One of the not-so-subtle changes in the marketing of the cablecar is the shift from "there" to "there and back". At the start of its life we were told how useful it'd be to get from A to B, and now we're invited to travel from A to B to A, for the experience rather than the destination. It gets the numbers up.
Or rather it doesn't. Here's a year-on-year comparison between passenger numbers in the last full week of July.
week ending 28 July 2012: 103,665 week ending 27 July 2013: 44,005 (↓58%) week ending 26 July 2014: 36,691 (↓17%)
The 58% drop between 2012 and 2013 is of course explained by the Olympics, and by the novelty factor of a thrilling means of transport in its first month. More worrying for TfL is the 17% fall in the last twelve months, which suggests either a decrease in cross-river traffic or a declining number of tourists, or both. And last week wasn't a one-off, the monthly totals for July throw up very similar percentage falls.
4 weeks ending 28 July 2012: 310,077 4 weeks ending 27 July 2013: 162,069 (↓52%) 4 weeks ending 26 July 2014: 132,046 (↓19%)
One of the means of luring in additional punters to the cablecar is of course the TfL website. The Dangleway appears relatively high up on the homepage, often getting the priority splash across the top, in the hope you might be tempted to visit. Click through and you'll reach the cablecar's homepage, and from there likely discover the "The Emirates Air Line experience". This is an interesting webpage in that only a tiny proportion of it, mostly photographs, is devoted to what a cablecar ride is actually like. The rest is devoted to "Things to do nearby"...
... a candid admission that two ten minute flights won't fill your time, so you'll need to mix in something else. And what a motley collection of recommendations it is too. I thought I'd take a look at the list of Things to do nearby, and query whether the cablecar really is a good way to get there.
Near Emirates Greenwich Peninsula
The Emirates Aviation Experience: The cablecar plus the Emirates Advertainment Experience go together so well that there's a £10 joint ticket. So yes, obviously this should be on the list. [walk: 15 seconds]
The O2: It's only a short walk away, so this is clearly the main thing to visit on the cablecar's south side. And if your family is the kind who likes a chain restaurant meal and then going to the cinema, a joint Dome/Dangleway day out could well be a hit. [walk: 5 minutes]
Thames Barrier: It's an architectural wonder, so you might well enjoy staring at London's flood defences from close up. The tiny visitors centre with its £3.50 exhibition underneath the cafe, perhaps less so. But it's not exactly close to North Greenwich, nor is the walk along the Thames particularly scenic. [walk/bus/walk: 35 minutes] [walk: 37 minutes]
Thames Path: This goes right past the cablecar terminal, so yes, you could set out on a riverside walk from here. TfL's website suggests maybe a walk "from the Thames Barrier to Greenwich" [walk: 4 miles], "on to the London Eye" [walk: 13 miles] "and beyond" [walk: 13+ miles]. I'm not hopeful that many cablecar users will fancy the latter two options.
Find more things to do on the Visit Greenwich website: Ah, yes, Greenwich is ace for a day out, hence you might well want to "discover the Cutty Sark, the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park." Indeed there's so much to do in Greenwich to fill a day, a lot of it free, that you don't really need to hike downriver to throw in a cablecar flight as well. [river: 16 minutes] [tube & DLR: 24 minutes] [bus: 31 minutes] [walk: 40 minutes]
Near Emirates Royal Docks
The Crystal: I was amazed to discover that this Siemens-sponsored sustainability exhibition now charges £8 admission. It was tough enough getting punters inside when it was free, but apparently charging started in April, and sorry, it's not worth the cash. Stick to the cafe alongside, if indeed you go at all. [walk: 2 minutes]
Thames Barrier Park: Oh yes, we like "the award-winning Thames Barrier Park in Silvertown" with its "great views of the flood barrier". But if you were going there, you'd probably not go via the cablecar, it's on the wrong branch of the DLR. [DLR: 20 minutes] [walk: 22 minutes]
Newham City Farm: Now this sounds like family fun - a combined cablecar plus animals day out. But again the City Farm isn't exactly close to the northern terminal, being rather more Beckton-y than Royal Victoria-ish. [DLR/bus: 19 minutes] [DLR/walk: 24 minutes] [walk: 40 minutes]
Museum of London Docklands: Seriously, someone at TfL thinks that this is "near Emirates Royal Docks"? It's a 2 mile walk away, and not even a nice one, indeed there are a dozen DLR stations closer to the Museum than Royal Victoria. [DLR: 21 minutes] [walk: 40 minutes]
Excel London: At last the list hits the largest attraction adjacent to Dangleway North, the Excel conference centre. But blimey what a tedious place this is unless you've got a ticket to a conference or a show. Plan ahead, or really don't bother coming. [walk: 6 minutes]
WakeUp Docklands: This is a watersports centre based at the western end of the Royal Docks, plus it has a bar on a boat. It's not really a family location, but if you fancy wakeboarding or paddleboarding, and have plenty of cash for booking a session plus kit, this is surely the most thrilling ride in the area. [walk: 3 minutes]
What's not on either list is a Thames Clipper Ride, which you may remember is the latest double-ticket Dangleway offer. Or, surely, combining a trip on the cablecar with a spin round Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has got to be an attractive school holiday day out, what with Stratford being barely 15 minutes away by train. Just make sure you find something else to combine your cablecar ride with, because the experience may be fun but it's not going to fill much of a day.