Transport for London is looking for a new sponsor for the London Cable Car, after the airline Emirates chose not to renew its 10-year deal to brand the crossing.
The much-mocked link between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Victoria Dock, which has largely failed as a commuter link but became a hugely popular tourist attraction, has been known as the Emirates Air Line since it opened in June 2012 after a £36 million deal.
Now TfL has announced it is looking for a new title partner for the crossing, which was commissioned by Boris Johnson as mayor and recently recorded its 13 millionth journey.
The announcement indicates that Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor, is content to keep the crossing, despite branding it a failure when he was campaigning to be elected in 2016.
“I’ll start by ending any further public funding for the Emirates cable car as soon as the contract allows — if that means it closes, then so be it. It has been a disastrous waste of money and costs more than £5 million a year to run,” he told the Evening Standard at the time.
However, when income from fares were taken into account, the crossing was actually making a small profit – although Khan’s campaign told the Mayorwatch website that “the likeliest option is it closing in 2021”.
Its fortunes dipped after that – in the 2018/19 financial year, the crossing took £106,000 less in fare revenue than it cost to run, according to figures released by TfL under freedom of information laws to 853.
But user numbers have bounced back in the wake of the pandemic, with TfL reporting 28,000 journeys over the August bank holiday weekend – the highest since 2012, when the crossing was being used by Paralympics Games visitors. TfL is also using its appeal to social media users to sell the crossing to potential sponsors.
With City Hall due to move to the Crystal – next to the cable car’s north terminal – next year, Khan has evidently decided to keep a crossing that may well gain some of his own staff as regular customers.
TfL will be hoping a new sponsor clears the remaining build costs, a decade after Johnson pledged that the cable car would not be a drain on public funds. The cable car cost £60m, which was partly offset by the £36m from Emirates and £8m from the European Union, which Johnson was later to campaign to leave.
Emirates’ deal lasted for 10 years, but TfL says its successor could sponsor the crossing for as little as three years. The naming rights would also include a mention on the Tube map.
While the crossing charges premium fares – from £4 for adults – and does not accept travelcards, regular commuters can trigger a discount by touching in with Oyster or contactless cards more than five times in a week.
Commuter numbers could see a boost next year when City Hall moves to the Royal Docks, while the northern terminal is also within walking distance of Custom House Crossrail station.
Josh Crompton, TfL’s cable car head, said: “Our cable car is unique to London and it provides spectacular views for those wanting to cross the Thames to get to the Royal Docks or Greenwich Peninsula. These latest figures show that it remains as popular as ever with Londoners and visitors. The Emirates Air Line is an instantly recognisable part of London now and we are keen to work with a brand following our successful 10-year partnership with Emirates.
“This exciting opportunity will allow the successful brand to get both national and global awareness, building on the success of this unique part of the London transport network as well as feature on the Tube map.”
Boutros Boutros of Emirates said: “Emirates is proud to have helped establish what has become an iconic part of the London skyline and to have contributed to the regeneration of the local area in the process. We have thoroughly enjoyed our great 10-year partnership, but it is now time to pass the baton onto a new partner. We wish the team behind this unique experience all the very best in the future and will watch with pride.”
In July, plans emerged for a 10-metre high sculpture beneath the cable car’s southern terminal on the Greenwich Peninsula.
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