The terrible Thames Deckway floating cycle path now has its own crowdfunding campaign

Image: River Cycleway Consortium.

Remember the Thames Deckway? Last year, it was just the latest in a string of batty proposals to improve life for cyclists in London. This one would have made them cycle along a floating deck for eight miles between Battersea and Canary Wharf, and thereby got them out of the way of all those nasty cars. 

At the time, we laid out the reasons it wasn't exactly the best plan we'd ever heard: it would cost around £600m, parallel existing or soon-to-exist routes, and might get hit by passing boats, to name a few. Yes, there were good points, like the plan to collect tidal, solar and wind power along the deckway – but overall, we concluded that this was maybe just a marketing ploy by consultants Arup and the architect and artist behind the scheme. 

No such luck. This month, the River Cycleway Consortium launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

At first, we were surprised to see it only aimed to raise a £175,000: perhaps they found a way to build the deckway for a far less exorbitant sum than they'd originally thought? On closer inspection, though, it became clear that the campaign is only raising enough cash to conduct a viability study on the project.

Then, armed with the study, the consortium plans to raise the £600m required to actually build the thing from private investors. They don't plan to seek any public investment, and would pay back the initial investment through the £1.50 charge cyclists would pay for every trip alon the Deckway. From the Indiegogo campaign page

Putting together projections, planning and price will reinforce the business and financial case for the project as the company prepares to go after major investors....   

The need for public funding is not presently envisaged. Initially we are seeking to realise this project as a high impact social and environmental enterprise. ​

Those who donate will be rewarded with passes to access the deckway for up to a year, plus cool cycling accessories like bags, a "customised Thames Deckway cycling hat", and something called a "reflective slap band". 

The campaign page also includes a projected timeline for the project:

As you can see, the consortium would plan to open the deckway for service by 2023 after raising around £6.175m worth of donations and investment in total. Best of luck to them. 


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.