A Policy Exchange report calling for greater subsidy of the Thames river service was based on a wildly incorrect calculation.
The report At a Rate of Knots launched by the Mayor last month, claimed that river services "at present receive very little subsidy compared with other modes of transport"
It included the following table to justify an increase:
However, while it's true that the total subsidy remains relatively low, the subsidy per passenger is as much as four or five times the 14p claimed by Policy Exchange above.
Last week Labour Assembly Member Murad Qureshi asked the Mayor why an earlier TfL assessment put it at 69p per passenger.
Boris replied that whilst it changed from month to month, the most recent calculation for December put it at 56p, four times the 14p claimed in the report.
He suggested that Policy Exchange may have miscalculated by including non-subsidised journeys:
"TfL financially supports Thames Clippers’ Monday to Friday peak hour service between Woolwich Arsenal and the London Eye which operates under contract. The actual subsidy paid is calculated every four weeks. For example in December Thames Clippers were paid £33,978. 60,300 people travelled on the peak hour commuter service during these four weeks. This works out at 56p per passenger journey. This contract payment does not include the costs incurred by TfL to introduce Oyster Pay As You Go on Thames Clippers services in November 2009.
The remainder of the Thames Clippers’ services are operated under licence on a commercial basis. It is likely that the Policy Exchange figure has been arrived at by dividing the TfL contract payment over the whole of the Thames Clipper operation, i.e. both the supported and the commercial elements.
Murad Qureshi has called on the Mayor to be careful when taking Policy Exchange reports at face value:
“Bear in mind that Policy Exchange was the inspiration behind Boris’s plan to replace London’s bendy buses with a revamped Routemaster, a vanity project that will cost Londoners millions of pounds. Hopefully Boris will examine Policy Exchange’s river transport proposals more critically to make sure that he won’t be pouring more of our money into another expensive and impractical scheme.”
Other aspects of the report have also gone down badly. Responding to the proposal to scrap existing speed limits on the river, a spokesman for the Port of London Authority said:
"we don't impose speed limits because we feel like it - we do it only where we have to in order to maintain safety. It's precisely the same logic as making cars go slowly past schools - or any other safety related speed limit."
The PLA also spotted another blunder in the report. According to The Wharf newspaper:
"The PLA raised an eyebrow at Steve Norris' suggestion that its environmental responsibilities go to the Environment Agency or National Rivers Authority, not least because the latter was shut down in 1996.
A spokesman said: "It's important to have a good debate about the river. But bits of the report don't seem to have been thought through."
The report has received a mixed response in the press.
Simon Evans at the Independent labeled it "a dodgy dossier" and even a broadly positive editorial in the Wharf called it "light on detail" and "flawed."
However, the report did receive extremely glowing reviews in The Telegraph, the Evening Standard and local news site Greenwich.co.uk
Unfortunately these were all written by Andrew Gilligan. One of the six authors of the Policy Exchange report.
Business as usual?
Although welcoming the proposals in general, it now seems unlikely that Boris will do much beyond what he has already proposed.
Asked by The Wharf whether Boris would be implementing the report, a TfL spokesman said that:
"some of the recommendations in the Policy Exchange report would require substantial funding. Given the current constraints to the TfL budget it would be difficult to deliver all their recommendations in full."
I think that's a no.