Emirates Air Line cable car now has NO regular commuters

Spot the commuter: The cable car during Tuesday morning's rush hour

Spot the commuter: The cable car during Tuesday morning’s rush hour

853 exclusive: It had just four regular commuters last year – now the Emirates Air Line cable car appears to have NO regular users at all between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, according to figures issued by Transport for London.

No Oyster card holders used the £60m crossing more than five times during one week in October, which would trigger a regular users’ discount.

In the equivalent week last year, four people qualified for the commuters’ discount, while 16 used it regularly enough to get cut-price tickets in the same week in 2012.

Last year’s figures, published at Snipe, were widely covered in London’s media, with an LBC radio reporter even travelling to Greenwich to track down the four commuters. But now, it appears there are no commuters to speak of.

Sun 12th Mon 13th Tue 14th Wed 15th Thu 16th Fri 17th Sat 18th
North 2,757 541 1,138 729 1,039 1,231 2,933
South 3,546 1,007 1,575 1,371 1,562 1,809 4,033
TOTAL 6,303 1,548 2,713 2,100 2,601 3,040 6,966

Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 12-18 October 2014. Source: TfL

For the third year running, I used the Freedom of Information Act to get the figures from TfL, asking for hourly usage figures between Sunday 12th and Saturday 18th October.

Mayor Boris Johnson has called the link, which he opened in 2012, a “howling success” and insists it is a vital tool for regenerating the area. But critics have pilloried the cable car, which charges premium fares and does not accept travelcards, as a vanity project.

But while the cable car has clearly failed to attract regular customers – and ticket sales remain well down on its first year of operation – its overall usage figures are slightly up on last year, suggesting it has achieved some level of success with tourists and occasional travellers. 25,271 journeys were made during the week, compared with 23,029 the previous year and 42,463 in 2012.

Cable car users graph

Since last October, Transport for London has instigated a number of promotions to try to boost tourist usage of the cable car, including giving an audio commentary on routes; opening a promotional booth at North Greenwich station; and spending £1,200 on an electronic ad board at the station’s gateline. This month, the Greenwich Peninsula terminal has been turned into a “magical Christmas experience” as part of a tie-in with The Snowman and The Snowdog film.

One scheme, which offers discounted tickets to Newham and Greenwich borough residents, accounted for 106 ticket sales across the week, while 5,292 “full experience” tickets – offering a souvenir guide and admission to the neighbouring Emirates Aviation Experience – were sold.

28 multi-journey passes – a ticket valid for a year which offers 10 trips at a discount – were sold during the week, compared with 18 last year. (See update at foot of story for more on these, as regular travellers could be using these and not Oyster.) 354 children travelled for £1 each with a schools’ scheme, with 47 adults accompanying them for free – down slightly on on 2013’s figures.

Two parties booked private cabins for themselves, at a cost of £88.

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Sun 12th - - 59 204 457 672 675 834 924 942 858 399 235 28
Mon 13th 10 14 23 77 84 98 115 157 206 193 226 183 125 37
Tue 14th 15 21 44 127 198 271 161 242 359 361 348 321 214 31
Wed 15th 14 44 63 120 220 188 205 250 289 184 214 182 92 35
Thu 16th 12 30 82 189 242 226 232 262 363 230 312 217 167 37
Fri 17th 10 28 57 156 312 359 282 350 301 319 309 301 231 35
Sat 18th - 17 130 267 552 751 648 848 856 834 788 748 475 69

Emirates Air Line passengers, hour by hour, between Sunday 12 and Saturday 18 October. Source: TfL.
See equivalent data for Tube journeys from North Greenwich to nearby DLR stations.

Closer analysis of the figures over three years show that already-weak weekday usage of the Emirates Air Line is down slightly on 2013. But passenger numbers continue to show relatively high numbers in the evening – suggesting the cable car could benefit from opening later than 8pm.

Weekday cable car use

Saturday figures are slightly up on 2013…

Saturday cable car usage

…but the real growth has come on Sundays.

Sunday cable car figures

With figures in the Labour and Conservative parties now starting to talk about who will succeed Boris Johnson in the 2016 mayoral election, the future of the cable car – arguably the most visible legacy to the capital so far from Johnson’s two terms at City Hall – is likely to come under the spotlight.

The cable car cost £60m to build, with Emirates paying £36 million in annual instalments for naming rights. A further £8m came from EU funds, with the rest coming from London’s rail services budget.

Green and Liberal Democrat politicians have called for the cable car to be incorporated into the Travelcard scheme to boost its standing as a public transport link – but City Hall currently seems content with operating it as a tourist attraction with premium fares.

Since the opening of the cable car, TfL cash has also gone into other tourist-focused projects. The Garden Bridge between the South Bank and Victoria Embankment is likely to be given the go-ahead from the mayor this week along with £30m of TfL cash.

Also this week, TfL has changed the way its cycle hire scheme charges users, cutting the cost of lengthy hires taken by tourists while doubling charges for some shorter rides.

Wednesday 7.40am update: Thanks to Rob, who tweeted me to say he was commuting on the cable car that week – using the paper multi-journey tickets rather than Oyster, which is says is fiddly to use for regular commuters as it involves obtaining a refund after travelling a certain number of times.

28 of these paper tickets, which are valid for a year, were sold between 12-18 October. So it’s entirely possible there are a handful of people using these tickets rather than Oyster – again, making TfL’s claim that this is a public transport link rather shaky. However, their usage is impossible to track.

Thanks to Clare Griffiths for putting together the graphs in this story.

Media using this story, please credit Darryl Chamberlain or 853blog.com – thank you.

Greenwich Time ads go out to tender: Is this really the end?

Greenwich Time

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council has put its advertising contract out to tender – spelling the end for council newspaper Greenwich Time in its current format.

A tender notice has been placed on the council website and on the official journal of the European Union seeking a provider that can “exclusively host our statutory notices and other Council advertising as required (non-exclusive) in a borough wide, weekly publication at a favourable rate”.

The decision to put planning notices and other council information out to tender appears to mean the council has ducked a legal battle with the Government over the controversial paper, which was outlawed earlier this year.

Greenwich TimeAs well as being weekly, the publication must have an audited distribution to at least 95% of homes in the borough, along with pick-up bins and a digital edition.

The tender is said to be worth £400,000 per year for three years, with a possible two-year extension.

While considerably less than the £2.3m/year former council leader Chris Roberts and ex-chief executive Mary Ney – who retired last week – claimed the council would have to fork out if Greenwich Time was axed, the low sum is likely to only attract major publishers such as Mercury owner Tindle Newspapers and News Shopper proprietor Newsquest.

Indeed, that sum is likely to just cover the cost of distributing the paper each year. Last year, Greenwich spent £372,000 on distributing Greenwich Time, and charged council departments £404,000 for advertising in it.

This summer, it emerged that Tindle Newspapers had offered to take over Greenwich Time. However, Tindle’s policy of accepting ads from escort agencies and prostitutes is likely to count against any offer.

Another likely contender is council leisure and libraries provider GLL, which has previously been mooted as a home for Greenwich Time.

But does this mean the death of Greenwich Time? As a council-owned publication, it’s certainly the end – but there’s nothing to stop a publisher taking the title on.

And another line in the tender suggests Greenwich may take a closer interest in the editorial than some publishers would be comfortable with.

“The contractor will also be expected to ensure that the advertisements are published in the context of engaging local editorial content which helps to positively inform local residents about the measures that their neighbours and local service providers are undertaking to make the borough a great place to live, work, learn and visit,” the tender reads.

With a clause like that in an advertising contract, any editor may pause before commissioning any investigation into council services.

Greenwich Time in the gutterGreenwich is one of only two councils to publish a weekly newspaper – the other is Tower Hamlets, which today was accused of having a “culture of cronyism” by communities secretary Eric Pickles after a report into allegations of corruption was published.

It’s unlikely Greenwich’s Labour leadership relished the idea of being in court alongside the publishers of East End Life, dubbed by the party’s Hilary Benn in Parliament today as “little more than a vehicle of promotion” for Tower Hamlets’ independent mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Similarly, Greenwich Time was regularly lampooned for its regular appearances by Roberts, who made the paper weekly in 2008. Last year, it was admitted that he had the final say over the paper’s content.

Eric Pickles makes his front page debut in this week’s edition of Greenwich Time, pictured with new leader Denise Hyland in a story trumpeting success in health and social care services.

The change of policy on Greenwich Time comes alongside a second major change at the top of the council, with Mary Ney’s former deputy John Comber set to be confirmed as its new chief executive at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

9.10pm update: Greenwich’s deputy leader John Fahy seems adamant that Greenwich Time will continue – suggesting the council might well want to keep a close eye on editorial in wherever its ads end up going. After Tory leader Spencer Drury tweeted “hopefully this is the end”, Fahy replied: “Wishful thinking on your part.” Greenwich Time was “widely welcomed by the majority of residents”, he insisted.

Update 11 November, 10.05am: For the benefit of those arriving from Roy Greenslade’s Media Guardian blog.... After this piece was published, Greenwich Council told the News ShopperI that the tender was “a contingency”, while at 5 November’s council meeting, Denise Hyland called the tender a “Plan B” and said she would fight closure – Conservative councillor Matt Hartley touches upon this.

853 on hiatus (sort of): It’s tunnel vision for the next few weeks…

The battle against the Silvertown Tunnel is on. When a publicly-funded body starts throwing the PR kitchen sink at a dim idea like encouraging more traffic onto the choked-up A102, it’s time to get focused.

So this website is taking a short pause until Christmas. There may still be a couple of stories to come, but any updates will be infrequent. While this means I’ll hopefully have some more time to spend helping the tunnel campaign, it’ll also give me a chance to reflect on how this website continues in the future.

For now, though, there’s work to do…

(If you can help with the campaign, please email info@silvertowntunnel.co.uk)

River crossings: Greenwich Council backs Woolwich Ferry closure

Woolwich Ferry

Greenwich Council is backing the eventual closure of the Woolwich Ferry in favour of a road bridge at Gallions Reach, according to its response to Transport for London’s consultation into Thames river crossings.

It’s also calling for tolls to be introduced at the Blackwall Tunnel before any other road crossings are built, according to the document, which was published last week.

While the response, as expected, calls for the construction of a road crossing at Gallions Reach, between Thamesmead and Belvedere, the tone of the document falls some way short of the “Bridge The Gap” rhetoric employed under former leader Chris Roberts.

The council’s support for Gallions comes with a number of caveats:

- that a bridge must be accompanied by public transport improvements, with the council calling for both an extension of London Overground from Barking (subject of a current No to Silvertown Tunnel petition) and the old chestnut of the Docklands Light Railway from the Royal Docks to Thamesmead.

- that a bridge must be “part of a package of river crossings”. Just what package the council would prefer, however, is not stated.

- all crossings must be tolled “to manage demand”.

- that TfL can demonstrate any new bridge will not affect air quality.

Greenwich Time, 7 October 2014Essentially, the response – which was decided behind closed doors, without discussion in cabinet or council – looks like an unhappy compromise between Labour Party members’ angst (and in many cases, anger) over their council’s pro-road crossings stance, and Greenwich Council’s usual habit of deferring to the demands of developers and “business leaders”.

The council also expressed unhappiness that the Silvertown Tunnel proposal was now being dealt with separately from the Gallions and Belvedere plans.

However, all mention of Silvertown, along with the demand for tolling at Blackwall, has been cut from the version of the story that appears in this week’s edition of the council’s propaganda paper, Greenwich Time, possibly making Greenwich the only Labour council in the country to be trying to put a positive spin on Conservative proposals.

It’s a complicated document, and one which demands reading between the lines at several points.

Woolwich Ferry, spring 2011

Scrapping the Woolwich Ferry

In this complex and sometimes ambiguous response, it’s Greenwich Council’s simple desire to abandon the Woolwich Ferry that’s the clearest of all.

“The Council would support investment to improve the resilience of the ferry until such time as other additional capacity is provided but cannot support this option,” the response says in answer to whether the ferry should be refurbished in the next decade.

A ferry has operated at Woolwich for centuries – the remains of the 19th century railway-run ferry pier can still be seen at North Woolwich. The current free ferry was instigated by Joseph Bazalgette – best known for creating London’s sewer system – in 1889.

The current ferries, the third generation of ships to cross the Thames, are now over 50 years old and in need of replacement. TfL has been consulting on refurbishing the current ferry, moving it to Gallions Reach, replacing it with a bridge at Gallions Reach, and/or building a new bridge at Belvedere. All options would see the crossings tolled.

While road-building fans generally agree on a need for a bridge at Gallions Reach, it’s surprising that they want to see the closure of another traffic-friendly crossing to achieve it – despite all their talk of wanting “resilience”.

Perhaps the answer is in Woolwich’s regeneration plans. The Woolwich Ferry lorry park, approach, piers and associated land are all owned by Transport for London. Next door, Greenwich Council’s Waterfront Leisure Centre is already slated for redevelopment under the town centre masterplan. Maybe the value of selling this stretch of land for redevelopment trumps City Hall and Woolwich Town Hall’s usual instincts.

A102, from Charlton Road, taken in 2008

Tolling Blackwall and Silvertown Tunnel frustration

The bits they won’t mention in Greenwich Time. The council’s called for the Blackwall Tunnel to be tolled before any other crossings are built, citing worries about traffic congestion and air quality.

“Recognising the issues of resilience and capacity at Blackwall Tunnel and the impact these issues have on the local road network and air quality the Council requests that TfL gives serious consideration to the introduction of charges at Blackwall Tunnel in advance of the construction of any other crossings,” it says, also calling for charging at the Rotherhithe Tunnel to stop traffic diverting through Greenwich town centre to find a free crossing. This would leave Tower Bridge as the only free crossing east of the congestion charge zone.

Currently, TfL plans to charge for Blackwall and the proposed Silvertown Tunnel, but not the Rotherhithe Tunnel. These plans have been known about for nearly two years, but Greenwich Council has taken until now to express worries about them.

Indeed, reading between the lines, it appears Greenwich Council is unhappy that its unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel has not been rewarded with any data from TfL on how the Silvertown proposals would affect traffic and air quality in the area.

Nearly two years after the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation, only now does Greenwich express worries about air quality.

“At a time when (i) there remain concerns about the environmental impacts of that crossing and (ii) detailed assessments that may address those concerns have not been published it is disappointing that the consultation does not cover the full range of crossing options (including Silvertown).”

Perhaps Greenwich shouldn’t have tried to rig the 2012/2013 consultation into Silvertown in the first place. Greenwich’s support for Silvertown has been critical for the proposal’s progress so far – as the face of the Bridge the Gap campaign, the Labour council leader Denise Hyland is in no place to complain that she’s been tricked by the Conservatives at City Hall.

Quite how genuine the council’s new-found concerns about Silvertown are, we shall have to find out, although a call for “a wider package [of river crossings] that would be progressed from west to east” presumably means that Greenwich still backs some kind of mythical Silvertown Tunnel that doesn’t increase traffic levels or increase lethal air pollution.

They’d be better off believing in the tooth fairy, frankly.

London Chamber of Commerce - Bridge East London

Gallions – with caveats

Shiny new bridge! But it looks as if Greenwich has been boxed into a corner on the Gallions Reach crossing, seen as unfinished business by Labour administrations across London since the Livingstone-era Thames Gateway Bridge was canned by Boris Johnson in 2008.

“A bridge must be accompanied by public transport improvements.” At least this is consistent with the last consultation’s response, although at least the weird idea of a circular bus route using the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge has vanished. Unfortunately, an extension to the DLR into Thamesmead currently remains as likely to happen as an extension to Eltham, as neither appears in City Hall’s 2050 wishlist of public transport schemes.

That said, it’s good to see Greenwich backing an Overground link to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood – which does appear in the 2050 document. But it’s a shame they didn’t come out and say it when the News Shopper covered the N2ST petition last month.

“On the understanding that any vehicular crossing would be charged to manage demand and have dedicated and accessible public transport provision.” Those tolls again. Wonder if Greenwich will press for the likes of Putney or Chelsea Bridge to be tolled?

“Subject to clear evidence demonstrating that they would not cause local congestion or a reduction in air quality.” Not going to happen – this Newham Council study already points to huge traffic impacts in Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood. The 2007 Thames Gateway Bridge planning inquiry also concluded a bridge would make traffic and pollution worse. Is Greenwich waiting for a study that says what it wants it to say?

“The Council would not support any widening of the A2 and TfL should finance measures to prevent rat-running between the bridge site and the A2 and also to prevent congestion on roads to and from the bridge.” Strange Greenwich brings up the widening of the A2 here when it’s actually the Silvertown Tunnel that would be more likely to result in a widening of the A2 (or A102). As for rat-running – it’s hard to see quite how you’d prevent that without further isolating Thamesmead or chopping Plumstead into half.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Council is opposed to any future proposal that would impact on Oxleas Wood or any other of the Royal Borough’s green spaces.” But this is the endgame of a Gallions Reach Bridge – build that, and there’ll be a permanent threat hanging over Oxleas and a chunk of Plumstead.

Bexley backing a crossing at Belvedere, Greenwich not keen

Bexley Council’s response favours a crossing at Belvedere, with the Tory council now “neutral” over Gallions Reach – a climbdown that hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s curious, though, that Greenwich is much more hesitant over backing a bridge at Belvedere – since, by using its previous logic, it would relieve congestion at Gallions, bring new opportunities, etc, etc. It doesn’t seem particularly consistent.

Messing up by the river – council confusion?

bridge_the_gap“Moreover the Council was disappointed by the quality of engagement at the Thamesmead ‘road show’ – an event that only took place at the Council’s
suggestion. The quality of the arrangements compromised the extent and quality of local engagement on an issue that is critical for the well-being of south and south east London.”

I’m not really sure the people behind the Bridge The Gap campaign – where Greenwich Council’s activities included handing out cards in Woolwich uncritically backing the Silvertown Tunnel (they didn’t dare try this trick in Greenwich, Blackheath or Charlton) have really got any right to criticise. But we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for a minute.

The problem is that Greenwich is currently hamstrung by its deference to City Hall. In 2012 and 2013, it complained about Conservative consultations into fire and police cuts, calling them flawed. But because the Labour council wanted the same new roads as City Hall wanted, it was happy to go along with equally iffy consultations into the Silvertown Tunnel and other crossings.

Now Greenwich realises it’s been caught out – promised environmental assessments have not been carried out, and residents are furious that their council is putting their neighbourhoods at risk. And all it’s got to justify its past stance are the scribbled notes that Chris Roberts used to pass Denise Hyland in council meetings.

Back in 2013, Denise Hyland made a virtue of the fact that Greenwich wasn’t spending taxpayers’ money on its own studies. Now that stance looks even more foolish.

If it’d been more sceptical in the first place, and took a leading position rather than placing its residents under threat from the City Hall roadbuilders, it might not be in this position now.

If Greenwich Council wants new roads – that’s it’s decision. But it has to be honest about the impact those new roads will have. Because new roads will have an impact on all our lives. But by crossing its fingers and hoping for mythical roads that won’t pollute, or won’t bring added traffic, it doesn’t seem to be being honest with itself, never mind its residents.

And soon could now be in an even stickier position. There’s No to Silvertown Tunnel, and No to Gallions. How long until Save the Woolwich Ferry starts up?

See also responses from No to Silvertown Tunnel, a forensic demolition from Green Party assembly member Darren Johnson, and Liberal Democrat assembly member Caroline Pidgeon.

Lewisham bags a Bakerloo boost – but beware a backlash

It’s a relief to be able to write about some unalloyed good news – Transport for London is consulting on extending the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham, Catford and Hayes.

Bakerloo Line proposals/ TfLSure, the extension might be at least a decade and a half away, and plans for a Tube to Lewisham have been kicking around since the 1940s, but it’s welcome to see proposals being dusted down – hopefully it’s for real this time.

Two routes from the Elephant to Lewisham are on offer – one via the Old Kent Road, with heaps of sites awaiting redevelopment (and designated a mayoral “opportunity area“); and another via Camberwell and Peckham Rye, where existing services are heaving.

Whichever route is chosen, the line will then pass through New Cross Gate and down to Lewisham before taking over the existing National Rail service from Ladywell to Hayes. That’s an indication of just how old this scheme is – many of the big Tube expansions of the 1930s and 1940s came about by taking over mainline services. But it would free up some space at the awkward rail junction at Lewisham, as well as creating more room for services on the main line to Kent.

There’s also an option for the line to run to Beckenham Junction and possibly through new tunnels to Bromley.

Lewisham Council has been quietly pushing the case for a Bakerloo Line extension for some time – a 2010 report for the council even mulled over an extension through Blackheath to Bexleyheath and Dartford. Think of the benefits that could bring to Kidbrooke Village…

But what’s on the table now could transform much of the borough of Lewisham. That said, here are two blots on the beautiful Bakerloo landscape that supporters will need to watch out for.

Firstly, Labour MPs. Seriously. Despite the fact that the extension’s being heavily promoted by Lewisham Labour Party, up popped Streatham MP Chuka Umanna and Dulwich MP Tessa Jowell a couple of weeks ago, briefing the Evening Standard that “a growing population of younger people would be served if the line goes further west instead — to Camberwell, Herne Hill and Streatham”. In other words, “screw you, Lewisham”. Rather unfortunate, but Umanna has form – he came out with the same cobblers five years ago. You’d think London mayoral wannabe Tessa Jowell would know better, mind.

Secondly, Bromley Council. This website understands the Tory authority’s been reluctant to take part in talks to push the extension. It’s possible Bromley’s worried about losing the National Rail link from Hayes – many weekday trains run fast from Ladywell to London Bridge, providing a relatively speedy link into town. Bromley’s support would be vital for the line progressing beyond Lewisham – will the chance of a further extension sway them?

So there’s plenty to play for. I suspect the Old Kent Road option will come out on top – which will be harsh on Camberwell, first promised a Bakerloo extension in 1931. But it’s all about the “opportunity areas”, which is why a link to Bromley is mooted rather than, say, extending the line a couple of miles slightly further to isolated New Addington.

Consultation papers also indicate that an extension of London Overground services from New Cross is also being considered, although papers presented to Lewisham on Monday indicate that this could be a link to Bromley rather than to Kidbrooke. If Greenwich councillors want to see Kidbrooke and Eltham better connected, they should speak up now. And if you want to see south-east London better connected, then you should speak up now too.