I was very surprised last week to receive an email inviting me to a TfL press event. This never happens. I was even more surprised when the subject of the event was to promote the cablecar.
To celebrate the introduction of the Emirates Air Line and Thames Clippers exclusive joint packages, we are holding an event to exclusively allow media and press to see what passengers will experience flying and sailing across the Thames."
I've never been the cablecar's greatest supporter, so I wondered if I'd been invited for entertainment purposes so they could throw me out halfway across. But I couldn't have gone anyway, the event's while I'm at work, so I sent a polite email turning them down and continued with my life.
Anyway the event's today, which means you might start seeing press pieces about combined cablecar and riverboat tickets later on. So I thought I'd get in early and see what the package prices look like, and whether this might be value for money.
There are three joint packages - the Single, the Return and the Roamer - each available until the end of August. You'll only uncover the prices if you dig around on the Thames Clipper website and attempt to buy each one. And these packages can only be booked online, in advance, not as turn up and go, so best hope the weather's nice, otherwise you may find you've paid for a damp splash and a ride in the clouds.
Let me calculate what it would cost to go on the cablecar and the riverboat separately, and then compare the total with the cost of the supposedly special package. Hold tight, this gets a bit complicated.
For the aerial half of the package, everyone gets a return trip on the cablecar and a visit to the Aviation Experience (which is the advertainment shed adjacent to the southern terminal). Normally the prices are as follows.
Return flight plus
I'm not sure why anyone would want to visit the ground floor of the Aviation Experience, indeed it's so Emirates-based that they ought to be paying you. It was empty when I popped by at the weekend, as was the cafe nextdoor and the Emirates giftshop. That's a very peculiar outlet because it sells branded airline souvenirs, not cablecar souvenirs, which may be why I don't think I've ever seen anyone buying anything. One of the two staff was shuffling coffee cups while the other sat bored stupid in the corner waiting for a customer. My appearance, and then almost immediate disappearance, must have been such a disappointment.
For the Thames Clipper half of the package, you can choose between a single riverboat ride, a return trip or unlimited daily travel (anywhere between Westminster and Woolwich). If bought separately, these are the prices.
Riding a Thames Clipper boat is surprisingly expensive. I mean, nearly £7 for a single journey is a heck of a lot, as is £12 for a return. But then what you get is a ride down the centre of one of the finest riverscapes on the planet... past Royal Greenwich, under Tower Bridge and past St Paul's. Most of the seats are inside, which diminishes the visual experience somewhat, but there are three benches out the back and here you can really feel at one with the river. I took a ride at the weekend, carefully starting at the North Greenwich end and travelling into the West End against the flow of passengers. That meant I got a prime seat at the rear overlooking the wash as we whizzed at high speed around the Isle of Dogs, which was great, and something most Londoners probably ought to do more often. By the time the majority of tourists got on at Canary Wharf and Tower Hill we were going rather slower, and they merely got to stand in the doorway and eye my prime position somewhat jealously. Ha, and woo.
Add the cablecar experience to the boat fare and you get these totals, i.e. how much these two things would normally cost if you did them together.
Dangleway + Single
Dangleway + Return
Dangleway + Roamer
One of the treats lined up for the press on the cablecar today is "a guest appearance from BBC presenter, global adventurer and Londoner Simon Reeves, narrator of the new Emirates Air Line in-flight films designed to compliment the great views." I think they mean complement, but I'm not sure, because the in-flight films weren't working when I boarded my cabin at the weekend. Instead the screen alternated between a logo and a message about EU funding, which was less than thrilling, and additional information about the sights was nowhere to be seen. I hope Simon's video mentions the scrapyard below, and the row of cement mixers, and the wasteland gap where the Silvertown Tunnel will eventually go, but I fear not.
Here are the savings you get if you buy the joint package instead.
Joint package savings
Dangleway + Single
Dangleway + Return
Dangleway + Roamer
If you're an adult and you don't have an Oyster card, the joint package saves you about four quid. If you're an adult and you do have an Oyster card, one of the packages saves you nothing, and the other two save you not much. If you're an adult and you have a Travelcard, do not buy the special tickets because you will lose money. And if you're taking a child with you, yes you'll save a bit, but you'd save more by only going on the river or the cablecar, not both.
The idea behind the joint package stuff is, obviously, to upsell the cablecar. Its existence is increasingly justified by the number of leisure visitors who can be enticed aboard and not by any attempt to attract "commuters". This'll explain the cablecar's appearance in the latest Pudsey the Dog film, and the doling out of free cinema ticket goody bags to the first 20 children to ride the cablecar each day this week. You don't get this level of hyper-publicity on the buses, the Victoria line or the tram to Croydon. I think TfL's Head of Aerial Tourism, Danny Price, will be pleased not to have to meet me this morning.
There is one more special joint fare, and this is aimed squarely at families with children. For £50 two adults and up to three children can ride the cablecar and get a Roamer ticket on the river, which is essentially an entire day out. And that's a bargain, at least compared to the price of paying separately. Take three children with you and you'll save as much as £25 on the normal price, indeed the family ticket saves money even if you only have one child. If your brood get bored in the school holidays and you have fifty quid spare, TfL very much hope you'll give it to them.