Robert Hampton

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17th June 2013

Left Hanging
Posted by at 11.16pm | 3 responses | Out and About

Emirates Air LineAfter the stress of my exams, I decided to unwind by giving myself a holiday. First, I headed off to the Isle of Wight, the story of which I am writing up over at my other blogpart one here, and part two here, with part three to follow shortly.

After a few days there, I decided to go to London to spend a happy weekend in the capital. My accommodation was The Strand Palace Hotel, an altogether too luxurious place for a pleb like me (they had a man in a top hat opening the front door!) but why not push the boat out once in a while? It’s in a brilliant location on The Strand, within easy reach of most of the theatres, Covent Garden, the London Eye and (ahem) Soho. The only downside was that I didn’t get to ride the Underground much, as most places I needed to go were within walking distance.

One mode of transport I did get to ride was the Emirates Air Line … or the “Arabfly Dangleway”, as London-based blogger Diamond Geezer would have it.

This new cable car across the Thames, linking Greenwich to the Royal Docks, opened in June 2012. It is the “brain” child of London’s ever-popular mayor, Boris Johnson. As you may have gathered from the name, the Emirates Air Line is sponsored by the Emirates airline, who paid to have their branding on the cable cars and stations, and also for cutesy details like referring to the cars as “cabins” and journeys as “flights”. This sponsorship helped to offset the construction costs, meaning the cable car didn’t cost a penny to the taxpayer… oh, apart from the £24 million cost overrun which had to picked up out of TfL’s budget.

It also means for the first time ever, there are sponsored stations appearing on the Tube map:

Emirates Air Line


Anyway, I had some time to kill on Sunday before my train home and curiosity got the better of me, so got on a Jubilee Line train and headed to North Greenwich. Here I found the southern terminus of the cable car, near to the O2 Arena.

Emirates Air Line Greenwich

I paid using my Oyster card so I didn’t have to queue for a ticket. Actually, I wouldn’t have had to queue for a ticket anyway, as there was no-one waiting, despite the presence of a ridiculously optimistic maze queue. To be fair, it was Sunday morning, when you wouldn’t expect any public transport, even in London, to be particularly busy.

Maze Queue at Emirates Greenwich Peninsula

Incidentally, although the cable car is a TfL service, “special fares apply” – in other words, Travelcards are not valid and the £3.20 Oyster fare does not count towards the daily fare cap.

Having touched in, I climbed a short flight of steps into the terminal building. The next car glided in and I stepped aboard. You won’t be surprised to hear that I had a cabin to myself. The car never stops moving, but travels dead slow within the terminal. As the car leaves the terminal, the door closes automatically and then we get up to “normal” speed.

Inside the Terminal Cable Car Interior

The car quickly ascended to the highest point of 295 feet (or “cruising altitude” as the automated announcement irritatingly insisted on calling it).

Here is the main selling point of the ride for tourists: there are some good views available of the O2, with the skyscrapers around Canary Wharf as a backdrop. It’s a shame the weather was so overcast that morning, as it spoiled my pictures somewhat.

Cable Cars View of O2

Unfortunately, on the other side of the river, there is still a lot of regeneration work yet to be done, not to mention construction work on the Crossrail project in full swing. This meant that as I descended into Royal Docks station, I was treated to attractive views of building sites and rubbish dumps.

Building site and DLR train Rubbish Dump

And that was more or less it – I alighted at Royal Docks station. Total journey time, a little over ten minutes. I decided to forego a return journey on the cable car in favour of the nearby DLR station. It was fun, and if I was in the area in future I would probably ride it again, but I wouldn’t exactly make it a top priority for any London visit.

The cable car likes to pretend it’s a proper public transport service, but in my view, it’s little more than a funfair ride. That’s fine, but should this sort of thing be subsidised by the taxpayer out of the transport budget? Its usefulness as part of the TfL network is highly dubious – if you want to cross the river here, the Jubilee Line is there already. That shows in the passenger numbers, with figures showing that the main users of the line are tourists – there are almost no commuters using it.

TfL say that ridership is in line with expectations and will pick up as the regeneration of the area continues. Until then I’m afraid the Thames cable car is nothing more than an interesting – and expensive – curiosity.

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3 Responses
  1. Comment by Andrew
    17th June 2013 at 11:37 pm

    hmmm, It Looks OK but I think a journey on one of their A380’s is more fun & has less Rubbish views! Still I’d like to give it a go next time I’m in London myself

  2. Comment by Scottieboy (@merseytart)
    18th June 2013 at 10:53 am

    Bless you for crediting Boris with having a brain.

  3. Comment by diamond geezer
    18th June 2013 at 7:52 pm

    If it went from somewhere to somewhere, rather than nowhere much to nowhere much, and if it had exciting views of central London, rather than low key views of east London, and if it cost less, rather than being a bolt-on extra, then it might do better. As it is, visitor numbers are one up this month.