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Making Deliveries via the Thames

Barges and boats instead of vans and lorries in the heart of London?

Aerial view of the Thames winding its way through London

Most of the time, the stretch of the Thames that wends its way through central London is largely deserted, save for the odd river bus or barge moving in with the tide, carrying empty containers to be filled with rubbish. It’s a far cry from the glory days of the 19th and 20th centuries, when ships moored at the city’s Royal Docks, once the largest in the world.

In the post-war years, new container vessels became too big for London’s Victorian-era docks. Deliveries moved east; the city’s last dock closed in 1981. It is now generally cheaper to transport goods to their final destination by road than by river. Cheaper, but not greener. As firms seek to cut emissions, some wonder if the Thames might be an answer.

The River Thames has enormous, untapped potential for handling light freight, says a new report. Realising the opportunities it presents could deliver new jobs, ease congestion and air pollution, plus help keep the nation on track to net zero. Assessing its operational and financial viability, the new report finds that handling just three percent of the 700 million parcels delivered in London annually could make river freight competitive with traditional road freight. A focus on large-scale light freight, suited to deliveries of food, beverages and retail goods, would work best.

The report will now help inform development of the case for investment, plus endeavour to win policy support at all levels of government. The study will be discussed by operators, logistics companies and key stakeholders seeking to make light freight on the Thames a reality in the coming years - helping make London cleaner and less congested.


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