TFL'S plan for a new "Greenwich Waterfront Transit" sounds like it should be rather good. A tram, perhaps? A river service of some kind? Surely a guided busway, at least?
Actually, I'm afraid, it's complete rubbish. Despite the name, intended to make it seem like something special, it is simply a normal bus service - using normal diesel buses - from North Greenwich Tube station, via Woolwich, to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood. It won't even give us any more trips - it will simply replace the existing 472 route, at precisely the same frequency.
There's no doubt that Woolwich and Thamesmead need new transport links. But the only new things this will bring are a short stretch - around half a mile - of bus-only road in Thamesmead and a little diversion away from the existing 472 route to serve the Royal Arsenal development at Woolwich. For the rest of its route, it will run on the same roads as the existing bus routes do now.
In fact, the only thing remotely special about the "Greenwich Waterfront Transit" is the price - an eye-watering £20 million for just over five miles, plus operating costs of around £1 million a year, making it probably the most expensive bus route in the history of the world.
Even one of the claimed benefits of the route, the Royal Arsenal diversion, is being fiercely resisted by some residents. The development's main thoroughfare, Number One Street, currently an attractive, pedestrianised boulevard leading down from the Arsenal's main gateway, past the Firepower museum and other heritage buildings, to the river and pier, will be ripped up and turned into part of the bus route.
Jamie Milton, one Royal Arsenal resident, has organised a campaign and a petition against the move: it and another petition currently have around 500 residents' signatures, a very substantial proportion of the development. "Number One Street is the only full-time pedestrianised area in Woolwich and is home to two listed buildings, the Royal Brass Foundry and the first-ever Royal Military Academy," he says. "We are understandably up in arms about this."
TfL says the route along Number One Street was chosen after an "extensive public consultation," three words to send a shiver down any spine. In fact, says Milton, the consultation, in 2005, attracted just 27 responses from the entire Royal Arsenal development (perhaps not surprising, since it was still being built at the time). Of those 27, just 11 supported the bus route going down Number One Street!
Even our local Labour MP, Nick Raynsford, not known for his opposition to costly vanity schemes (he's a fervent supporter of the Greenwich Park Olympics) can't see the point of this one.
"I supported the original transit scheme as it offered the prospect of a convenient and rapid transport system from Thamesmead and Woolwich to North Greenwich," he says. "However, as the scheme has been progressively watered down to what is now little more than a glorified 472 bus, its benefits have been seriously eroded. Bearing in mind the opposition of many residents in the Royal Arsenal to the current route through the Arsenal, I no longer consider it justifying the substantial costs involved."
It had been hoped that the GWT would be a candidate for Boris Johnson's bonfire of the vanity projects, his new transport strategy. Well, some other worthless Greenwich-area extravagances, such as the new £500 million Thames Gateway bridge, were laid to rest when the strategy was published last week. Later, unfunded phases of the GWT have also been canned.
But although there could still be scope for some route changes and cost cutting - no planning application has yet been submitted, and by now it should have been - it is looking like the first phase, the North Greenwich- Thamesmead - Abbey Wood route I describe, will go ahead.
And that's a shame, because the money that's being spent on annoying residents in the Arsenal could have paid for five or six new bus routes in places where they actually would be new, and where they actually are wanted.