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Transport / Mass transit

Ignore the critics. London's cable car belongs on the tube map too

This subject is contentious. I know I’m sticking my neck out here (which, given that I’ve already broken it once war reporting, leaving me paralysed from the shoulders down, I should frankly have learned not to do). But here it is:

Transport for London is right, and CityMetric is wrong. The Emirates Airline cable car across the Thames should be included on the official tube map.

Now, I’m not claiming that the cable car itself – which trundles its way happily across the river between the former Millennium Dome in Greenwich, and the Royal Docks, near the Excel Exhibition Centre – is necessarily a sane piece of public transport.

It’s not. It’s almost gloriously nuts. It cost £60m – surprisingly little of which came from its Emirati sponsors. It connects two parts of East London that still often feel deserted half the time.

It was opened for the Olympics in summer 2012, when both the O2 and Excel arenas were major venues. By October of that year, usage had dropped to 42,500 journeys a month, less than 10 per cent of capacity. It’s since plummeted a lot further: as Citymetric reported in March, if it were a bus route it would be London’s 407th busiest. That isn’t very busy.

So I get the arguments for shaving it off. Particularly when there are plenty of overground rail routes that aren’t featured on the map, but which take a lot more people.

Still, here’s my argument.

1) It’s actually a useful route.

If, as I did this week, one wants to travel from the Excel Centre to Canary Wharf – a far from unusual journey, particularly for business people – then it’s actually the best way to travel. It’s about a 10 minute walk along the dock from Excel, then across the river to Greenwich, then straight on to the Jubilee line.

Admittedly, you could take the Docklands light Railway – but that actually takes a remarkably long time. And often requires changes in Poplar and Canning Town, too.

2) It will probably become more popular.

Yes, so for now both ends are in pretty strange neighbourhoods consisting of a mix of relatively new builds and brownfield sites. But it wasn’t that long ago that Canary Wharf was that quiet too.

If you do choose to live in Royal Docks – which was looking rather nice in the sunshine, when I was there on Thursday – then the cable car is one of your better routes into the Jubilee line and the rest of the system. Even if it’s not properly integrated into it fare-wise.

3) The people who work there believe it should be on the map.

And they seem very nice. If a little defensive.

4) It’s actually wheelchair accessible.

Which is more than you can say that the entire northern, southern and western quadrants of the TfL map. Or the centre, for that matter. Not that I’m bitter.

There is also, of course, a great view – even if the wasteland and industrial storage underline how far from the centre of London you are. For now, at least.

Peter Apps is on secondment from Reuters as executive director for the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21). For more details, click here.
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