We haven’t really covered the Emirates Air Line, Boris’s attempt to leave a legacy in London’s rail network (no, seriously, it’s officially run by TfL’s London Rail division).  We might have to if there are any more bizarre nuggets to come out.

Tonight TfL were explaining the nuts and bolts of the scheme (Boris, characteristically, hasn’t bothered to) and the Transport Planning Society have been tweeting it.  Nuggets are:

  • Cable car stats: 5min crossing; 15-30sec headway; 10 people per car; <2,400 people/hr/dir; £36m of £45m construction costs from Emirates.
  • Cable car pricing’s yet to be fixed, but a multi-trip ticket could make cost/trip £1.50-2ish. One-off trips much more. Oyster? Hopefully.

The alternative Jubilee/DLR is about 5-7 minutes journey time, so it’s not really markedly faster.  What about cost?  Now, the current fare on the equivalent existing route (Jubilee to North Greenwich, DLR to Victoria Dock) is currently £1.50 peak/£1.40 off peak, so it appears that Boris is already undercutting his own scheme somewhat.  The predictions of covering the operating costs of £3m do seem a little optimistic on that basis, particularly as TfL seem to suggest that people walking or cycling are the main target audience.  Rather rich walkers and cyclists, it would appear, which I’d have thought wouldn’t amount to 2,400 people per hour in each direction given the current squeeze on household incomes.  In fact it’s not entirely certain TfL can agree with TfL on who the thing’s targetted at.  As the FoI released City Airport risk assessment document explains:

The London Cable Car (LCC) development is due to be opened in 2012 and initially will attract ‘event’ users of the O2 Arena and Excel Centre and a small amount of ‘tourist’ users. Longer term, the development is likely to be increasingly used by local residents and commuters seeking alternatives to bus and DLR/Underground travel options.

As with the cycle hire scheme and the riverboats (and the bus, come to think of it) Boris does like to assume people are desperately anxious not to use existing forms of subsidised public transport in favour of his expensive boondoggles.

Boris has also previously been bullish about the expected usage:

The cable car is predicted to carry in excess of a million passengers in its first year of operation

which implies either an average of just under £3 a passenger coming in (which means fares >£3 given that presumably concessions are valid for kids/elderly/etc.) or alternatively a shortfall in operating costs being made up from somewhere.  However, as with cycle hire and the post rail market a reliance on the post-event market will doubtless result in queues at peak times and empty gondolas the rest of the time, which is hardly an efficient use of resources.  Moreover, TfL themselves are keen to promote the Jubilee Line capacity increase from resignalling as being equivalent to 12,500 passengers per hour, or 2.5 cable cars, and which also operates from nearer the O2 for those post-event crowds, as well as catering for people who want to go somewhere other than the Excel Centre after the event, such as ‘back home to where I actually live on an integrated transport system rather than spending over £3 each having a nice view for five minutes then being dropped into the middle of nowhere’.

What I suspect is actually happening here is that a rich Gulf airline has bought some cheap advertising on the tube map incidentally involving carrying fresh air across the Thames.  I’m unsure this counts as a major milestone in London’s rail history, but it does seem to be making waves in the ‘dodgy commercial sponsorship’ arena not to mention the ‘are you sure about those construction cost estimates?’ arena.

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