The London cable car scheme, for legal and marketing reasons known as the Emirates Air Line, has suffered a significant drop in passenger numbers since the Olympics. In the heady days of July, the cable car managed 8,000+ passengers a day. Now, figures provided by TfL suggest that the scheme is averaging a figure of 229 people per hour - less than 5% of its actual capacity. Needless to say, this is not good news. Not for the scheme itself, not for those who consider it a test-bed for wider expansion of cable cars in East London and beyond, and certainly not for the Mayor who championed the project.
How can the project be redeemed?
In July, the London Assembly put forward a motion which proposed how to increase usage. The full text is below:
“The Assembly welcomes the cable car river crossing, but regrets that some £25 million worth of public money has been spent on it being built when the Mayor had promised that it would be fully funded from the private sector.
This Assembly regrets that travel on the cable car will not be covered by travel cards, the Freedom Pass or the Oyster cap. It considers that the Mayor has missed an opportunity to integrate fully the cable car into the public transport ticketing system.
The Assembly requests the Mayor under section 60(1) of the Greater London Authority Act to:
- Reconsider the exclusion of cable car journeys from the normal ticketing arrangements when he makes his 2013 fares decision;
- Report to the Assembly, well in advance of his 2013 fares decision, on the cost of including cable car journeys in travel cards, the Freedom Pass and Oyster cap;
- Consult with boroughs on how cable car travel could be included in the Freedom Pass.”
All of these are sensible measures and the Mayor would be right to take them up. However, his response to these proposals was, at best, to advocate doing nothing until more meaningful usage data can be gathered.
Assembly Member John Biggs hits the nail on the head when talking to the East London Advertiser:
“Any new river crossing is welcome because the need is so desperate. But it is a real shame people in east London have to pay extra to cross the Thames when fares are already so high."
It would seem that the only sensible solution for the Mayor, if he wants to make a go of the scheme , is to bring it within the scope of Oyster and also the Freedom Pass.
Despite being the most expensive cable car scheme in the world (by distance covered) the Emirates Airline offers a glimpse of a London that isn't afraid of offering innovative transport solutions. However, as this episode goes to show, innovation only gets you so far - good administration (something the Mayor has yet to display) is necessary to deliver results.