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.

15 comments

  1. diamond geezer

    It’s just as well there are no regular commuters, because the Snowman and Snowdog promotion means the cablecar no longer speeds across the Thames in five minutes during the rush hour. That would mean getting passengers to the other side before the in-flight cartoon has finished, so every journey now takes ten scenic minutes. Priorities.

  2. Darryl

    Someone’s had a try, then! I had a look tonight and the “magical winter wonderland” looked a bit underwhelming (and underused).

  3. Jack

    I don’t see why anyone would buy the private occupancy package. The (admittedly only) time I used it, staff were deliberately separating groups so each “party” got their own cabin.

  4. marymills

    Couple of things -are there less actual cars on the thing than there were?? and I see the Now Gallery has just put out a map of art works on the Peninsula and see the ‘air line’ is marked.

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  6. IslandDweller

    Mary. The way these things work, the cars are detached every evening. There’s obviously a maximum of how many are attached, but no minimum. If they (for whatever reason) choose to run fewer cars on a particular day, that’s entirely feasible.

  7. happiness

    I understand the project was privately funded through sponsorship deals but to understand the value of the project to London it would be useful to gain an insight into running costs and increased visitors to Greenwich and Newham. If it is washing its face as a tourism attraction then it was a very lucky mistake. If it is not however it is nothing but a vanity project.

  8. Darryl Chamberlain

    Happiness – as you’ll see from the post above, only 60% of the cost has been covered through the Emirates deal (and not all of that money’s been paid yet).

    As far as I can gather from others who have looked into running costs, it’s breaking even or making a small profit. But as far as creating new jobs – apart from the ice cream stall on the Greenwich side, there’s not a lot that isn’t direct connected with the cable car itself, as far as I can tell. Maybe there’s a case for arguing the Peninsula Square improvements had something to do with the cable car, but they were planned long before that came.

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