London's Emirates Air Line hit by high winds, low usage

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(AFP/Getty Images)

(AFP/Getty Images)

London’s loss making Emirates Air Line, the cable car sponsored by the Dubai carrier, has been hit by high winds and low passenger numbers since it was opened in June 2012, according to official figures.

The 1.1km Thames river crossing, which is sponsored by Dubai’s Emirates Airline, opened in June last year in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics and while it was originally popular with passengers it has struggled with high winds and high losses.

The cable car was forced to close for more than 216 hours since it opened on June 28 last year, according to new figures obtained by the Liberal Democrat group of the London Assembly.

The data showed the attraction closed for a total of 12,962 minutes between July 11 2012 and April 18 2013, with the majority of these as a result of high winds.

While the data showed it also closed as a result of requests from the Port of London Authority, the cable car has struggled to attract a sufficient number of passengers to use it as a regular mode of public transport.

Figures compiled transport authority Transport for London (TfL) found that while 79 percent of passengers rate the service “either 9 or 10 out of 10”, less than half (43 percent) said they planned to use it again within six months.

Local politician, Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, told the Mayorwatch.co.uk website the figures “show just how unreliable the Thames cable car is as a form of public transport. If a year ago anyone suggested that the Thames cable car would have to close for over 216 hours in its first nine months of operating they would be accused of wild scaremongering”.

“Questions have to be asked as to whether it was built to a satisfactory standard if it has to close so regularly. Around the world other cable cars are able to provide a far more regular service.

“The Mayor promised Londoners that the Thames cable car would not involve a penny of taxpayer’s money and that it would operate as a proper form of public transport. Both these promises have been totally broken,” she added.

In April, Arabian Business revealed the cable car was seeking new sponsors after it faced a deficit in costs of more than £18m ($27m).

The project cost TfL more than £62.6m to build, a Freedom of Information Act request shows, with Emirates providing £36m in a ten-year branding deal, with a further £8m stumped up by the European Regional Development Fund.

Earlier this year, reports stated that Emirates Air Line was losing approximately £50,000 per week due to its £150,000 operating costs.

A TfL spokesperson told Arabian Business that the transport authority was seeking additional funds to cover £18.6m outstanding in initial planning and construction costs, as well as ongoing maintenance.

“It is envisaged that revenue generated will, over time, cover all costs including the operating costs and make a modest surplus which will cover the outstanding construction costs,” the spokesperson said.

“TfL continues to look for additional funding opportunities, including third party funding, additional sponsors and retail rental income.”

Under the terms of the deal with Emirates, London received £1m on the date of execution of the sponsorship deal, a further £2.5m in April 2012 and £6.85m on commencement of operations.

The deal is structured so that TfL will receive £2.85m ever year for the next nine years. The Dubai-based carrier is currently the only sponsor for the project.

Earlier this year, while on a visit to Dubai, Mayor of London Boris Johnson insisted that the scheme would be able to pay for itself. “It’s the only piece of transport infrastructure in London that’s going to cover not only capital costs, but also running costs by 2019,” he said.

”There is nothing else that we’ve built that pays not just for the cost of running it but also for the initial outlay."

During last year’s Olympics, the cable carried more than 20,000 passengers per week, although this figure was said to have dwindled to fewer than 15,000.

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