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London’s Cable Car, Fortune or Flop?


In 2012 When the cable car first opened in Greenwich Boris Johnson had dreams of people using the “airline” in their everyday commute. Although its unclear how many regular commuters there are, it is clear that the number of passengers is very low.

Although the cable car covers a much shorter distance than any other mode of public transport run by TFL (Transport for London) the actual number of passengers is shockingly low. For example, between the 4th and the 31st of March 2018 176 million bus journeys were made, 105 million Tube Journeys and even 2 million Tram journeys, But the cable car saw just 60 thousand in the same period.

If you look at passenger numbers since it first opened the trend is that august is the busiest month for the cable car, this is no surprise as august is the height of the summer holidays for most school pupils in the UK and around the world. So, a higher number of tourists will mean more passengers, so this spike is no surprise. However, if you look at this spike each year the trend is that the number of passengers is falling. In 2012 Augusts busiest week saw well over 100 thousand passengers however it’s important to remember the Olympics where in London at this time. In 2013 the busiest week in august saw around 60 thousand passengers in 2014 this had dropped to 52 thousand and by 2017 the busiest week in august saw just 48 thousand passengers.

However, despite these shockingly low numbers the cable car does still make money most likely due to sponsorship deals, the various tourist packages it sells and the high-ticket prices. Fare revenue on average is 451 thousand pounds and this is before sponsorship.

Sponsorship is a big part of the cable cars revenue, the cable car itself is essentially a marketing campaign for Emirates Airlines, all of the cable cars and the stations on either side are plastered in Emirates branding even the logo which appears on all TFL maps has the Name of the airline on it. This obviously creates a lot of exposure for Emirates somewhat justifying the 2.85 million pounds they pay each year for the sponsorship rights.

So although its clear the cable car does make money and isn’t at a loss there is still the question of why TFL run it, Transport for London are supposed to be just that Transport, the cable car is more of a tourist attraction as shown by the passenger spike during school holidays. In a statement TFL said “the cable car remains a useful part of London’s transport network and continues to be popular with visitors to the capital as well as those visiting the O2 Arena and the ExCeL London. More than nine million customers have enjoyed journeys on it since it opened in 2012” but would it be better to sell it off as a viable business and concentrate on actual Transport?