London 2012 Games Canal Boat Service Folds: Water Chariots Investors Lose Out

Champagne Charlies? 

Picking up on a Guardian story from 11 September, the BBC reports that London 2012 canal boat passenger service Water Chariots is to go into administration after incurring £2.5m losses.

And a message on the firm’s website reads: “Due to events beyond our control and until further notice, we regret to announce that Water Chariots will not be taking any further bookings to travel.”

With London still basking in the Olympics afterglow the demise of Water Chariots has provoked more than a few “I told you so”s among those who’ve been monitoring the company’s progress.

Water Chariots was awarded an exclusive six-month contract to run passenger canal boat services to the Olympic Park in Stratford from Limehouse Basin and Tottenham Hale. With tickets originally priced at an eye-watering £95 — including “free” glass of champers — for adults and £50 for children, the service was swiftly dubbed “Champagne Chariots” by sceptical onlookers.

In July chief executive Bill Doughty told Loving Dalston that Water Chariots had spent £3 million on its fleet of 13 well-appointed, wheelchair-accessible barges and 17 small launches. In a statement announcing that OFLRS was being placed into administration, the firm blamed its “high fixed-cost base” for its failure.

This, despite the Canal and River Trust telling The Guardian that the company was handed the monopoly to run the service because it was deemed to have “presented a sound business plan that had significant legacy value”. Ooops.

Poor ticket sales led to Water Chariots slashing the ticket price to £20, but even that couldn’t attract enough passengers to keep the ailing service afloat. The last sailing day was 4 September, and the company admitted to the BBC that some staff have still not been paid.

Let’s not forget that before the Olympics there were plenty of people warning that the London transport system would buckle under the pressure, and so, on the face of it, a canal boat service seemed like a good idea. But really, who in their right minds thought that £95 for a 40- or 70-minute journey was a realistic price point?

Especially when Olympics ticket-holders were all given free zones 1–9 Travelcards?

From the get-go Water Chariots could not deliver on their promises. Would-be passengers were told they wouldn’t have to queue to get into the Olympic Park, and that the boats would be docking 70 metres from the Olympic Stadium entrance. A great selling point if it had actually been feasible.

In practice, tight security meant that the boats instead docked about a mile away and passengers had to disembark and walk the rest of the way.

There’s been no word yet on what the fallout will be for private company British Waterways Marinas Ltd (BWML), which was awarded a 15-year contract to use the moorings at Limehouse Basin. BWML financed the renovation of the Limehouse marina before its use by Water Chariots.

A BWML spokesman told The Guardian that “we can sell those moorings whether Water Chariots are on them or not. We were putting some investment into the site in any case.”

Follow me on Twitter: @TVClaw


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