco in the responses above - lots of signs of 'having old kit' and lots of signs of 'bad luck', but struggling to work out LB Greenwich would have avoided any of them...

(obviously, that doesn't absolve Serco of legal responsibility - it'll rightly be paying penalties to TfL for failing to deliver the contracted service. Which is better than if London taxpayers were being penalised)

Mark said...

I'd have to agree with John on this one. Serco are responsible for the DLR (complete with lots of relatively new equipment) and most would agree that it runs very well.

Taking over a couple of old ships which seem to have been poorly maintained isn't easy. Obviously at the end of the day, they are still responsible for the issues, but I do struggle to see how any other operator would have avoided all of this.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Bugger the ferries!

Merry Christmas to you!

AdamB said...

Merry Christmas everyone.

Anonymous said...

Woolwich ferry's 45 years old ?,How much money is being spent a few miles up the road
in Stratford on the much vaunted Olympics.
Thankfully I do not have to use the service but someone need's to think
about a new re-placement for these
craft,Boris where are you ?.