Champagne Chariots sink in East End waterways

THE COMPANY that won a 15-year contract to provide luxury boats to take people to the Olympics has sunk after only several weeks.

Water Chariots (WC) promised a waterways service, with champagne-class rates of £95 for adults and £50 for children, from Limehouse or Tottenham to the Olympic Park at Stratford. The prices were hopelessly unrealistic and losses of more than £2.5 million have forced the company into administration.

The company admits that some of its 100 staff are yet to be paid. One, skipper Tim Duggan, told the BBC he was owed him more than £800. Suppliers also say they are out of pocket.

In July chief executive Bill Doughty told Loving Dalston that the WC fleet of 13 well-appointed barges and 17 small launches cost £3 million. The barges were fitted with lifts for wheelchair users and WC would employ about 50 disabled members of the Armed Forces

Bill Doughty, top, toasts the venture and, above, one of the luxurious Water Chariots barges

In its last public statement WC said: “The project failed due to materially lower-than-anticipated revenues and take-up for the service, set against a high fixed-cost base” — gibberish-speak for “We got our sums hopelessly wrong”.

Extraordinarily, neither the investors nor British Waterways, since July 2012 the Canal and River Trust, which awarded WC the contract in preference to three other companies, seemed to doubt, as Loving Dalston did, whether a “large investment and consequently high ticket prices make a viable business”.

An opportunity may now exist for an entrepreneur who can do at least simple sums to buy the boats and other items at a bargain rate. The canal trust said it hoped the Lee would flourish as a new centre for leisure boating in London but more than expressions of hope are needed because the success rate of waterways businesses in London is low.

Yet isn’t it time more use is made of the rivers and canals that course so beautifully through its northeast London?

* Narrow Boat World, a volunteer website, has published intriguing details of WC business structures. Loving Dalston’s first report

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