Photoblog: The Emirates Air Line; Or, A Pretty Cool Waste Of Money

A terrifying thought for all of us: Boris Johnson could be Prime Minister in five years. It may seem hilarious now (“LOL, BoJo is SOOOO funny, he has messy hair and got stuck on a zipwire once!!!”) but this is a man who considers £800,000 one-bedroom flats in Battersea to be ‘affordable housing’ and is part of a political party who over the past 5 years have presided over debilitating welfare cuts, the much-maligned bedroom tax and a shocking unprecedented rise in food bank usage. And yet, at a time when austerity measures are pinching the pockets of everyone except the super-rich, there was still money to pay for a £60 million toy. Introducing the Emirates Air Line, a cable car linking north Greenwich (south of the Thames) with the Royal Docks (north of the Thames).

Announced in July 2010 and finished just before the Olympics, BoJo trumpeted it as a new transport link for commuters. And yet within a year of its opening, the number of passengers had more than halved. Worse still, it was well-publicised in the British press that there were just 4 regular commuters. There may be even fewer than that now. A Travelcard doesn’t cover the cost of a trip, although it does give you a 25% discount, which makes it a more costly London station-to-station trip than most and may put potential users off. As a result, it is losing £50,000 a week. Although the £60 million has not all been funded by the taxpayer – £36 million was subsidised by Emirates for naming rights and £8 million came from EU funding – the rest has been paid for by London’s rail budget, when Johnson had originally promised it would cost taxpayers nothing.  It’s hard to justify the expense now as anything more than a vanity project, dreamt up while high on the fumes of the (then) forthcoming Olympics.

However, as the only line on the Tube Map I hadn’t been on, I decided to have a go on it with my Countdown-series-winning-friend Giles a few weeks ago. Although it really is in an utterly pointless place and is really the sort of trip that’s a one-off novelty, it was pretty cool for a one-off novelty. The view of East London, particularly of the (…must… not… write… Millennium Dome…) O2 Arena and the houses by the docks on the other side, which remind me a little of Amsterdam with its tall thin houses by the canals, is rather nice. Although I am speaking as someone biased by a love of panoramic views… next stop: the Shard.

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