The Emirates Air Line

Articles, LondonUnlockedEditorComment

TfL have released more details about the upcoming cable car scheme (the 'Emirates Air Line') running from Royal Victoria Docks to North Greenwich.

As you can see from the above video, the scheme appears to be retaining its fantastic scope as it stretches over the river and (extrapolating wildly from the featured media) seems to support Oyster and bike transport between its two stops. (It may have been an over-enthusiastic designer who included those features but we can but hope.)

Emirates' sponsorship, which places its logo on the Tube map and will last for 10 years, cost them some £36m. Due to the increasing price of the project (having risen from an initial £25m to the current estimate of £60m), the sponsorship covers only a portion of the cost, leaving TfL with a substantial shortfall to cover. Even possible EU funding will leave an uncomfortable hole.

The Mayor claims that the scheme will lead to job creation and further sponsorship opportunities and perhaps he is right. However, the transport budget is already stretched and it's difficult to see how this scheme is creating anything but trouble down the line for London Rail who will foot the bill.

LondonReconnections have performed an excellent analysis of the scheme. The most expensive cable car system in the world? Quite possibly.

We'd like to give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt. It's a visionary idea and perhaps a proof of concept for cable cars elsewhere in London. However, TfL and the Mayor need to explain why the Air Line is that much more expensive than similar others around the world, and how they are delivering value for Londoners.

Cable cars could offer cheap, pressure alleviating, options for passenger movement across the capital (or at least, say, from Greenwich to Canary Wharf, or even the Isle of Dogs to Rotherhithe). Londoners and Government, however, will need to be convinced that this isn't a folly if that is to happen, and that means accountability and value for money.

Critics have accused the Air Line of being a mayoral 'vanity project'. If it arrives late for the Olympics (by no means impossible) it's hard to imagine that it will be seen as anything but. With an election campaign looming, it's time for the Mayor to get a grip on the Air Line and ensure that it comes in on time and budget.