In just over a week's time TfL's delayed annual fare rise will take effect across the capital. Amongst all the changes and increases there's one less trumpeted change that will affect visitors to East London's favourite cablecar. Here's what the fares look like now.
A single Dangleway journey costs about the same as a single Z1-3 trip on the tube, be that paid by cash or using Oyster. The return fare is precisely double the single fare, with no extra saving for travelling twice. If you're ever planning to make 10 separate journeys then the Multi-journey Boarding Pass is an absolute bargain, working out at just £1.60 a trip. And then there's Private Cabin Hire, the worst value fare anywhere in London, whereby a group can guarantee a cabin to themselves if they pay a premium for the privilege. This might have made marketing sense when the Dangleway was launched, with high hopes of high usage, but looks increasingly ludicrous today as pods go sailing empty across the Thames.
Single journey: £4.40 (or £3.30 with Oyster) (up 10p) Return journey: £8.80 (or £6.60 with Oyster) (up 10p) Multi-journey Boarding Pass: £16.00 (for 10 journeys) Full Experience: £10.00 (or £7.80 with Oyster)
Ordinary fares increase by 10p, a mere 3% rise per trip. The Multi-journey Boarding Pass remains the same price, making it even more of a bargain at less than half of the Oyster fare. And the Private Cabin Hire option appears to have disappeared. There's no mention of it on the Fares 2014 webpage, which is otherwise pretty much a cut and paste of Fares 2013. It looks like someone's done a reality check and removed what looked like a grossly inappropriate luxury from the menu. Hopefully no more tourists will be unnecessarily milked for cash in future.
But hang on, what's this Full Experience? It's not been publicised anywhere yet, but it's there for all to see on TfL's New Fares update.
What we have here is a new fare aimed fair and square at tourists. The Full Experience package is basically a return trip with frills, and those extras come tagged on at minimal extra cost. For your £10 you get a return trip (normally £8.80), a Souvenir Guide (normally £1) and a whizz round the Emirates Aviation Experience (normally £3). That's a saving of £2.80 over what you'd have paid for all three. Or, more cleverly, it's £5.60 more than you would have paid if you'd merely turned up to ride the cablecar once.
They sell these souvenir "in-flight" guides already. A poster in the ticket office window suggests you "take the view with you", and your pound gets you a slidy bit of card much more flash that the free viewing leaflet I was given on the first day service began.
And of course the Emirates Aviation Experience is open already, has been since last summer, not that you'd guess if you turned up today. The entrance looks like a pair of fire doors in the back of a warehouse, while the ticket kiosk outside is so poorly branded that it completely fails to announce its presence to passers by. Not that the inside is very much more exciting, more a single room containing screens and more screens promoting the sponsor's airline. Currently visitors to the EAE pay £3 for the privilege of being advertised to. With the new Full Experience that additional fee drops to 20p... plus the chance to spend lots more in the cafe and the gift shop at the far end.
The new Full Experience package is probably TfL's greatest admission yet that the cablecar is essentially a tourist attraction. Your £10 fare meets no transport need, depositing you back on the same side of the Thames from which you began. Instead it's a chance for the operator to recoup a bit more money by funnelling extra souls via pods and a ground level attraction that are mostly empty anyway. Plus all these return trips will of course count as double when the ridership figures are totted up every week.
Just 10000 passengers rode the cablecar in the week before Christmas, by far the lowest total yet recorded on this aerial white elephant. Perhaps the Full Experience package will lure folk in again. Or perhaps the future lies in encouraging Helmut from Munich and Chen Li from Beijing to make as many crossings as possible, because it's not clear that anyone who lives nearby is being taken for a ride.