Enormous potential in moving light freight on River Thames, new study finds

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Moving light freight on the River Thames has enormous potential for creating new jobs, easing congestion and air pollution, finds the latest report commissioned by the Thames Estuary Growth Board and Port of London Authority.

Enormous potential in moving light freight on River Thames, new study finds
Photo by lisafree54 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The River Thames has enormous, untapped potential for handling light freight, states the ‘Light Freight on the River Thames’ report. If this potential was fulfilled, it would deliver new jobs, ease congestion and air pollution.

Moving freight onto the river is a key part of the Thames Estuary Growth Board’s ‘Green Blue Workplan’, which describes practical steps to realise the huge potential of the Thames Estuary.

By driving a modal shift from road to the river, the board aims to draw in new investment opportunities, supporting its position as a strategic investment partner to Government, and driving levelling up across the Estuary,” explains the organisation.

This report finds that the River Thames can be better used for large-scale light freight, such as deliveries of parcels, food, beverages, and retail goods.

Handling just three per cent of the 700 million parcels delivered in London annually could make river freight competitive with traditional road freight.

The report set out the following recommendations:

  • establishing a coordinating body to facilitate river investments;
  • showing how operations at the key points – loading, unloading and last-mile – can work seamlessly and efficiently to attract anchor customers;
  • developing detailed options for pier development that minimise costs and maximise market access;
  • realising the social benefits of river freight through revenue support mechanisms and understanding of customer willingness to pay for environmentally friendly deliveries;
  • pushing for limited increases in road pricing to facilitate an enormous reduction in van traffic;
  • entering discussions with large, innovative online businesses that can become the potential anchor clients that will achieve the 20m parcel target;
  • supporting the development of proof-of-concept trials, including those currently underway.

Better and more effective usage of the River Thames would induce massive environmental and social benefits whilst also presenting an opportunity to push forward innovation through new marine technologies in green power such as hydrogen and electrical propulsion.

Light river freight is already showing signs of resurgence, with the drive of organisations such as the Port of London Authority (PLA) and the use of the river for parcel trade (by DHL for example) and hospital supplies.

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