User operation of locks
The advent of Out of Hours Power (OHP) at locks has made it easier for river users to transit locks when lock keepers are not available. Until recently, this was mainly before and after the working day.
However, staff shortages have resulted in this facility becoming more frequently used during the working day and there are suggestions that this situation could continue, and even escalate, if financial constraints become more severe.
Although, on the face of it, OHP appears to make it feasible for user operation of locks to eventually become the norm, there are some issues which need to be recognised and which make it highly undesirable – particularly at peak periods. Also, not all locks can be regarded as equal when considering the impact of OHP during the main part of the day.
Firstly, OHP operates at a reduced flow rate and this extends the locking cycle by 100% or more. A locking cycle of 15 minutes with experienced lock staff may well be 30 minutes or more when boaters operate the lock.
Secondly, boaters will not be as skilled, or, dare one say, as patient, as regular lock staff when it comes to maximising a lock cycle (number of boats admitted) and this will also increase the delays at busy periods. This issue is already evident when summer assistants are left to their own devices ! The presence of a professional uniformed lockie also brings with it a level of quiet but customer observed authority which should not be underestimated.
At peak periods, significant delays are already experienced at many locks and the intentional use of OHP in these circumstances would have a disastrous impact on river users.
Another , often overlooked, consequence of significant queuing during busy periods is the problem of ‘hanging off’ because the waiting area is already full.
This is not too much of a problem travelling upstream, but can be potentially dangerous when proceeding downstream as the pull of the weir can be quite significant and can catch out even experienced boaters if there is a significant stream running.
If reliance on boaters providing self service at locks is to increase to include significant periods of the normal working day then it could no longer be termed ‘out of hours’ and should, perhaps, be renamed.
When do we need lock keepers most?
The major traffic during the summer months is Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Tuesday , Wednesday and Thursday are relatively quiet by comparison and self service could be acceptable if on demand assistance can be available.
The ‘season’ runs from April to October. From November to March there are usually only a few hardy souls on the river and these will mainly be people who are well able to look after themselves.
So. one could argue that, as far as desirable lock manning is concerned, a 4 day week during the season and a seven month season would largely meet the needs of the majority of river users. On May and August Bank Holiday weekends it would be advisable to include the Tuesday immediately following but this would probably not need to apply at Easter.
Who will be most affected by reduced lock manning?
The only river users who will suffer significantly will be users of powered craft. This sector includes trip boats and holiday hire craft. There will be little inconvenience to Rowers, Anglers, Sailing Clubs or Walkers.
In other words, the users that contribute the major part of the direct revenue will be those that will be most inconvenienced – hardly equitable?