Having refused to say anything about the opening date other than "summer 2012", for fear of looking stupid if things went badly, TfL will now have the new project open in time for the Olympics. That's convenient, and a bit of a relief, given that the Games should provide one of the few opportunities for genuine passenger demand.
Boris has pushed through his vanity project in a little over a year, aided by insufficient sponsorship money and a stash of taxpayers' cash. Although East London certainly needs more river crossings, it's hard to argue that a solution for pedestrians and cyclists only is the most efficient way to hike people across the Thames. As I've mentioned several timesbefore, the cablecar goes from nowhere quite useful to nowhere quite useful, along a route few normal commuters would ever need to use. Instead it's far more likely to be frequented by tourists, come to see the "delights" of East London, if the sponsored tube map can tempt them out.
What TfL fail to mention is that the Dangleway's theoretical maximum hourly capacity is also the equivalent of only three full Jubilee line trains. But I'm having trouble with their figure of 2500. Each gondola carries a maximum of ten passengers, according to the FAQ. This suggests 250 crossings an hour, or just over four cars a minute. But according to the timetable "cabins arrive every 30 seconds", which is only half the necessary throughflow. 2500 people per hour in total perhaps, but not each way.
For comparison, the tube and DLR run from approximately 05:30 to well after midnight six days a week, with start and finish curtailed by an hour on Sundays. The Dangleway isn't going to be useful for early risers or those attempting to get home late... apart from during special events when operating times may be extended up to 00:00. What TfL haven't yet broadcast widely is that 9pm is the cablecar's closing time only between April and September. There'll be an 8pm shutdown during the dark half of the year, so any commuters had better get home quick.
Sounds reasonable, so far, doesn't it? You can use your Oyster card, and the cost of travel is just £1.60 a ride. But that's not quite what it says. £1.60 is the price only for mythical commuters who need to travel regularly between North Greenwich and the Royal Docks, or for anyone who thinks they might use the cablecar ten times in a 12 month period.
£3.20 is at the upper end of the price range that anyone might have predicted, and seems a bit steep. For comparison, the price to make the same journey using the Jubilee line and DLR (via Canning Town) is less than half that - a maximum of £1.50. You won't be riding the cablecar because it's cheaper, not even with a 'frequent flyer' pass. This £3.20 single is the only fare you can pay by flashing your Oyster card at the barrier. For all other fares a boarding pass is required, the purchase of which will add extra time to your journey. At most tube stations across town TfL is busy trying to make the ticket office redundant, whereas here it's an integral part of the design.
I pay well over £1000 a year for my zones 1-3 Travelcard, which I might have hoped would include the cablecar. Not so. Despite flying firmly through Zone 3, I'm going to have to fork out £3.20 every time I ride this way, compared to zero additional surcharge for taking the tube. Folk with Freedom Passes get to pay too, rather than travelling for nothing, presumably to stop the gondolas being filled with circulating pensioners during the day. For comparison, riverboat services have a similar arrangement whereby Travelcards can be used to pay a non-trivial amount at a reduced rate. Even so, a boat trip across the river from North Greenwich costs only £2.40, so the cablecar's still considerably more expensive. The high fare is a strong hint that the Dangleway isn't genuinely part of London's public transport network, it's a tourist-facing add-on which needs to make its money from one-off passengers.
Turn up without Oyster, and you'll pay £4.30. That's 86p a minute, which is more expensive than a spin round the London Eye, or the equivalent of spending only half an hour at Madame Tussauds. It turns out Travelcard users are only getting a 25% discount on this full fare, which is less than the one-third discount we enjoy on riverboat services.
I find it slightly misleading to describe a straight line there and back as a '360 degree tour'. In truth, all you're getting is twice as long to stare out beyond East London's industrial hinterland, hardly the most desirable view the capital has to offer. And that's no special return fare, it's merely the single fare doubled. This 'extended' ticket is almost an admission that there's nothing much to see on the other side, so you might as well just turn round and come straight back again.
In case you hoped you might earn a multi journey discount by riding back and forth several times, no you won't. The automatic Oyster discount is aimed at regular travellers only, should they exist, because you'll only earn the discount by coming back next week. Even then you'll have to pay another full price £3.20 at the gate, which is then refundable the following week, and so the charade begins again.
Yes, that's a private hire option, should anyone be interested in an exclusive pod. This'll cost £86 for any number of passengers up to ten, and for that you get one ten-minute round trip. Or maybe double that. Here's something nobody was expecting...
You read that right. The Dangleway is a two-speed transport service, because in the middle of the day the gondolas will slow down to make their journey in ten minutes rather than five. This is a blatant admission that the prime function of the cablecar between peak hours is to act as a tourist attraction. If you've got an urgent lunchtime appointment on the other side of the river, don't waste your time on the Dangleway, take the tube. TfL's timetable notes that "during busy periods, the extended journey time may not be available." But I wonder if an unintended consequence of this slowdown will be to suffocate tourist numbers at other times. If you're only here for the view, why the hell would you bother turning up at 09:30, or 19:30, or even 16:01?
I'm afraid so. While Rainbow boards currently keep London updated regarding delays to tube, DLR and Overground, from next week the cablecar will nudge in with a row of its own. You may not care that there are overhead wire problems in Silvertown, nor that the service has closed down for the evening, but the latest updates on Dangleway status will blare out from the list all the same. It's amazing how much influence £36m of sponsorship money gets you, how many different places there are for your branding to intrude. Croydon's Tramlink doesn't get such favouritism, nor riverboat services on the Thames. But, like an aerial Waterloo & City line, this two-stop link fights well above its weight.
In particular, there are no good bus connections to either of the Dangleway terminals. On the north side, the walk from the "nearest" bus stop involves hiking up and over the DLR station, which is unexpectedly inconvenient. And on the south side, seven different bus routes run directly past the terminal but none of them stop. Until someone at TfL thinks to plonk a bus stop here (assuming it's even possible), the five minute walk from the bus station remains.
And that's not all. The Arabfly Dangleway boasts its own dedicated website, at www.arabflydangleway.co.uk, which is run by the airline rather than TfL. It's where I found the list of FAQs I referred to earlier ("Are there toilets? No there are not toilets at the Arabfly Dangleway"). The front page is fairly empty but has a countdown to the "inaugural flight", presently 9 days, a few hours and counting. The main advertising concept is that from Thursday week the airline is introducing Two New Destinations - namely "the north and south sides of the Thames". And the list of places the marketing people think the cablecar will help you visit is incredible.
None of these are within four miles of the cablecar, and most are considerably further away than that. Indeed whoever put these two lists together has summarily ignored East London, where the Dangleway is, preferring to concentrate on the "nicer" parts of the capital out west. This website appears to be part of a foreign-facing campaign to attract visitors to London, in this case by dangling in front of them a selection of tourist attractions with no basis in local reality. Much like the cablecar itself, to be honest.
Let's leave the final word to Tim Clark, the President of Arabfly Airways.
A finer stream of self-important PR codswallop it's hard to imagine. But that's the Dangleway for you. It's been spun as "transforming the surrounding area into a vibrant new metropolitan quarter", whereas in reality it's just an aerial sideshow to lure tourists somewhere new. The engineering's an impressive achievement, to be sure, and you'll probably come once for a ride and help make it an overnight success. But Boris's unholy alliance of public money and corporate branding is more about making a statement than fulfilling a need, and hangs uncomfortably across East London's skyline.