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Thursday, 28 June 2012

A bird's-eye view of the Thames

A big thumbs up for London’s first cable car service across the Thames, which has now opened for passengers. On its first day I joined several hundred people queuing in warm, sunny weather for the half-mile journey over the river, and was rewarded with (below) stunning views of the O2 arena, the Canary Wharf financial district, and the Olympic Park.  

Even the Thames barrier, which protects the capital from flooding, was clearly visible.

The Emirates Air Line, as it’s officially known, runs between terminals at North Greenwich (left) and the ExCel exhibition centre at the Royal Docks, both of which are hosting Olympic events.

Each of the 34 cars can hold 10 people, and accommodates wheelchairs and baby buggies. They run continuously, slowing right down at the terminals to allow passengers to board and alight, then swinging up and out over the river to reach a height of almost 300 ft. The operators, Transport for London, say up to 2,500 people an hour can be carried in each direction.

Emirates has invested £36 million in the project as part of a 10-year sponsorship deal. This stretch of Thames is currently served by road tunnels, but no bridges, so the cable car is a useful link. London mayor Boris Johnson says the service is a tourist attraction but also a valuable addition to the capital's public transport infrastructure.
How heavy the demand will be for the journey after the Olympics remains to be seen. Fares start at £3.20 for a single fare using an Oyster travel card/Freedom pass or £4.30 without, and there is a ‘frequent flyer’ pass allowing 10 single journeys for £16. There were a few teething troubles with ticket-buying immediately after the opening, though these were hopefully short-lived. The journey takes between 5 and 10 minutes  (quickest at rushhour and slower from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.)  Some passengers have queried the cost, saying it’s too expensive for regular commuters. But there’s no doubt that everyone on the first day, young and old, was thrilled with the stunning views of London and the river that flows through its heart.

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