Thames Clippers sees London Docklands as bright prospect

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Thames Clippers has unveiled a new commercial partner, a new boat and new plans to accommodate thousands of extra passengers a year.

Credit card firm MBNA has come on board as a commercial partner meaning a new livery and technology for the existing fleet and the arrival of a cutting edge "fast craft" next year.

The river bus service also confirmed to The Wharf this week that it is actively pursuing expansion further into the Docklands.

With billions of pounds being poured into developments such as Silvertown Quays bringing tens of thousands of new residents and commuters, the Royal Docks has the potential to become a major transport hub.

A spokeswoman said: "Yes, Thames Clippers is looking to expand the network eastwards. We can't announce any new stops at present but we are in active discussions with a range of developers.

"As new development schemes open up, Thames Clippers wants to be there to meet the new passenger demand."

Sean Collins, co-founder of the service, which began from an east London base 15 years ago, said: "Construction starts on this [new] vessel next month for delivery in early 2015 providing additional capacity of 150 passengers per vessel, approximately 300,000 passengers a year.

"The design and development of our new fast craft gives us a commitment to deliver the safest, most technically advanced and efficient vessel of its kind worldwide. The increase in capacity in 2015 will also see further service development planned for 2016."

The Putney to Blackfriars service has proved popular, now requiring three boats, so the new vessel will help meet growing demand for river travel.

The Mayor's River Action Plan, unveiled last year, set a target of 12million passengers by 2020. The current figure is around 7million.

The action plan also highlighted potential pier sites at Convoys Wharf, Enderby Wharf, Wood Wharf, North Greenwich West, Silvertown, Gallions Reach and Barking. In addition, the plan sought a smoother customer experience to make the river a viable alternative to road.

The spokeswoman told The Wharf: "Thames Clippers will already be introducing Oyster touch in/touch out technology to the fleet this year. We'll be working with MBNA to bring contactless payment technology on board at the earliest possible date, as they are the leaders in this field.

"MBNA plan to launch a payment app in future and this can be integrated into the existing Thames Clippers smartphone app too bringing further benefits to customers."

Michael Donald, chief commercial officer MBNA, said: "It's incredible to think that 40 years ago when I was growing up in London, the Thames was one of the most neglected assets and today it's one of the world's most iconic waterways carrying the city's most valuable assets - commuters and visitors with the Thames Clippers pulling 70% of that capacity."

Sean Collins and his then business partner Alan Wood began the river bus service in 1999 following groundwork laid down by Canary Wharf Group and P&O in the late 80s.

In 15 years, the fleet has gone from one boat to 13 (soon 14). In the first year it took 21,000 passengers and rose to 3.3million last year, 28.5million journeys in all.

In 2006, Philip Anschutz, owner of The O2, became a majority shareholder and on the back of the deal, Thames Clippers were able to buy six catamarans, with the aim of making travel to the Greenwich venue easier.

Images: An artist's impression of the new craft, above, and, below, the Clippers with the new sponsorship livery

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