Got 2012 tickets to an event in the Olympic Park? How were you planning to arrive? Not by car, cars aren't welcome, leave your car elsewhere. Maybe by bus, or by train, or by bike, or on foot. Or perhaps you'd prefer to arrive by boat.
Well that sounds fun. Why risk getting crushed on the tube or jammed on the road when you can glide up an East London canal and arrive in guaranteed time. A fleet of 26 water-buses has been ordered, all brand new and specially designed. Each will be open-sided for maximum sightseeing potential, but with flip-down canvas if the weather's inclement. Each boat will hold 70 passengers, including wheelchair spaces and maybe even room for bikes. The waterbus stop at Three Mills is already complete, and pleasure cruises are planned to start soon. Then next summer there'll be a regular Olympic service from 6am to midnight, with passengers dropped off at Old Ford Lock very close to the western entrance to the Park. Sounds great. Except actually, maybe it doesn't.
» Limehouse Basin isn't a terribly convenient starting location. Whatever the Water Chariots website says, Limehouse isn't "near Tower Bridge". It's about a mile and a half away, not near to Central London at all. If you were seeking a convenient journey to the Games, you wouldn't start from here.
» Only one of the two waterbus routes runs every twenty minutes. There'll be three boats an hour from Limehouse to Old Ford Lock, yes. But there'll only be one boat an hour to/from Tottenham Hale, so it's a very long wait if you turn up on spec and the next boat's full.
» The Tottenham Hale waterbus drops you off 1km from the Olympic Park. Only the Limehouse waterbus drops you off beside an entrance to the Park. The Tottenham Hale waterbus stops short, leaving you to walk for fifteen minutes along the Eastway and across the A12 to reach the Northern Entrance.
» Canal boats are slow. I know that's part of their charm. You wouldn't want to whizz past scenic Walthamstow Marsh at breakneck speed. But the journey from Limehouse to the Park is scheduled to take 30 minutes, and from Tottenham Hale 45 minutes. In the latter case, adding in the walk at the end, you could be up to six times quicker taking public transport.
» The published timetable breaks the speed limit. To get from Limehouse to Old Ford Lock (2.8 miles) in 30 minutes requires travelling at nearly 6mph. But the speed limit on Britain's inland waterways is 4mph. How will that work, then?
» There are ridiculous boarding protocols. The Water Chariots website suggests that you "arrive at least 40 minutes before your sailing to allow time for ticket and security checks." Why on earth would that be necessary? This is a canal boat, not an international airport, for heaven's sake. Take the water bus from Limehouse and the security frisk takes longer than the journey. Indeed, add a 40 minute wait to a 30 minute ride and you'd be quicker making the journey on foot.
» You can't book tickets yet. The Water Chariots website invites you to Book Now! Except you can't, because the online booking system isn't ready yet. Never mind, apparently it's "currently undergoing final testing and we expect it to go live in June 2011". Soon, then.
» The view along the journey isn't great. I love the waterways of East London. ThreeMills is lovely, and the Marshes of Hackney and Walthamstow most endearing. But a mile and a half chugging along the Limehouse Cut, that's not anybody's idea of spectacle [photo][photo]. For a finer canal journey, try the Regent's Canal between Camden Town and Little Venice. A waterbusride here offers the Maida Tunnel, London Zoo's Snowdon Aviary and Camden Lock, all for under a tenner.
» A one-way Water Chariots journey costs £20. Twenty pounds? Ouch. If you choose to ride the water-bus to the Games, it could cost as much as your event ticket. For a three-mile journey that's more expensive than a taxi - for a family considerably more so. This isn't the cheap option, it's a tourist trap. There is a £40 "unlimited travel" option, but that's not great value when most people are only going to want to travel there-and-back.
» All Olympic ticketholders get free travel on London's trains, buses and tubes. Do you travel to the Games for nothing by public transport using your freebie paper travelcard? Or do you pay an extra £40 return to get there more slowly at water level? It's not going to be a difficult choice, is it?
I'd love to see a River Lea waterbus service thrive, I really would. But with such an ill-thought-out over-optimistic business model, I really can't see Water Chariots staying afloat.