Since its first public flight in 2012, the Emirates Air Line has fulfilled many functions. It took pride of place as Mayor Boris Johnson’s inaugural vanity project, it's sparked a furious storm of Freedom of Information requests and — until the Garden Bridge opens — is a handy stick to beat TfL and the Tories with. It gets knocked on a regular basis, so we thought it was time to celebrate our cable car.
1. Everyone's doing it
London has joined a select group of forward-thinking councils using cable cars for urban transportation. Medellín, Colombia was the first city to have a cable car as public transport, while La Paz in Bolivia; Caracas, Venezuela; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Portland, US have followed suit, although the latter is branded as an 'aerial tram'. They’re energy efficient and have low emissions, both important to London with its stratospheric levels of air pollution.
2. The view
We accept that it's an unlovely bit of the river unless you're keen on post-industrial wasteland and a bird's-eye view of The O2. At 90m it's not quite as high as the London Eye, but it's still a view of a bit of the capital you don't normally get to see unless you're in a plane. And let's face it, there's not much east of Canary Wharf to get in the way.
3. If you build it, they will come
Oh yes, regeneration. East London is going through rather a lot of it and it doesn’t look like it will end any time soon. In 2014, Newham Council granted planning permission for the £1bn Advanced Business Park (ABP) development which could generate 20,000 jobs and is due to be completed in 2023. Silvertown Quays is expected to create 3,000 new homes and 21,000 new jobs by about 2025 and a controversial 'floating village' at Royal Docks will contribute to the area’s regeneration. People might not agree with all of it, but if those projects go ahead, the Emirates Air Line will be just a part of the transport infrastructure for the area. Would Canary Wharf have become the bastion of commerce it is now if the Isle of Dogs was still solely served by buses? Of course not. So basically, the cable car is about 20 years ahead of its time.
4. Cost of taking it away
It cost £60m to build. It would cost a not insignificant amount to move it or take it away completely. We had no idea exactly how much so we asked a TfL spokesperson:
"There has never been any research into removing or relocating the Emirates Air Line. As a result there are no estimations on costs for doing so. It was always intended to be part of the regeneration of the area, attracting visitors and local investment, and it is having that effect. The area has already changed dramatically since the cable car arrived and will continue to do so as more new homes and businesses are attracted to the area."
We admire TfL's self-belief. When we pondered on new locations for the cable car, Londonist readers had plenty of suggestions. If you have an estimate (back-of-the-fag-packet calculations will do) on how much it might cost the taxpayer to move a significant piece of transport infrastructure, please tell us in the comments.
5. It's not that busy
OK, this is a bit of a stretch, but you know that faux-nonchalant rush for tube seats? You won't get that on the cable car. At worst, you might find yourself sharing a gondola with a couple of over-excited tourists during rush hour, but that's way better than a tube full of sweaty commuters. The only way it could be better is if they served drinks.
6. Public transport, flat packed
Extending it could be easier and cheaper than extending the tube — it took just 10 months for the Emirates Air Line to be built. Back in the flush of its first opening, some members of the London Assembly wanted to see it extended to Canary Wharf, Bromley town centre and, erm, Rainham Nature Reserve. In fact, Londonist reader Brian Butterworth went to the trouble of drawing a map which extended the cable car right across London (see above). We think this is a fine idea and it's likely to be easier than digging lots of unpopular road tunnels under the Thames or razing half of central London to the ground for more trains.
7. Better use of space
The streets are choked with motorised vehicles, bikes and pedestrians, but just look at all that nice empty space above you. The Emirates Air Line sails across the river, unimpeded by traffic jams, signal failures or roadworks. Admittedly, it is disproportionately affected by wind (of the meteorological variety) but show us a form of public transport that can't be disrupted by weather. Even the Waterloo and City line has closed in the past due to 'adverse weather conditions'.
TfL's position on the permanence of the cable car seems pretty clear, so unless any future Mayor of London decides to sacrifice some of the taxpayer's hard-earned to make a point by removing it, we think it's here to stay. We just need to invent some reasons to travel between Royal Docks and The O2 for a few more years.