Parcel delivery barges in London and other major cities?

Parcel delivery barge

Image By Vladimir Menkov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Barges are already widely used for parcel delivery in Venice, Amsterdam and other cities with extensive canal networks and narrow, crowded roads (or none at all in the case of Venice). Moving road freight to river or canal is a key objective of many cities, so could parcels be part of that?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has shown support for more use of London’s waterways. Transport for London’s Water Freight Toolkit states, “Waterborne transport can be a cost-effective and efficient method of moving a range of goods and commodities. It is a sustainable and safe way of removing lorries from London’s roads, reducing emissions and taking advantage of an under-used resource.”

The river already carries 7 million tonnes of freight per year, making it the busiest inland waterway in the UK and saving 265,000 lorry movements a year. Transport for London (TfL) wants even more to go by river rather than road.

DHL has indicated that it might launch a river delivery service on the Thames and surrounding waterways in London in the coming year using barges. The vessels would act as mini hubs for final delivery around the metropolitan area.

A major challenge is getting things from land to water. Thames mooring prices are very high with riverside sites much sought after by property developers. In this context, in a 2018 consultation with the Port of London, Transport for London proposed reducing its ‘Protected Wharves’ capacity to 17.2 million tonnes of annual cargo capacity from 18.0 million tonnes, a drop of 3.5%. These protected docks account for a little under 50% of the cargo and freight that passes along the waterways of London, and their protection keeps them from being redeveloped into far more lucrative commercial and residential real estate.

The waterways in question aren’t just the Thames – London has a number of smaller, navigable waterways that could potentially be used for parcel delivery barges.

An August 2018 Telegraph article sheds some light on these. While aimed at the walking or tourist public, the article referred to waterways that could be used by parcel delivery barges that are used be leisure traffic today. The Isle of Dogs has several waterways to access Canary Wharf and surrounding areas. Regents Canal runs very close to the City and on to the Grand Union which in turn passes through a large part of the metropolitan area (and also Park Royal where several parcel depots are located).

Also, sections of London’s smaller rivers such as the Lea in the north-east Brent in the west and Wandle in the south-west are navigable and could potentially be used by barges or even smaller craft.

London Waterway map
London canal map