Cable Car Costing £500k A Month To Run

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 64 months ago
Cable Car Costing £500k A Month To Run

The cable car is costing around £500,000 a month to run at the moment, according to Transport for London.

The Emirates Air Line, if we're giving it its posh name, opened in June and enjoyed a surge in ridership during the Olympics and Paralympics, when it connected two major venues. Back then around 20,000 people a day enjoyed the view. By November that had fallen to around 3,000 per weekday and between 10,000 and 16,000 on weekends with very few multi-journey pass sales, raising further concerns that it's a tourist attraction – an assumption not really helped by its website. You might see figures quoted that ridership has been as low as 301 a day; that happened on Monday 24 September when the cable car was closed for eight hours because of high winds. That's not an unusual occurrence, though normally for less time. Lack of reliability could be another reason why commuters aren't willing to build it into their regular journey.

The Air Line cost £60m to build, part-paid for with £36m of sponsorship from Emirates coming in over nine years and an £8m grant; add on £6m a year operating costs and it's clear that this piece of infrastructure needs to attract more regular travellers. TfL won't say how much they've taken in fares, but if we use numbers from October (rounding down to take half term into account) we get a rough monthly figure of 153,000 passengers (in December it was around 90,000, but that includes Christmas and New Year). Assume they're all adults (they're not); assume a mid-point of pricing (say, £3.80 each) and that produces fare revenue of £581,400 a month – and that's definitely an over-estimate. So the cable car is probably barely paying for its own running costs, never mind paying back what it cost to build. So much for not costing the taxpayer anything.

Even TfL's own Journey Planner doesn't advise using it unless you specifically say you want to travel between "Greenwich Peninsula" and "Royal Docks"; a journey request for North Greenwich to Royal Victoria suggests the tube and DLR. And no wonder: the Emirates Air Line takes 7 minutes (plus walk at either end to connect to other transport) and costs £3.20 one way on Oyster. The Jubilee line plus DLR takes between 6 and 9 minutes and costs £1.60 peak / £1.50 off peak on Oyster. We know how we'd travel.

Photo by tezzer57 from the Londonist Flickr pool

Last Updated 10 January 2013


It's bizarre that they planned on people building it into their daily journey or even envisaged it as a mode of transport - yes it may provide a good view across London, but if you've already taken the Tube to get to either North Greenwich or Royal Victoria, you're hardly going to stop, get off, pay for a separate journey (which as you pointed out is loads more than even a peak Oyster fare), then pay again to get the Tube to your destination. It's only really of use for those who work around that area (of which numbers aren't huge) or during large public events (as the Olympics showed) where it provides a convenient way to cross.

If they were serious about building a genuine transport link, it should have been a bridge, or, failing that, another tunnel. A cable car isn't wrong, and would of course function well as a tourist attraction. They have one in Cologne which seems to work fine, although I have no idea how much it costs to run. The problem is, Greenwich is hardly a major tourist destination yet.


Is it included in travelcards? No commuter is going to use it if it's not included in the travelcard. What would be the point.