Plan for coach service to take schoolchildren across the river while Hammersmith Bridge is closed is scrapped over driver safety

By Owen Sheppard, Local Democracy Reporter

Transport for London (TfL) has rejected the idea of having a coach service that could take schoolchildren from Richmond over the Thames while Hammersmith Bridge is closed.

Last week, Hammersmith and Fulham council published a statement saying it had asked the transport body to consider a “bespoke point-to-point coach system for schoolchildren”.

The council is also asking for more 533 and 378 buses to be laid on, after the Hammersmith Bridge Task Force announced that a school ferry service would not be ready until early 2021.

The council says “more than 1,000” schoolchildren from areas of Hammersmith and Richmond are facing far longer school runs, with some parents complaining of two-hour bus journeys.

But TfL is against the idea of hiring coaches that do not provide the same Covid protection as TfL buses, which have been given sealed drivers’ cabins.

Twenty-nine London bus drivers have died from coronavirus, and TfL and its contracted bus companies have come under fire for failures to protect their staff.

TfL also thinks a point-to-point coach would not be able to help schoolchildren who are geographically spread out around Richmond and Chiswick.

It is also understood that, while TfL has increased the services of 533 and 378 buses, it is reluctant to increase them further.

Its records say that only one per cent of passengers on 533 and 378 buses do not manage to get on the first bus they try to board.

Despite this, Geoff Hobbs, TfL’s director of public transport planning, said: “We continue to monitor the situation and will review the existing bus network in the area if necessary.”

Councillor Stephen Cowan, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, and a member of the bridge task force, said he was worried for children’s safety as the nights draw in.

He said: “As the days shorten, some parents will be understandably concerned about the extended journeys their children are having to take.

“Their concern, which I share, only serves to underline just how urgent it is that financial solutions to the current closure are forthcoming as soon as possible.

“The bridge can be fixed and work could start immediately. Securing the necessary funds to pay for this major infrastructure project is, unfortunately, less straightforward.”

Meanwhile, the Government has yet to confirm whether it will pay for the full restoration of Hammersmith Bridge, estimated to cost £141 million.

But after last week’s task force meeting on October 8, Mr Cowan said: “It will cost £46 million to stabilise it, which will make it safe for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic. That work can be completed within nine months.”

Pictured top: Hammersmith Bridge is closed


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