Category: transport

Elsewhere: ‘How the Emirates Air Line’s fares aren’t paying its way’

Thames Cable Car
This website hasn’t featured the cable car much recently, so here’s a story somebody else has done about it. LondonLovesBusiness has done some digging and found that the Dangleway isn’t paying its way.

LLB editor Shruti Tripathi Chopra used the Freedom of Information Act to get the Emirates Air Line’s fare income for each year since it opened in June 2012. During the six months it was open in 2012, it took a healthy £6m; but in all of 2013 that dropped to £5.2m; then back up to £5.8m in 2014. Up to July, it’s taken £2.3m in fares – obviously that’s before the bulk of the school holidays.

Operating costs in the cable car’s first year were £6m per year*, so essentially, LLB says, the thing’s not only useless as public transport – journeys have now been slowed to 15 minutes to allow people to enjoy the view – it’s losing money as a tourist attraction, if you judge it by fare income alone. (I’ve amended this paragraph as TfL later went on to dispute this – see update below.)

Some caveats, though. Firstly, most public transport in London is subsidised to some extent anyway – there’s a social benefit in getting people onto mass transit and out of cars, and its existence supports centres of employment. However, the Emirates Air Line’s extremely low number of regular users show this can’t be judged in the same way as, say, the 108 bus through the Blackwall Tunnel (which costs £3.7m each year to run before fares from 3.5m journeys are taken into account).

Secondly, these figures don’t include non-fare income, such as the sponsorship money from Emirates, which is paid in annual tranches. Emirates’ deal is worth £36m in total, including £10.35m up to and including the day the cable car opened. It is now paying the rest off in £2.85m chunks each year – enough, so far, to keep the finances in the black. You could argue that this is similar to advertising on the bus network.

All that said, it’s still another valuable insight into what essentially was a panicky vanity project carried out by a mayor seeing re-election. The sad thing is that a pedestrian or cycling connection between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf wouldn’t have cost that much more to build (£100m instead of the cable car’s £60m) and would have transformed the area.

Political parties are now choosing Johnson’s replacement (this website humbly suggests Labour backers make Christian Wolmar their first choice). It’ll be interesting to see just what the wannabe mayors make of Johnson’s most baffling legacy to London.

* Friday update: After this post was written, LLB amended its story to include TfL figures – which as far as I can gather had been released for the first time – that claim operating costs have fallen since the first year of operation, putting the cable car’s finances in a healthier light. I’d be curious to find out just where the falls in operating costs comes from. And of course, if the cable car was doing its job as public transport, the question of whether it makes or loses a million pounds each year wouldn’t be such a vexed one.

Are Boris bikes finally coming to Greenwich? The mayor backs it…

London's new hire bikes feature the Dome - even though there are no terminals near North Greenwich

The Dome features on the new London Cycle Hire branding – but you can’t pick up a bike there


The prospect of London’s cycle hire scheme coming to Greenwich came a step closer this morning after mayor Boris Johnson backed a proposal to bring the scheme to the area.

While the ‘Boris bikes’ – formally Santander Cycles after a recent change in sponsor – are a regular sight in Greenwich, it is impossible to hire or dock a bike in the area.

Instead, visitors take bikes from stations close to Island Gardens and take the bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, or they cycle from docking stations closer to Tower Bridge.

The scheme has largely avoided south-east London – despite poor transport connections, particularly around Walworth, Camberwell and Bermondsey – pushing out instead to east London and more affluent parts of west and south-west London. But Greenwich’s status as a tourist destination could now help bring the scheme to the area.

Asked by Conservative Assembly member (and Tory mayoral hopeful) Andrew Boff if TfL would consider three to five stations in Greenwich, Johnson said he would back an expansion to Greenwich – with a larger number of terminals.

Presumably 45 terminals would be enough to fill the gap between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. The answer’s a surprise as TfL has appeared to have been prioritising filling in gaps in the existing area rather than expanding the service further.

Later, Boff gave credit to Greenwich Tory councillor Matt Clare – probably Woolwich Town Hall’s keenest cyclist – for coming up with the suggestion.

Boff also asked about a wider expansion towards New Cross and Lewisham, and suggested asking Network Rail for money as such a scheme would help mitigate the effect of the Thameslink works at London Bridge. We’ll find out a fuller answer to that in the coming weeks.

Could this actually happen, though? It’s likely to end up in the next mayor’s in-tray, and it’s worth noting that past expansions of the cycle hire scheme have required local boroughs to contribute £2 million each – are Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark up for that? The bikes are largely used by tourists and more affluent commuters – but that hasn’t stopped Greenwich, which has stepped up its cycling efforts in the past year, giving funding to Thames Clippers. Other boroughs may take different views.

The level of expansion is also worth considering. The hill separating Greenwich from Blackheath could be a natural barrier (although being hilly hasn’t stopped an identical bike hire scheme taking off in Montreal), but the mayor’s involvement in redevelopment schemes in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal could see even further expansion.

Santander’s new branding includes the Millennium Dome, even though it’s impossible to hire or dock a bike there. Incidentally, Green Assembly member Darren Johnson has asked TfL to investigate a walking and cycling connection from the peninsula to Canary Wharf – a connection that would make the extension of the hire scheme to the peninsula a no-brainer.

If the hire scheme is extended, private hire operators could lose out for the visitor market – tourists can hire less cumbersome bikes from Greenwich’s Flightcentre for £4/hr, but recent changes to the hire scheme now mean Boris bikes match that price.

An expansion to Greenwich is by no means a certainty, but it’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead.

Labour backing for Silvertown Tunnel could cost party City Hall

Southbound traffic on the A102 - high pollution levels were recorded at this subway last year

Southbound traffic on the A102 – high pollution levels were recorded at this subway last year

If Labour’s candidate for London mayor backs building the Silvertown Tunnel, he or she could lose nearly half of their vital second-preference votes if the Green Party carries out a threat to withdraw support over the issue.

The damage could be even worse if the Liberal Democrats follow suit and also call for a boycott over building new roads across the River Thames – potentially scuppering Labour’s bid to win City Hall for only the second time in 16 years.

Until now, most Labour mayoral candidates have been treating the Silvertown Tunnel as merely a local issue.

But the possibility of losing to environmentally-minded Tory Zac Goldsmith may start to concentrate their minds on the £1bn scheme to build a new road tunnel from the Royal Docks to Greenwich Peninsula, feeding into the crowded A102, piling extra HGVs and other traffic onto local roads on both sides of the Thames.

In the two most recent elections, the Greens asked their supporters to give Labour’s Ken Livingstone their second preference votes.

But 2012’s mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has long warned Labour it won’t get the same co-operation if it continues with Boris Johnson’s plans to build the Silvertown Tunnel and two other crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere. Tom Chance, the party’s housing spokesperson who is hoping for the Green nomination this time around, has repeated the threat.

Now Zac Goldsmith – Richmond Park MP and former owner and editor of The Ecologistis planning to stand, there will be increasing pressure on Labour candidates to put environmental considerations at the heart of their manifestos.

Jones has already said many Green supporters will be tempted to back Goldsmith, who yesterday told a parliamentary debate on London air pollution that “we cannot invent new roads”.

So far, only Christian Wolmar – a transport journalist who was the first to declare for the Labour candidacy – has called for the Silvertown Tunnel to be cancelled. He spoke at a No to Silvertown Tunnel meeting earlier this year.

Front-runner Tessa Jowell has avoided the topic when asked in her Twitter “Ask Tessa” sessions. She’s being advised by Labour peer Lord Adonis, a strong backer of the Silvertown Tunnel.

Other candidates set to go on the ballot paper include party leadership favourite Sadiq Khan, Hackney North MP Diane Abbott, Tottenham MP David Lammy and Harrow West MP Gareth Thomas. Londoners who sign up as Labour supporters and pay £3 can have a vote in the process.

A102

Voters choose London mayors by picking a first and second preference, a system designed to give outsider candidates some influence in the race.

If a candidate does not win more than 50% of first preference votes, then second preferences are used to decide a winner – which has happened in all four elections since the post was created in 2000.

In 2012, Ken Livingstone got 889,918 first preference votes against Boris Johnson’s 971,931.

He then had 102,355 second-choice votes from voters who backed the other five candidates. While this was not enough to topple Johnson, who got 82,880 second-preferences, it brought the Labour veteran just over 60,000 votes from victory.

Livingstone had 46,241 second-choice votes from Green backers – votes which now could be denied to a future Labour candidate if she or he goes ahead with the road schemes.

He also picked up 24,465 second-preference votes from supporters of Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick. Caroline Pidgeon, the London Assembly member most often linked with a Liberal Democrat run for the mayoralty, is also an opponent of new road crossings.

If 2016’s poll is as close as 2012’s, these votes could be enough to decide who wins the mayoralty.

Sian Berry is the most well-known contender to be the Greens’ candidate in 2016. A Camden councillor and transport campaigner, she was the party’s candidate in 2008.

Islington councillor Caroline Russell – a campaigner for Living Streets – is also running for the role, with Green Party members choosing this summer.

The Silvertown Tunnel will add to A2 traffic heading south through Eltham

The Silvertown Tunnel will add to A2 traffic heading south through Eltham

London politicians’ reluctance to recognise road-building adversely effects air quality – as demonstrated by this paper on the widening of the A206 in Crayford – was highlighted in yesterday’s parliamentary debate, led by Diane Abbott.

It also showed the lack of understanding that many politicians have of the river crossings issue – which risks the Silvertown Tunnel slipping into being, hidden by the controversies over other crossings.

New Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matthew Pennycook was the only member to bring up the topic of “strategic river crossings”, when intervening in a summing-up by Tory minister Rory Stewart.

But Stewart replied by referring to “the construction of a new bridge” – when the only “strategic” crossing currently being planned is the tunnel at Silvertown, which TfL plans to run a “final” consultation on this autumn. (Gallions and Belvedere have been called “local bridges for local people” by Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland.)

If campaigners and politicians want to address the crossings issue, they will need to think about dealing with each one individually rather than treating them as a group.

Fix the 53: Petition demands bus runs to Whitehall once again

A 53 to Lambeth North
Back in January, this website noted the sudden cut to bus route 53 caused by roadworks by Westminster Bridge. The service stopped running the full length of its route to Whitehall, depriving many local workers, from cleaners to civil servants, of their usual route to central London.

The diggers have moved away from Bridge Street, but initial dates for the restoration of service in March and then April have been missed. Transport for London blames new works at the Elephant & Castle for continuing to stop the service at Lambeth North. However, no other bus through the Elephant is suffering such a severe cut in service.

Local politicians have been strangely silent on the matter – at least in public – although I do know Woolwich Common’s Labour councillor David Gardner has raised the issue with Transport for London, citing the number of low-paid workers who use the bus.

Now the Charlton Society (declaration of interest: I’m on its committee) has launched a petition to get the route back to is full strength once again. To sign it, visit Change.org.

Save the Woolwich Ferry: Thousands sign new petition


Over 3,800 people have signed a petition demanding Transport for London saves the Woolwich Ferry, which is threatened by its new river crossing proposals.

Greenwich Council supported closing the ferry in its submission on a planned new road bridge at Gallions Reach, and TfL has recently canvassed opinions on whether or not the 50-year-old vessels and pontoons should be replaced with new ships and structures.

Notably, in publicising the recent consultation into the Silvertown Tunnel, TfL claimed those who backed a revamped Woolwich Ferry were backing a new river crossing, exaggerating support for the transport authority’s new road plans.

Closing the crossing would remove the problems of lorries queuing at the ferry approaches in Woolwich and North Woolwich and open up more riverside land for development.

But regardless of the flaws or merits in TfL’s road crossing plans, closing the Woolwich Ferry would send more HGVs to the Blackwall Tunnel (and potentially a Silvertown Tunnel, which TfL admits would lead to a 20% increase in traffic on its approaches) – it would certainly be simpler for lorries to reach there than any new bridge at Gallions Reach – and would remove an alternative option for crossing the Thames.

Closing the ferry would also remove a part of the history of Woolwich – TfL and its predecessors have been legally obliged to provide a free ferry here since 1889, on the basis that Woolwich taxpayers (on both sides of the river) had paid for free crossings for west London.

Local politicians have generally kept their support for the ferry’s closure quiet – it would have shut two years ago if Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge had been built.

Any move to shut (or charge for) the ferry would need to be endorsed by parliament, so I wonder if any of Greenwich & Woolwich’s general election candidates will back the Save the Woolwich Ferry campaign?

Goodbye, North Greenwich station ticket office: 1999-2015

North Greenwich station, 22 March 2015

If you’re planning to rock up to North Greenwich station’s ticket office this morning to buy a ticket, you’re too late. The blind came down for the final time yesterday as part of City Hall’s drive to eradicate ticket counters from the Tube network (or to use TfL’s euphemism, “transforming our stations“.)

With new technology replacing old paper tickets, losing ticket offices from the Tube network has been coming for a while. But it’s a surprise to see North Greenwich – the eighth-busiest station outside zone 1 – be one of the first to lose a counter that’s always seemed to be busy.

North Greenwich station, 15 March 2015

Staff will now be in the ticket hall and will be able to access extra functions on ticket machines if needed, but if you have a potentially fiddly transaction (like using a company cheque to pay for a travelcard), it’s not quite clear what you need to do. Annual tickets will soon only be available online, removing the satisfying/depressing (depending on your outlook) yearly ritual of talking to a human being while parting with a four-figure sum.

Or you could, for now, hop one stop west to Canary Wharf, where the ticket office will stay open until nearer the end of the year.

There will now be a month of “improvement works”, whatever that means – more ticket machines; or an Argos outlet, as seen at Cannon Street? We’ll have to wait and see.

North Greenwich station, 22 March 2015

Whatever the rights or wrongs in this case, the money saved on closing North Greenwich’s ticket office will go on vital services like the kiosk upstairs promoting the cable car, still staffed on Sunday despite the aerial folly vital transport connection being closed for its annual service.

Watch a train trip up Greenwich’s Angerstein Wharf freight line

Deceptively rural-looking: The Angerstein Wharf freight line line

You might remember last summer, this website mentioned a special rail trip up the Angerstein Wharf branch line, which links the main network with riverside industries in both Greenwich and Charlton.

853 reader John decided to shell out for the all-day trip which included a trip up the line.

He says: “I live on Bramshot Avenue and have crossed this line by foot many times. I enjoy travelling by train and just simply staring out the window, but I must admit I was a bit apprehensive because of your ‘punishingly-long’ comment. 11 hours is a long time.

“However, it was a great day. I suppose it was made better by taking the ‘dining’ option (old-fashioned first class carriages, a spot-on full English breakfast, four-course dinner and a fair bit of booze), but the journey was interesting and far from boring.

“Yes, my fellow travellers were definitely of a type: ‘peas in a pod’ as one said, who I heard commenting on the madness that a 3365B couldn’t couple with a 3367 :) But these are affable types, and the world needs people like them.”

“The only downside was that there was a broken track at Angerstein and we couldn’t go all the way down.”

And now, courtesy of YouTube train buff snowyrails, you can watch the trip for yourself. Enjoy.