Saturday 8th August 2020
Thames Clippers’ six year partnership with credit card company MBNA came to an end on Monday when the naming rights of the company’s twenty boats was taken over by Uber, a company that’s no stranger to transport in the Capital.
Unsurprisingly details of the deal are not public but Uber gets its name plastered on the sides of the Thames Clipper fleet as well as at the 23 piers between Putney and Woolwich which will all be getting a brand makeover in the coming months to reflect the new relationship.
You can also now buy the full ticket range valid on Thames Clippers’ boat services through the Uber app, but as I found today, you have to know what you’re doing lest a car turns up to take you instead of a Uber Boat.
Thames Clippers began in 1999, established by co-founder Sean Collins along with partner Alan Woods. They sold out to the American Anschutz Entertainment Group (owners of the O2) in 2006 but are still involved in running the business. The Group subsequently upgraded the service into a much higher profile hop-on-hop-off operation for tourists as well as commuter journeys stretching from Putney through to Woolwich.
Six new catamarans were introduced in 2007 with four more joining the fleet in 2015 and 2017.
TfL became involved and brought the services under their umbrella with a pale blue ‘RIVER’ roundel and in 2009 Oyster pay-as-you-go was accepted on the service.
Pre Covid the number of journeys on various routes had grown to a substantial operation, but a special timetable is now operating comprising a weekday half hourly service between North Greenwich and the London Eye as well as a half hourly service between Bankside and Battersea Power Station both supplemented by additional peak hour journeys extended to Woolwich Royal Arsenal in the east and Putney in the west.
At weekends there’s a regular half hourly service between Woolwich and Battersea Power Station between 09:30 and 20:24.
As I found out on my journeys today, it’s a slick operation – the boats don’t mess about as they approach the pier stops, the staff soon have it tied up to the mooring, passengers off and on, the ropes released and the boat’s on its way again, mostly in little more than a minute depending on the numbers travelling.
If no-one is waiting and there’s no-one to get off, the boat continues without stopping – a sort of unoffical request stop.
On board the boats’ seating has been reduced to allow for social distancing and face coverings are mandated (other than for exceptions).
Passenger loadings today were very impressive, even though London is pretty much tourist empty compared to a normal August Saturday.
Although the new Uber Boat branding was only launched on Monday, it was impressive to see a few of the craft had already been re-branded, although one had only been half done I noticed.
The new ‘Uber Boat by thames clippers’ brand is a clever tie up for both companies. It works for Uber – extending their range of transport options available through their app and enhancing their ‘environmental’ credentials, as well as for Thames Clippers – linking their name with a well established company well known by both commuters and tourists.
The weekend western terminal at Battersea Power Station is proving a popular destination as this area continues its regeneration with an incredible number of flats being built both in the power station itself….
… and all the huge buildings surrounding it.
Back to my trips toiday, and as a committed bus and train user, I have to admit to never having used Uber before. I’ve never warmed to their employment practices so on principle haven’t wanted to associate with the company or give it the benefit of my custom so it was a novelty to download their app and see how it all works this morning.
You might be forgiven with all the media hype and headlines generated by Monday’s launch of the name ‘Uber Boat’ for thinking the app will let you call up a boat in the same way a car is summoned.
I arrived at London Bridge City Pier in good time this morning to try it all out.
I’d allowed the app to know my location, which was the default for the origin, and noted it confirmed this was indeed showing as London Bridge City Pier. I moved the arrow for my destination to Woolwich (Royal Arsenal) Pier and waited to see if a boat would show as heading my way.
But all I got was a range of car options – with the price for the journey varying depending on the luxuriousness of the car. I was a bit taken aback by this as I’d expected a Uber Boat to be on the list of options.
I clicked on one of the cars and before I knew it I was concerned I’d actually booked a ride, and there seemed no way of seeing whether that was the case. Although this wasn’t showing in “my rides” I wasn’t convinced, so rang the ‘support line’ and after the usual “we’re experiencing a high volume of calls” introductory message and the need for a few selection of various options I got through to a cheery lady who was obviously in another country, but she reassuringly told me if the ride wasn’t showing in my app, then it couldn’t have been booked and so I then took the opportunity of asking how could I book a Uber Boat? She had to go away to find out and after a while returned with the rather unhelpful reply that she couldn’t help me on that query and suggested I email my question into them. I don’t think they know about Uber Boat in the fall Centre.
In the meantime, I’d discovered the menu tab which included an option called ‘Boat tickets’ and sure enough once I’d changed the default location to London…
….brought up all the options to buy from the range of tickets which Thames Clippers offer, including discounted rates for TfL Travelcard holders.
I bought a ‘Daily Hop On/Off River Roamer’ at the reduced rate of £13.30 (full price £19.90) as I had a Travelcard and interestingly throughout the day was never asked to show my Travelcard. In fact it’s not easy to see on the screen the ‘ticket’ purchased is at a reduced rate.
Even though it’s a day ticket I had to enter an origin and destination which was of course irrelevant to my ticket, so the process is a bit clunky.
You get a QR code as a ‘ticket’ but there’s nowhere to scan it, and you just show it to one of the boat attendants as you board.
Other passengers tap Oyster cards on readers which are located at every pier as they board (and alight, for PAYG) or buy tickets from a machine on the piers.
So, what’s the benefit of Uber Boat?
Nothing at all. It’s just a branding tie up, and an ability to buy a ticket through another app – in addition to Thames Clippers’ own app. It’s the same fixed timetable that operates. There’s no guarantee of a ride. There’s nothing.
Importantly, there’s no personalised Uber Boat going to come along and whisk you to your chosen destination.
Thames Clippers do offer an interesting alternative to using the Underground or the bus. TfL’s new app called Go, also launched this week, gives it as a ‘fastest option’ when it is, but, of course, it comes at a price that’s much more expensive than land based travel / which TfL’s Go app doesn’t mention.
Journey times east of Wapping are quicker as the boats are able to glide along at quite a speed, whereas west of Wapping there’s a low speed limit on the River Thames which really does make it feel like you’re making slow progress.
But it’s a great way to see the sights from the River. And on a lovely day like today, a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
The Uber Boat branding is set to become more high profile as the makeover continues. I think it’s a bit too much, personally, and it’s a great shame the ‘River Bus’ brand is being lost. ‘River Bus’ does exactly what it says it does. Uber Boat doesn’t.
PS It turned out I had inadvertently ordered a Uber car to take me from London Bridge City Pier to Woolwich Royal Arsenal Pier as the app soon started to show me Ali was on his way to pick me up. Luckily I spotted an icon which enabled me to phone Ali and he explained how I could cancel the trip on the app. Which I did. No thanks to the Uber helpline which was particularly useless today. I’m now deleting the app. No further need for it.