Elsewhere: ‘How the Emirates Air Line’s fares aren’t paying its way’

Thames Cable Car
This website hasn’t featured the cable car much recently, so here’s a story somebody else has done about it. LondonLovesBusiness has done some digging and found that the Dangleway isn’t paying its way.

LLB editor Shruti Tripathi Chopra used the Freedom of Information Act to get the Emirates Air Line’s fare income for each year since it opened in June 2012. During the six months it was open in 2012, it took a healthy £6m; but in all of 2013 that dropped to £5.2m; then back up to £5.8m in 2014. Up to July, it’s taken £2.3m in fares – obviously that’s before the bulk of the school holidays.

Operating costs in the cable car’s first year were £6m per year*, so essentially, LLB says, the thing’s not only useless as public transport – journeys have now been slowed to 15 minutes to allow people to enjoy the view – it’s losing money as a tourist attraction, if you judge it by fare income alone. (I’ve amended this paragraph as TfL later went on to dispute this – see update below.)

Some caveats, though. Firstly, most public transport in London is subsidised to some extent anyway – there’s a social benefit in getting people onto mass transit and out of cars, and its existence supports centres of employment. However, the Emirates Air Line’s extremely low number of regular users show this can’t be judged in the same way as, say, the 108 bus through the Blackwall Tunnel (which costs £3.7m each year to run before fares from 3.5m journeys are taken into account).

Secondly, these figures don’t include non-fare income, such as the sponsorship money from Emirates, which is paid in annual tranches. Emirates’ deal is worth £36m in total, including £10.35m up to and including the day the cable car opened. It is now paying the rest off in £2.85m chunks each year – enough, so far, to keep the finances in the black. You could argue that this is similar to advertising on the bus network.

All that said, it’s still another valuable insight into what essentially was a panicky vanity project carried out by a mayor seeing re-election. The sad thing is that a pedestrian or cycling connection between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf wouldn’t have cost that much more to build (£100m instead of the cable car’s £60m) and would have transformed the area.

Political parties are now choosing Johnson’s replacement (this website humbly suggests Labour backers make Christian Wolmar their first choice). It’ll be interesting to see just what the wannabe mayors make of Johnson’s most baffling legacy to London.

* Friday update: After this post was written, LLB amended its story to include TfL figures – which as far as I can gather had been released for the first time – that claim operating costs have fallen since the first year of operation, putting the cable car’s finances in a healthier light. I’d be curious to find out just where the falls in operating costs comes from. And of course, if the cable car was doing its job as public transport, the question of whether it makes or loses a million pounds each year wouldn’t be such a vexed one.


  1. I wonder how much difference it would really make if the cable car was included in the Travelcard, etc. Would it generate much more demand than there is at the moment? Strikes me the best thing is to flog it off as a tourist attraction.

  2. July’s Board Papers including the Q4 2014/15 and full year results give the lie to TfL’s protestations here – the already low target of 1.8m rides was substantially undershot (having hit the 1.5m target in 2013/14, it basically didn’t change – milder weather over the winter meant a few more rides, making up for a worse summer and ending up with a 3.2% rise, but since the target was about a 18.9% in ridership it’s a bit rich of TfL to trumpet this as a success.

    So far this year ridership is 2.1% up on last year but 5.6% down on the same time in 2013/14.

    I had some of those TfL figures already, but the ones they didn’t publish were those showing that income undershot the target substantially in both 13/14 and 14/15, by £3m and £1m. It actually ‘made’ a reasonable surplus last year, but only because opex had been cut a bit and, weirdly, income per ride was substantially up (£3.76 against £3.47 the year before). Are they flogging cuddly dangleway toys, or something?

    The concept of a surplus is misleading though as I’m not sure it covers repaying the European loan and it would be interesting if the loss of advertising revenue from the huge posters put up in prominent sites (e.g. Waterloo Jubilee ticket hall) was included as operating expenses. It’s made about £1m in surplus up until April, which I don’t reckon will come close to repaying the initial investment (which is, what, £24m or so?) in ten years, which is apparently the aim.

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