By BBC local government reporter Jessie Mathewson
Transport bosses have decided to grab back control of a vital free Thames crossing used by thousands of commuters every day.
Transport for London (TfL) will takeover the Woolwich Ferry, after “unacceptable” delays over the past year.
The free river crossing, currently run by Scottish contractor Briggs Marine on behalf of TfL, carries an estimated two million passengers across the Thames each year.
But since the arrival of new boats in February last year there have been serious disruptions to the service.
In the six months from February there were more than 600 hours of delays – equivalent to more than 26 full days’ service lost.
This compares to just two days’ disruption in the previous six months.
Sadiq Khan today said he “shares passengers’ frustration at the unacceptable closures they have faced over the past year”.
He said: “The Woolwich Ferry is an important part of London’s transport network.
“I am delighted that TfL is set to take over the contract – bringing a renewed focus on Londoners’ needs including better reliability and customer service.”
The Mayor admitted in November that he had “dropped the ball” on the ferry.
TfL spent £20 million on two new boats, built by Polish shipyard Remontowa.
But there were problems with generators that powered the boats, and with the magnetic docking system by Dutch manufacturer Mampaey.
The service also faced disruption as ferry workers downed tools in an ongoing pay dispute with the contractor.
Two more days of strikes are planned for 28 February and 13 March – but Unite now says it could suspend the walkouts.
The union’s regional officer, Only Kasab, said: “We are prepared to suspend these two strikes if TfL engages directly with us to resolve these outstanding issues.
“We are keen to engage constructively with TfL management so that the Woolwich Ferry can be operated in a fashion that truly benefits the users and the workforce.”
The ferry contract with Briggs expires at the end of next month, but TfL will extend its work with the contractor for up to a year while it moves the service in house.
A spokesperson for Briggs Marine said: “We welcome TfL’s extension to its current operating contract.
“The company looks forward to continuing close co-operation to ensure safe and effective transition of the operation to TfL.”
London Assembly Member, Len Duvall AM, said: “I welcome this announcement, and this should bring some much-needed stability back to the service.
“After local people have been let down by consistent closures and disruption over the last year, the decision to put the Woolwich Ferry in the hands of TfL should lead to a renewed focus being placed upon improving customer service standards and reliability.”
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