Alas this doesn't mean that the system itself is being extended, say by adding extra cables further west to Canary Wharf. Instead, unsatisfied with transporting air across the Thames for most of the week, the Dangleway will now offer this service for longer.
Yes, from this Saturday the cablecar's opening hours are to be extended later in the evening. An extension normally happens at this time of year as the service switches from Winter to Summer timetable, but the newly-announced closing times will be one, two, even three hours later than before. Be warned that closing time will revert to 8pm in October. Opening times remain the same.
As an indication of the scale of the change, the cablecar currently runs 88 hours a week, but from this Saturday it'll run 104 hours a week. For comparison, the Waterloo & City line crosses the Thames 108 hours a week, and the 108 bus crosses the Thames 168 hours a week.
This is a diversionary statistic introduced in an attempt to show how successful the cablecar has been. For comparison, over the same time period the Waterloo & City line has carried about 45 million passengers beneath the Thames, and the 108 bus has carried about nine million passengers, so five million perhaps isn't all that great.
Of course 'Night Flights' already exist, because it gets dark well before closing time during the winter. What's new is the 'Night Flight experience'. A crossing will now take longer after 7pm, and there'll be mood music and videos to accompany your passage.
I'd bet good money that the 'video entertainment' will feature promotional material from nearby attractions such as The Crystal, The O2 and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The cablecar's so-called feature tour turned out to be promotional material for nearby attractions, the Snowman and the Snowdog flew over the same nearby attractions in cartoon format, and even the Valentine's Day love-in featured the same nearby attractions with hearts on. It'd be a genuine turn up for the books if the 'Night Flight' evening extravaganza failed to mention The Crystal, The O2, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, etc, in passing.
The rationale here is to offer an after dark ride on the cablecar throughout the year. Currently that's possible between the start of October and the end of March, because sunset is always earlier than the 8pm shutdown. It's also been possible in spring and autumn, with closedown at 9pm, but between 26th May and 26th July sunset falls annoyingly later than the last flight time and a few customers may have been disappointed. But rejoice, because in future you need never worry. Whatever day of the year you'll always be able to think "hey, I fancy an after dark flight on the cablecar tonight" (weather permitting).
This extended journey time is the ultimate abdication of the cablecar as a serious public transport option. Imagine if TfL announced that they were slowing down any other form of public transport so that reaching your destination took longer, there'd be an outcry. Not so for the Dangleway, where the key selling point is the pretty view and very definitely not getting from one side of the Thames to the other as quickly as possible.
Approximate crossing time
A big change to timings has already happened, unannounced, with the 5 minute express crossing removed from the evening peak and now restricted to 0700-0900 Monday to Friday. Outside this limited window it's the leisure traveller who has priority over the commuter - most likely because incredibly few commuters exist. And now the evening ride is to be slowed down too, bringing better value for money to the sightseeing experience. But I'm intrigued by precisely what journey time you'll get, given that the current default crossing time is 8½ minutes not 10, suggesting Night Flighters on a return journey probably won't be getting the advertised 25 minutes in the air.
This press release paragraph features some of Dangleway management's favourite statistics. The five million passengers we've already discussed. Of course this is the UK's first urban cable car, because who'd ever build a second? As for half of all the users being Londoners, this also means that half of the users are from elsewhere, again cementing the cablecar's credentials as an inessential transport connection. And whilst that Customer Satisfaction rating remains impressively high, what else would you expect from a means of transport that flies through the air, and which customers make a voluntary decision to ride?
If you're excited by the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these thrilling celebrities then congratulations, you're target audience. Please report for duty at North Greenwich and help TfL make a return on their investment as soon as possible.
It's worth remembering that while one and a half million passengers a year might sound paltry, their fares (plus commercial sponsorship) are indeed covering all the operating costs and the wages of the multitude of staff at each end. Indeed for those of you who think I'm always relentlessly downbeat about the cablecar, my 2012 report on TfL's business case made it clear that low passenger numbers were always part of the plan. Once the masts and terminals are paid for, the daily running costs for the cablecar are relatively low. TfL's chirpiness almost sounds as though we should be building cablecars everywhere, if they're really this good at covering their costs.
I see no sign as yet that the cablecar has brought any meaningful regeneration to East London. What it has done is given tourists somewhere new to go, and delivered a few extra customers to the luxury halal burger van on the northern shore. As for the idea that the extended opening hours are somehow giving more people the chance to visit the cablecar, that's clearly rubbish, it's merely giving the same number of people longer to turn up.
At current rates, the Emirates Air Line should be welcoming its ten millionth customer in the summer of 2018. If Danny and friends "continue to increase customer awareness through initiatives aimed at both leisure and transport users", as the latest TfL Budget document promises, then even more people will be lured in and passenger numbers should start rising a little quicker. But whether your ideal Saturday night includes a £6.80 return flight over post-industrial Silvertown inside an ad-packed capsule, that's yet to be proven.