diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 20, 2015

How can you avoid the rush hour on the cablecar?

No, it's a serious question. If you've ever turned up at the weekend you'll likely have found every pod occupied and been forced to share your ride across the Thames with tourists taking selfies and families with small kids. At other times, however, you can pretty much guarantee a solo ride and enjoy the view in peace. How do you time it right?

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request by Darryl of website 853, the data is available. He asked all sorts of questions about Dangleway travel in the second week of October, as he does every year, and TfL duly obliged with a detailed spreadsheet. For Darryl's in-depth analysis scoot over and read his graph-friendly article at Londonist, it's mighty good stuff. Meanwhile I'm going to concentrate on just one table of data, which is this one, the number of passengers per hour.

Dangleway (passengers per hour)   [11-17 October 2015]

There are some quite high numbers there, but also some very low ones. Look in particular at the number of passengers using the cablecar before 9am, which barely registers. A typical morning peak hour sees fewer than 30 passengers board the Dangleway, the equivalent of one full single decker bus, which is miserably low. TfL could easily close the cablecar before nine in the morning and inconvenience almost nobody, but they never will because to do so would be to admit that the cablecar is not a useful commuting option, which was the main reason given for building it in the first place. Weekdays after 8pm also look like a bit of a waste of time, and the Friday evening Night Flight option isn't doing much better.

Weekends, by contrast, are a very different affair. Numbers start picking up mid-morning and stay high throughout the day, only starting to tail off around sunset (which in the second week of October is just after 6pm). People are treating the cablecar as part of a day out, perhaps coupling in a trip to the O2, hence the reason there are often queues at the terminals. On a typical weekday afternoon the Dangleway has only two hundred and something passengers an hour, rather than eight hundred, because the mainstay of traffic during the working week are tourists rather than families. And schoolchildren, it turns out - Darryl's FoI request reveals that 300 of Wednesday's passengers were on school trips, and 200 of Thursday's.

To better answer my original question, I've taken the table above and divided all the numbers by 120. This gives the number of passengers per minute in each direction, which is a much more relevant figure when trying to work out whether the cabins are full. Pods depart each terminal roughly twice a minute, so if the number of passengers per minute is one or two you can expect most of the cabins to be empty. However if the number of passengers per minute is five or more, it's a pretty good bet that if you turn up you're going to have to share.

Dangleway (passengers per minute)   [in each direction]

So, if you want to avoid the rush hour on the cablecar, aim for the reds and oranges. Arrive before 10am and you'll almost certainly get your own cabin. The same goes for any weekday evening after 7pm or the last hour of service at weekends, remembering that in October this was an after-dark ride. You get a different length of ride at these different times of the day, however. Before 9am on weekdays each cablecar journey is a five minute dash, after 7pm a 12 minute dawdle, and at all other times a crossing takes about nine minutes.

The cablecar almost never gets busy on a weekday, no worse than yellow, so any time Monday to Friday is a good time to travel. But the majority of the day at the weekend, from 11am on Saturdays and 10am on Sundays, is Dangleway peak time and you'll probably have to share. In particular avoid weekend afternoons, especially between two and six, because this maximises your chance of being confined above the Thames with unwelcome passengers.

Here's one more tip to avoid the crowds. The Dangleway is noticeably more popular in one direction than the other. During Darryl's survey week 15000 rides were from south to north but only 12000 rides were from north to south. That's about 25% more passengers departing North Greenwich than travel in the opposite direction - a percentage that remains approximately true every day of the week. Tourists are far more likely to hop aboard on the O2 side than the ExCel side, it seems, and a significant number of these passengers never make the return trip.

So, putting all that information together, I'd say the best way to avoid the rush hour on the cablecar is to turn up at Royal Docks between nine and ten o'clock in the morning. You'll get a nine minute ride in daylight, and I can pretty much guarantee you'll get a cabin to yourself. Or just turn up in late November/early December. Have you seen how awful the Dangleway ridership figures have been over the last four weeks...?

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