It’s the fourth year I’ve surveyed cable car usage in a typical October week. In 2012 and 2013 I did it for Snipe, just for this website in 2014, and for Londonist in 2015, where the week was 11-17 October. If you want more, Diamond Geezer has drilled down into the full dataset to see just when you can guarantee a cabin all to yourself. (All this is thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, currently under threat from the Government.)
The easy figure to home in 2012 was the number of people using it to commute, since Boris Johnson had banged on about it being such a vital link. Back then, 16 people tapped in with their Oyster cards more than five times in a week, enabling them to obtain a rebate on their fares. The following year this dropped to four. Last year, there were none at all. And it’s the same this year.
The handful of people who do commute on it use paper multi-trip tickets, which are valid for a year, and are less fiddly to use. About 30 are sold each week, although because the tickets are valid for a year, it’s hard to tell who’s using it to work and who is using it for fun. This year, I’ve seen figures for these paper tickets going back to opening day in June 2012, and sales don’t seem to tally with big events at the O2 or ExCeL, either. That said, a load were sold on 23 December last year, so maybe someone was giving out a load for Christmas presents (and they’ll have to be used up by today).
It does seem rather strange that TfL runs a public transport service that it discourages regular travellers from using its main public transport ticketing system on, but there you go.
Here’s a table of the week’s journeys:
Individual Emirates Air Line journeys, hour by hour, between 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL.
And here’s a graph:
It’s bad news all round. Usage is pretty much the same as it was last year, the only rises coming from the opening hours being extended to 9pm on weeknights and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tourist-friendly tickets were also well down in our sample week. Combined “experience” tickets, which allow admission to the Emirates Aviation Experience at the Greenwich Peninsula terminal, were down from 5,292 sales to 4,099. Sales of tickets allowing travel on the cable car and Thames Clippers river buses were also down, from 539 in 2014 to 291 this year.
|Sun 11th||Mon 12th||Tue 13th||Wed 14th||Thu 15th||Fri 16th||Sat 17th|
Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL
Here’s how it compares with previous years:
So the cable car opened with a bang on 2012, slumped in 2013, rose slightly on the back of some touristy promotions in 2014, and has been lifted by night flights in 2015. What happens for 2016?
Not a lot, I imagine. We’ll have a new mayor who’ll be less beholden to mayor Johnson’s little projects. But the next mayor’s hands will be tied by the Emirates sponsorship contract signed by TfL in 2012 which, among other things, bans the next mayor from criticising that contract, and mandates a minimum level of service (which is why it opens up at 7am for a handful of punters – albeit a bigger handful than in the very early days.
TfL wanted the cable car because it wanted a river crossing that would bring in an income. Furthermore, it needs that income to pay off the £16m in taxpayers’ money that has gone into building it (plus £8m from the EU and £36m from Emirates). But it’s only made £1m in three years. The last TfL commissioner’s report states that usage will go up as the area around the cable car develops, and the cash will start rolling in.
But will it? At present, most development is going up on the Greenwich Peninsula – if you’ve moved there, would you want to pay a premium fare to go to the Royal Docks? (Would you go to the Royal Docks at all?) On the north side, development is around Canning Town station (notably the hideous London City Island) or at Royal Wharf to the east – too far from the cable car to be convenient.
It’s likely that it won’t be the next mayor’s call what to do with the cable car, but the one after – whoever is in charge in 2022, when the Emirates contract ends. By then, there might be some critical mass on both sides of the Thames, but will a premium-fare link be a help or a hindrance?
Another sponsorship deal could wipe out the loss, then the fares could be cut and it could just become part of the transport network. Or it could just be sold off as a tourist attraction.
That’s all a long way off, though. The more I find out about the cable car, the more questions seem to come up. Whoever wins in May, the Dangleway’s going to be an object of curiosity for some time yet.
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.