London Duck Tours

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from London Duck Tours is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Director Alistair Bigos
London Duck Tours on
Westminster Bridge
For many people, London Duck Tours will need no introduction.
They are one of the UK’s only amphibious vehicle tourist
services, showing audiences the famous spots of London, on
land and in water. Known across the country, the company has
become a staple of British tourism and enjoys a long and proud
history. Indeed, some of the vehicles in their current fleet saw
service in D-Day landings. Despite the company’s fame, it has not
been spared significant, sometimes crippling challenges. Recently,
the company has been hampered by a tangle of bureaucratic
difficulties due to the unique nature of their vehicles. Director
Alistair Bigos offers a further insight into the company.
My father, John Bigos – also the owner of the company – started the business after
acquiring a small amphibious sightseeing service in 2001. My father and I, together
with our team, grew the business to become one of the top tourist operations
in London, but recently we have had to look overseas due to an intransigent
government bureaucracy – more on this later.
An iconic London journey
Throughout our company’s lifetime, we have served roughly two million people from
all over the world, and we were one of the largest passenger boat operators on the
River Thames. Our fleet currently consists of 13 “Ducks”, on which we took tourists
through the hottest spots in London – from St Paul’s Cathedral to the River Thames
itself. Many celebrities, sports stars and politicians have been on our tours, with many
using them for private hire. We also supplied assistance during the floods in 2014.
»Director: Alistair Bigos
»Established in 2001
»Based in London
»Services: Amphibious vehicle
tourist services
»No. of employees: Between
30 and 80 pre-2017, with an
average of 56; at the time of
writing, 10
»London Duck Tours is one of
the largest passenger boat
operators on the Thames
London Duck Tours
Highlighting best practice
All of our tours were accompanied by
live commentaries through our tour
guides. The majority of them were
professional actors, and we built a
strong reputation for offering fun and
engaging anecdotes. By providing
flexibility for our guides, they each
adopted their own style and gave every
group of tourists a unique experience.
At the centre of our success over the
years has been daring and energetic
innovation. Only by possessing this
trait in abundance could we have
started this company in the first
place. However, sometimes, daring
entrepreneurship alone is not enough.
Tackling bureaucratic
stubbornness and inefficiency
Time and time again, we have been
hindered by a bureaucracy that passes
the buck and doesn’t want to help.
For people in the civil service, you are
in one box or another. There is no
allowance for square pegs in this world
of round holes. Our company has
had to report to multiple government
regulators (six in total) by virtue of
being both a land vehicle and a water
vessel – and it gets worse. No agency
can legislate for another’s competence,
so we then have to fight tooth and
nail just to acquire the permissions to
conduct our service.
Moreover, just when you think
it is over, you are faced with the
philosophical and regulatory question:
“At what point when driving into the
water is the vessel a bus, and when
is it a boat?” Our insurance – and,
ergo, the existence of the company –
depends on a satisfactory answer, and
we are still waiting for one.
We have had to apply, request, litigate
and appeal – over and over again –
to operate a tour service with safe,
tried-and-tested technology. Then,
when one side changes a standard, the
whole process starts again. We should
not have to undergo such a tormented
process in order to survive as a
business. In this age of unpredictable
developments and classes of products
that cross multiple sectors, the civil
service needs to become much
more flexible. If innovation is to
thrive, they need to be able to offer
This is not an unreasonable demand,
as there already exists a precedent
for this in statute. For example, the
National Infrastructure Planning
Act 2008 creates a process to allow
a complex private project to start
from a clean legislative slate. The
conflicting standards are argued for,
the balance of risk weighed up, and
only then is the appropriate rule or set
of powers added back in. This is so
much better than a single company
pleading for pragmatism. This back-
to-basics idea brings departments and
agencies together to tackle significant
challenges on an ad hoc
This goes beyond our company,
though; whole joint sectors are being
developed. What about drones that
carry wireless data hubs, AeroMobil,
the Manned Cloud hotel or even
airborne wind farms? These, when
they are eventually developed, will be
under the remit of a dizzying array of
different competencies: aerospace,
transport, consumer, energy, data and
One of the largest
passenger boat
operators on the Thames
Time and time
again, we
have been
hindered by a
that passes
the buck and
doesn’t want
to help
possibly local planning departments.
Only flexible interagency collaboration
will be able to deal effectively with
such questions as, “Which organisation
has jurisdiction?”, “When?”, “At
what height in the air?”, “Who does
consumer protection?” and “Which
secretary of state does all of this
This is not just a case of complaining
about generic red tape, which is the
sort of thing that’s mildly obstructive
to all businesses and intended to
make us safe. Rather, we are trying
to make the case that some classes
of innovations are too niche for
parliament to enact primary legislation
on, but then tragically are too big for
the civil service’s silo mentality.
This was highlighted most recently
when we faced another crippling
challenge: our primary access to the
River Thames has been prevented
altogether, mainly due to conflicting
priorities. It was easier for our slipway,
located at Albert Embankment in
Vauxhall, to be acquired by Thames
Water for the £4.2 billion “Super
Sewer” scheme than to think deeply
of what the best solution was. This
is a project that’s not due to finish
Moving forward with optimism
Difficult though these challenges are,
we nonetheless have plans in place to
take our company forward. One such
example of this is our work in India:
we are in talks with companies who
have shown an interest in using our
technologies. The Indian government
is less bureaucratic than our own and
has already created a class of vehicles
named “special purpose vehicles”,
so the agencies have a framework to
collaborate under.
We’re also looking at potentially
franchising our model in various parts
of the world, and perhaps even using
some of our vehicles for crisis relief.
This willingness to move forward
despite obstacles is an essential
component of our business. No
obstacle – be it water or stubborn
bureaucracy – will dampen our
willingness to innovate and expand.
Will we return to London? Much
depends upon the attitude of our
legislative partners, but in our
experience, London, which has 20
million tourists a year, is one of the
best cities in the world to do business
and also our home town – so, as they
say, it’s time to get creative.
We are
looking at
our model in
various parts
of the world,
and perhaps
even using
some of our
vehicles for
crisis relief
London’s amazing
amphibious adventure

This article was sponsored by London Duck Tours. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.