Category: transport

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.

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.

Angerstein adventure: Take a very rare Greenwich rail trip

Deceptively rural-looking: The Angerstein Wharf freight line line

Deceptively rural-looking: The Angerstein Wharf freight line at Farmdale Road, Greenwich

Its existence goes almost unnoticed by most locals, but you’ve a rare – if expensive – chance to travel along the historic Angerstein Wharf branch line to the Thames this November.

The single-track line, which branches off the North Kent route just west of Charlton station, was built by local landowner John Angerstein and opened in 1852.

It’s served as a freight line for all its existence, linking to riverfront industries in both Greenwich and Charlton, which the line acts as a boundary between. As well as running to Angerstein Wharf, it also ran deep into the old East Greenwich gas works. I can certainly remember the screech the slow-moving goods trains made during the early ’80s.

The line had a revival in the 1990s, and is still used to carry aggregates, in particular from Bardon Hill Quarry in Leicestershire.

Proposals for passenger services – from a planned ferry in Victorian times to a service to the Millennium Dome in the 1990s – have all come to nothing, and only a handful of special passenger trains have made the trip up the line.

Now details of one of them have emerged. So if you’ve always wondered what it’d be like to ride along the line, now’s your chance – although it’ll be part of a punishingly-long day on the rails.

It’s part of a railtour called Doctor Hoo, which departs from Waterloo at 8.15am on Saturday 8 November. It’ll take the old Eurostar tracks to head towards Lewisham and Slade Green before turning back to Charlton and up the Angerstein line. It’ll then turn back to head towards Gravesend and a line through the Isle of Grain, before exploring a branch line to Dungeness and returning to Waterloo at 7.05pm.

Tickets start from £72.50 – so if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, block a day out and shell out…

Petition launched to move Woolwich Arsenal to Zone 3


A petition’s been launched to ask Transport for London to move Woolwich Arsenal station from zone 4 to zone 3. It’s currently approaching 250 signatures….

“As the opening of Crossrail gets closer and closer, and as the regeneration of Woolwich gains momentum, we think it’s important to help the area further benefit from all these positive changes. The number of commuters is growing and this trend is only going to continue.

“Moving Woolwich Arsenal station from 4 to zone 3 will help make Woolwich even more attractive and slightly less expensive for workers commuting west. There are talks of moving Stratford, a stone’s throws from Woolwich, into zone 2. Also Battersea is poised to be moved from zone 2 to zone 1. Gallions Reach, just north of the river and further east than Woolwich, is already in zone 3.”

I wrote about the absurdity of Woolwich being in zone 4 back in 2010, travelling out to leafy Chigwell, Essex, which is also in zone 4. Last week it was announced that Stratford station is being moved to the boundary of zones 2 and 3 to “boost regeneration” – a similar move would put Woolwich Arsenal on the boundary of zones 3 and 4, so passengers travelling from the east wouldn’t lose out.

Of course, there’s a cost to it and the popularity of the Docklands Light Railway from Woolwich would seem to indicate that the market can bear costly zone 4 fares – but a symbolic change could help attract travel *to* Woolwich, rather than from it.

(There’s a wider argument that London’s fare zones, which date back to 1983 and predate the development of Canary Wharf, need a complete overhaul as perceptions of “central London” have changed over the years – but that seems to be something nobody dare touch.)

It’s a simple change that could end up paying for itself over time if it boosts perceptions of Woolwich – but sadly, local politicians seem to have much more time obsessing over the Thames Clippers service to Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development instead.

Bridge East London: Come Labour bombs and fall on Plumstead?

London Chamber of Commerce - Bridge East London
The road lobby’s getting itchy. Monday saw the London Chamber of Commerce publish a new design for the road bridge it’s desperate to see built between Thamesmead and Beckton. The Evening Standard obligingly spun it as a “bicycle-friendly” bridge, because it has a pedestrian and cycle lane beneath the dual carriageway taking it across the windy Thames. Even the BBC fell for it, The Guardian’s architecture writer piled in with another sycophantic piece, proving that if you come up with a pretty picture of something and call it “bike-friendly”, you can flog any old crap in London.

Nobody bothered to ask any questions like how this bridge would fit into the road network, how it’d be paid for, what effect it’d have on the area, or whether there were any better ideas than digging up a road scheme that’s been around since the 1940s.

All the talk is of supposed benefits to “east London” – so let’s see the effect on south-east London…

Gallions Reach pollution/congestion map

Map created by Stewart Christie for May’s Greenwich Council election campaign.

This map shows the projected traffic impacts of a Gallions Reach bridge, based on a study commissioned for Newham Council last year. The thicker the yellow line, the more traffic. The numbers represent levels of nitrogen dioxide captured in January’s No To Silvertown Tunnel air pollution study. So, going anti-clockwise, there’s a fair chunk of traffic using the only existing infrastructure, the Thamesmead spine road. Then the horrors start – another chunk of traffic using Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, then crossing the A206 to enter a side street – Knee Hill in Abbey Wood, on the Greenwich/Bexley borough border. Here’s how it looks on Google Streetview.

Knee Hill, SE2, Google

It simply won’t cope. It gets worse, though, with another load of traffic using Wickham Lane in Welling, emerging into Plumstead Common – which is buried under a yellow line – and using the side streets there, principally Griffin Road, the last leg of the 53 bus route, to reach the one-way system at Plumstead station before heading towards Thamesmead.

Griffin Road- Google Streetview

Quite frankly, the road network simply won’t be able to cope. And that’s before you get to the known phenomena of “induced traffic”, where new roads encourage new journeys by car or existing journeys to be switched to cars, which is the main problem for the Silvertown Tunnel.

So, if the infrastructure doesn’t exist, does it have to be built instead? Much of Plumstead was blighted for years by the threat of the East London River Crossing, linking the North Circular Road with the A2, which would also have carved up Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm on its way to Falconwood.

Either way, Plumstead is squarely in the firing line. Greenwich Council claims to have moved its position slightly to acknowledge fears of congestion and pollution, both from here and the Silvertown Tunnel proposals. Here’s the Greenwich Labour group’s manifesto:

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

Indeed, the Labour campaign in Shooters Hill was very proud of this, judging by this exchange with Stewart Christie, the Liberal Democrat candidate who created the map above.

Shooters Hill Labour Twitter exchange

Nobody seems to have told their colleagues at City Hall, though.

City Hall Labour Twitter feed

Some reward for the Labour voters of Plumstead, eh?

Then, one by one, Labour’s mayoral wannabes started coming out in favour. Sadiq Khan called it “exciting” and said it was “desperately needed”. David Lammy called it “interesting” and “new”. “22 road crossings to west of Tower Bridge and two to the east,” parroted Margaret Hodge, ignoring the Dartford crossing and five railway tunnels, two foot tunnels and a cable car. “Looks brilliant”, she added, although for who, she didn’t say.

I wonder what questions they asked about the scheme and their effects? But let’s face it, as for many of London’s politicians of all colours, Plumstead may as well be on Mars. Even assembly member Val Shawcross managed to undermine her pro-cycling credentials by backing a scheme that’s going to flood the streets with more motorised traffic.

So how did the London Labour Party end up falling for this, ending up taking a more extreme view than its Greenwich outpost? To be fair, a bridge at Thamesmead has been Labour policy for some years, but there’ll be many Labour members locally who’ll be furious to see the London Chamber of Commerce scheme – which contains less for public transport than Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge – backed by Labour at City Hall.

Nobody’s suggesting a “do nothing” option. There are many other ways to get Thamesmead properly connected to the rest of London. A DLR extension from Beckton. A rail link from Barking. Yet this isn’t about Thamesmead, this is about a belief that regenerating the Royal Docks requires a new road connection.

Should Plumstead be sacrificed for some imagined benefits north of the river? A fancy design may be enough to impress ambitious politicians, but it won’t disguise the congestion and blight that will be visited on the area. The 2016 mayoral election should have been an easy win for Labour in this part of SE London. Now they’re looking like they’re making things needlessly hard for themselves.

9.20am update: Today marks 138 years since the Plumstead Common riot to protect common land.

Operation London Bridge: Thameslink Programme, 1975-style

If you use trains, there’s plenty of aggravation to come from next year as the Thameslink Programme works really kick in. It’s not really been done on this site for a few years, as the topic’s been covered in depth elsewhere.

The work’s to remodel London Bridge station to accommodate the expansion of Thameslink services. One permanent consequence will be the permanent ending of train services from Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich and Deptford to Waterloo East and Charing Cross. These services, along with services which stop at St Johns and New Cross, will be permanently diverted to Cannon Street from January.

The hope is that London Bridge will end up as a simple station to change trains at, so the aggravation of changing will be reduced.

We’ve been here before, though – here’s a glorious 1975 British Transport Film from the last time London Bridge station was rebuilt.

(There’s a very good reason why the 21st century scheme isn’t called Operation London Bridge, by the way…)

So what’s happening next year? From January 2015 to August 2016, no Charing Cross trains will call at London Bridge. Cannon Street trains will continue to stop there. Then from August 2016, it swaps over – no Cannon Street trains will stop at London Bridge, while Charing Cross trains will resume calling there. Full details are here, and the whole thing will be finished in early 2018.

Judging by how the rebuilt bits of London Bridge already look, the aggravation should be worth it. But so many questions remain unanswered. How will people whose trains sail through London Bridge in 2015, 2016 and 2017 be catered for? Will people be able to use rail tickets to get from Cannon Street to Charing Cross/Embankment during this time? Will Greenwich line passengers get a better service in return for being diverted to Cannon Street? What about people who need to attend hospital appointmemts at Guy’s? Will Cannon Street and Bank be properly promoted as an interchange so people can access the Tube?

During the council elections, Labour candidates Cherry Parker and Paul Morrissey set up a petition to push Southeastern, Network Rail and TfL for answers and action. Now they’ve been elected, hopefully it’ll carry a bit more clout and the council will carry it forward. You can sign it here.

Buried Greenwich Council report criticises Silvertown Tunnel

Bridge The Gap relaunch

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council suppressed a report which criticised Tory mayor Boris Johnson’s plans for a new road tunnel between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks – while the council’s Labour leadership was launching a campaign to push for the tunnel to be built.

Published in May 2012, the Hyder Consulting report into a possible DLR extension to Eltham warns of “exacerbated congestion on the local road network” if the Silvertown Tunnel is built. But this didn’t stop cabinet member Denise Hyland, outgoing council leader Chris Roberts and his deputy Peter Brooks, together with MP Nick Raynsford, launching the Bridge The Gap campaign six months later to campaign for the tunnel, attempting to hijack a public consultation into the scheme.

The document was hidden for nearly two years. Labour councillors were not shown it when they were asked to endorse the Bridge The Gap campaign in December 2012. When a Freedom of Information request to see the report was submitted in April 2013, it was refused as the council was “drafting a report into the matter” and so it was “unfinished”. In the end, it was never presented to Greenwich Council’s cabinet.

It still hasn’t been published on the council website, but this website is now publishing the report for the first time, after it emerged following an enquiry from former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood at a council meeting earlier this year.

Greenwich Council has supported the Silvertown Tunnel on the grounds it would provide congestion relief, as expressed in this answer from “Greener Greenwich” cabinet member Harry Singh in January 2013:

Harry Singh response to question about Silvertown Tunnel, Janaury 2013

But seven months earlier, the Hyder document had repeatedly warned that the Silvertown Tunnel would not be able to cope with increased traffic levels, and would actually draw new traffic to the area.

Suppressed Hyder Consulting report into Eltham DLR extension

This reflects established thinking among traffic planners that road building actually generates new traffic rather than relieves it.

But what of those plans for new public transport to take traffic off the roads? Long-term readers of this website will remember the original “DLR on stilts” report from 2011, proposing a DLR extension via the Silvertown Tunnel through east Greenwich, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham to Falconwood, largely built above the A102 and A2.

At the time, Chris Roberts said it was about “changing the mentality” of Transport for London, justifying the £75,000 cost of the two reports. The first report wasn’t publicly available until this website submitted a Freedom of Information request.

Well, the second, suppressed report reveals that there’s two hopes for Eltham’s DLR extension – after the town’s most famous son, there’s Bob Hope and no hope.

Quite simply, the plan’s been shelved – with the council urged to back an extension only going as far as Kidbrooke on cost/benefit grounds.

DLR report, Hyder Consulting

But what’s more, TfL doesn’t seem interested. An email from project manager Tony Wilson is included in the report. It states: “If the desire is to bring more passengers to North Greenwich to access the westbound Jubilee line, it is not clear whether this is desirable from a crowding perspective or attractive from a customer perspective.

“At the moment it is unclear what the proposed line is trying to achieve and what alternatives means of achieving this have been considered. That’s not to say that I can’t see any merits in it, but they appear to be fairly minor given the available capacity on the existing DLR options via Lewisham and Greenwich, while it would carry a very high price tag, and would be competing for funding against a great many other capital projects which have established cases.”

Further notes from meetings with TfL staff suggest they still weren’t impressed with the plans – with overcrowding at North Greenwich one of the key worries.

So the report was suppressed. It wasn’t presented to the council’s cabinet as promised, and wasn’t sent to Transport for London as planned – much to the anger of Greenwich’s Conservative leader Spencer Drury, an Eltham councillor.

But perhaps Spencer should have asked just why the report wasn’t submitted to Greenwich Council’s cabinet, never mind TfL. Perhaps the answer’s in another part of Tony Wilson’s email.

Email from TfL's Tony Wilson

Was the Kidbrooke/Eltham DLR extension killed off so Greenwich could pursue the Silvertown Tunnel that’s criticised in the report?

Indeed, cabinet member Denise Hyland and outgoing leader Chris Roberts have some questions to answer over this issue – particularly as to why Greenwich Labour councillors were cajoled into supporting a road scheme that a council report had said would just exacerbate congestion. Rank and file members in the Greenwich and Woolwich party rejected the scheme in January 2013, rebuking their own councillors.

It remains to be seen what line the post-Chris Roberts council will take on the Silvertown Tunnel – the Greenwich Labour party has yet to publish any kind of manifesto for 22 May’s election, although some Labour candidates are privately promising voters they’ll fight to reverse the council’s position.

In the meantime, while the “DLR on stilts” lies dead in the Quaggy, here’s some amazing mock-ups of what it could have looked like – including building the line over homes in east Greenwich.

DLR extension mock-up

DLR extension report mock-up

DLR extension report mock-up

From yesterday: Air pollution and SE London – the No to Silvertown Tunnel study.