So, at about 7pm, I thought I’d have a look at the cable car since I was passing by. Having seen lots of publicity about “boarding passes“, I saw a couple of ticket machines with Oyster readers on, topped mine up, and tried to find where I could get one. I couldn’t, except at the tourist rate of over four quid.
“Can I buy a ticket with Oyster on these machines?”, I asked a staffer. “No,” she said.
I took a look at the queue for the kiosk, remembered I had an appointment in the pub in a couple of hours, thought better of it, and went to get my bike to ride home.
A couple of hours later, I met my chum in the pub. She’d taken a ride just after I left. “Oh, you can just touch in and it’s fine – heaven knows what it’s taken off my Oyster though…”
As a vertigo sufferer (though one that’s been fine with cable cars in Lisbon – which is what I think London’s is based on – and Barcelona) I might have had a lucky escape, mind. The wind whipped up when I was getting my bike, and the gondolas stopped, swaying slightly in the air. Turns out this is what they do when it gets windy. It gets windy a lot on the Greenwich Peninsula – that could be interesting…
Still, despite it being a multi-million pound drain on a public transport budget, it seemed to have a steady stream of customers, if not the crowds predicted by TfL. It’ll be interesting to see how many people are using it during Friday’s morning rush hour. Probably not a lot, but I’ll keep an open mind.
But there’s an ominous warning for the future in this week’s Greenwich Council propaganda rag Greenwich Time, where council – sorry, royal borough leader Chris Roberts came out in favour of building a third Blackwall Tunnel underneath the cable car site, having fudged the question at a council meeting during the mayoral election after Labour candidate Ken Livingstone criticised the project.
So, with the Greenwich Labour party in support of clogging up the area with more traffic – if there’s any opposition to the Silvertown Tunnel – 88% of 853 readers were against it in a poll five months ago – then perhaps it needs to get organised sooner rather than later.
So London’s most baffling piece of public transport will open to the public a week on Thursday, with many unanswered questions about quite what it’s there for. London Reconnections has done a sparkling job on bringing together all the info on the Thames Cable Car, and last night the station was proudly displaying its EMIRATES GREENWICH PENINSULA signage.
But why, and what on earth is it for? Here’s some discussions you’ll be hearing more of over the next couple of weeks.
The fares. £3.20 with an Oyster card, £4.20 in cash (£1.60 and £2.20 for children); Travelcards and Freedom Passes not valid. If it doesn’t accept Travelcards, then it isn’t part of the London public transport network, surely? But then there’s also a 10-journey “frequent flyer” rate at £16. It’s clear this is like the river buses – not quite part of the public transport system, but somehow fudged into it. But unlike the Thames Clippers river buses, this is owned and run by Transport for London. So why are we paying for its construction, then paying a premium rate to use it?
The operating hours. Last journeys are at 9pm – with “extended hours” promised when there are “events at the local venues”. Does that mean all O2 shows or just high-profile ones? What about busy Friday nights when there’s just something on in the smaller Indigo2 venue? Or when an O2 act stays on stage well beyond time?
Two speeds. Journeys will take five minutes in the mornings and evenings – but 10 during the daytime. Sorry, shift workers, you’re stuck on the slow tourist special. Tourist wanting to see a leisurely sunrise or sunset? Forget it. So here’s the baffling thing…
Public transport or tourist attraction? It’s clear TfL is trying to have its cake and eat it. It’s obviously going to be a big hit for the first year or so, as public curiosity tempts the masses into having a go. But as a piece of public transport? This remains a journey that very few people actually need to make – myself, I’ve only had to visit ExCeL twice, and one of those was for a cable car press event.
Sure, the Thames Clippers are reasonably successful, but they span a wider area and attract a different clientele – people who both live and work near the piers who are happy to trade in the speed of rail or Tube for a higher level of comfort (and a drink at the bar) for a price. The cable car offers a view – but so do other forms of public transport, and they don’t demand a surcharge on your Oyster card.
The website. Just for a laugh, take a look at its official website – www.emiratesairline.co.uk. South London attractions include, er, Brixton, Hampton Court Palace and the London Eye, none of which are anywhere near Greenwich. As for the “North London” attractions – Little Venice, the Albert Hall, and, er, the Millennium Bridge. Not that the cable car even goes to north London. All this on a website which carries the TfL roundel.
Anyhow, what do you think? Time for a couple of polls – I’d be interested to see what you think of the cable car and its split personality.
PS. As ever, Diamond Geezer has nailed it.
11:35pm, Friday night: Coming home from North Greenwich station, there’s still work going on in the cable car station. The word “Greenwich” has appeared on the front, much of the internal signage is up, and (out of sight) there’s a video wall at the entrance.
9:05pm, Sunday evening: Still hard at work. The hi-vis chaps in the centre look like they’re preparing to attach the word “EMIRATES” to the entrance sign. Hopefully the sponsors are coughing up for the overtime.
Monday update, 00.30am: BBC London’s Tom Edwards has tweeted…
This compares with original estimates of fares provided 18 months ago to Greenwich Council’s planning committee of £2.50 for Oyster users and £3.50 cash. I think I’ll stick with the Tube or Woolwich Ferry instead…
You might have seen the Greenwich cable car in action over the bank holiday, with tests being stepped up. From halfway up the hill in Charlton, with the gondolas sat in pairs across the river, it looked a bit like a set of Christmas lights nobody had bothered to turn on.
There’s still plenty of work to do, though, before London’s most baffling piece of public transport opens, and planning permission’s just gone in for the signage at the front of the station. Here’s a bigger version of the picture above. No fares have been revealed, although Greenwich councillors were told in 2011 to expect charges of between £2.50-£3.50, and no opening date has been announced. Officially, the project is due to open after the Olympics, despite it linking two Games venues.
But cable car or no cable car, there’ll be more changes to the peninsula during the Games. Planning documents also reveal London 2012 sponsors are hoping to make their mark on the area with a huge advertisement on the side of the office building at Mitre Passage, facing the cable car site.
There are also plans for huge advertisements on the “green wall” behind North Greenwich station, as well as on the station itself. (Away from the peninsula, the BP garage on Woolwich Road, Charlton, is also planning to plaster itself with images of athletes including Jess Ennis.)
Finally, if the cable car isn’t ready in time, then a 35-metre high “Skylon Flyer” is due to open by North Greenwich Pier, if it passes through planning. There’s already been a similar attraction in Peninsula Square, but this one’s also clad in Olympic sponsor colours. As a vertigo sufferer I think I’ll just about manage the cable car – I might have to pass on being shot into the sky on the Skylon though…
Of course, it was never going to be open for the Olympics, but nudge, wink, if it gets done in time….
Well, those hopes are dampened after work on erecting the cable for the Emirates Air-Line was postponed for the third weekend in a row. When it happens, it’ll be a dramatic sight, with a helicopter due to string the cable across the Thames*.
The work was originally due for 10/11 March, even though there was no south-side tower to string a cable to (the two north-side towers have been up for a few weeks). Then a second notice was issued for 16/17 March – but at the time the notice went out, the south-side tower was still a stump in the ground.
Sadly for Boris Johnson, that weekend’s cancellation pushed the work into the election campaign, which officially kicked off last Tuesday. So he now can’t use City Hall resources to, say, please TV cameras by riding in the chopper doing the work.
Things were looking more hopeful last week, as the tower raced up. The cable apparatus was installed on Thursday, and the picture above shows the scene that evening.
We apologise on the contractors behalf for yet further delay to this activity.
No further Notices to Mariners will now be issued on the intention to rig cables at the cable car location in Bugsbys Reach until the building of the South Tower has been completed.
A minimum of 5 days notice will then be given by Notices to Mariners to advise the weekend on which the cables will be rigged. We regret and also apologise for any inconvenience caused by these continued delays which are out with our control and the plethora of Notices in this respect, advising of works which fail to materialise.
Ouch. So, if the work’s to be done this weekend (31 March/ 1 April), a notice to mariners will have to appear today. Otherwise, we’re looking at Easter. But we’re now looking at the project being at least three weeks behind schedule, presumably almost certain to miss a three-week long Olympics when a link between the Dome and ExCeL would be useful.
That said, the gondalas were in place at “Emirates Greenwich Peninsula” on Friday night, still in their protective wrappings, and an ad for staff appeared in last week’s edition of Greenwich Council propaganda weekly Royal Greenwich Time (so much for criticising “Pyongyang-style freesheets“, eh?). The lighter evenings will also aid a project which has demanded work at weekends and late at night.
But these delays can’t be a good sign. If a notice to mariners doesn’t appear today, expect trouble.
Tuesday 12.40am update: This was the original plan as far as I know, but this now may be a chopper-free zone. Wait and see…
Greenwich’s early risers would have had a treat this morning – the masts were up and in place on the Cutty Sark by lunchtime today. I got to the town centre just in time to see the huge low loader that delivered them ease its way out. There’s still some work to go before the masts are at their full glory, but it’s looking good already. It’s worth watching for more on Sunday.
A mile or so up the river there’s more landmarks appearing, with the first cable car tower appearing on the Silvertown side of the Thames. On the Greenwich side, construction staff were still hard at work as the sun set on a chilly Saturday. It won’t be long now before a mast appears on this side of the water as well.
To Deptford last night, where mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone held a question and answer session with locals and activists at the Lady Margaret Hall. He spoke a little on local trains, which I’ll post about later, but he said a few interesting things about the cable car under construction on the Greenwich Peninsula.
We know past schemes for cable cars there have been considered and dropped over the years, including one to East India DLR station for the millennium, and another plan for one to Canary Wharf. But the former mayor said he and O2 arena boss Philip Anschutz considered the same proposal as is now under construction by the Thames – and it was rejected because it was financially unviable.
Using a question about the cable car to close the session, he told his audience:
We looked at a cable car when Philip Anschutz bought the O2 – [it was] one of the things we looked at, as well as running that fleet of boats he’s got. It was exactly the same scheme, running from the O2 to the ExCeL centre. Philip Anschutz is one of the richest men in the world – but we decided the money just didn’t stack up. It’s a nice tourist attraction, but it’s not mass transit, and it’s a luxury you couldn’t afford.
Boris has this idea it’ll be a triumph, it’ll be open in time for the Olympics – at the moment it’s clearly not going to be open for the Olympics, and it’s now the most expensive cable car in human history.
We’ll have to finish it – but get a mayor who actually pays attention to the bottom line and the detail, because these things go wrong if you just do a grand gesture and not the day job.
While TfL chiefs have been at pains to dampen down the suggestion that the service will be open by the Olympics, the project has been criticised for its cost, currently estimated at £60m, which Boris Johnson is trying to recoup through commercial sponsorship and an application for European funds. Any money he doesn’t get back, though, comes out of TfL’s rail budget – and this is from something which originally was meant to be entirely privately funded.
Folly or not, it’s worth mentioning again that you can take a closer look at the works that are going on at an open morning at the site of what will be “Emirates Greenwich Peninsula” station, on Saturday 26 November from 10am-1pm.