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Transport / Mass transit

Cardiff is thinking of getting a cable car network

If you saw a headline containing the words “plan for five-mile cable car system in Cardiff” yesterday, and you know anything at all about London’s miserable attempt to use a cable car as part of a public transport network, you might be forgiven for thinking the story was an April Fool. We certainly did, especially as Cardiff’s city council told Wales Online earlier this month that it had “no involvement” in cable car plans.

But the joke’s on us, because, it turns out the whole thing’s true. From the BBC:

Plans for a £100m cable car system in Cardiff are being explored by Cardiff Business Council.

A feasibility study will look at options for a five-mile network linking the city centre and Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan.

Apparently, funding would come from a combination of the Welsh transport budget, private funding and sponsorship. And anyway, £100m is a trifling amount if, as Business Council chair Nigel Roberts claims, the gondolas will carry a whopping “2,500 tourists and commuters every hour”. 


Seen from the CityMetric bunker here in the heart of London’s fashionable central London district, all this sounds just a teensy bit optimistic. Over the past year, its third in operation, the capital’s own cable car has recevived 1.6m passengers, making it about as popular as London’s 407th busiest bus route. It’s open seven days a week between 8am and 8pm, so this translates to an average of 4,444 daily passengers and 370 hourly. Last we checked, 370 was a long way off 2,500.

Consider the financial situation, and the precedent is, if anything, worse. In 2013, London’s cable car was allegedly losing around £50,000 a week; ridership numbers haven’t risen significantly since. Cardiff’s model would cost £40m more to build, and it’s a longer, so would probably be more expensive to run, too.

That said, the Emirates Air Line, as it’s horribly dubbed, has a few disadvantages when it comes to attracting passengers. It doesn’t not run from the “city centre” – it runs between North Greenwich and the Royal Victoria Docks, an area unlikely to be used by huge numbers of tourists or commuters, and replicates a journey that’s easy to complete via existing public transport links. It’s also pricey – £6.80 for an Oyster-discounted return – and links only two stations, half a mile apart. Cardiff’s plans for a “five-mile network” imply a bigger catchment area with more stations. 

In other parts of the world, what’s more, cable cars can form important public transport links. They’re all over Latin America, where networks can take as many as 3,000 passengers an hour. 

But that said, it still means that Cardiff’s traffic projections are at the, er, more optimistic end of the spectrum. It might work, sure – but would you bet £100m on it?
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