The Boris Cable Car

This evening, Tom from BorisWatch will review London’s transport policies over the years since the city got its elected leadership back in 2000.  It’s at The Yorkshire Grey on Theobalds Road / Grays Inn Road (doors open 6pm, talk sometime around 7ish).  Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.

So I thought this afternoon I would mention what is probably my own favourite example of transport policy from our current mayor is the Boris Cable Car (as I want it to forever be known and remembered).

The idea for The Mayor’s Cable Car originally came from a report highlighted by Green AM Darren Johnson in 2008.  The report was making a variety of suggestions for potential solutions to the perceived need for additional crossing points — especially for road vehicles — in the east of the city.  (I haven’t examined how real that need is, but the area is in the middle of extensive redevelopment with massive residential and commercial construction, and there has long been problems with the way the north and south circular routes feed traffic into the area.)

Boris clearly loved the idea: unlike a boring road bridge or another hidden tunnel, it was big and flamboyant; it was a Boris project.  And he had good reason to like the idea: a cable car is a relatively uncomplicated, reliable, and energy efficient option, given the constraints of that section of the river.

The first reason that the Boris Cable Car is such a perfect example of the mayor’s approach to transport, though, is that it is not a solution to the transport problems or needs of the area.  The cable car could take 2,500 people per hour — equivalent to a well served bus route — between the Dome and ExCel.  While those attractions are going to get more development around them, it’s not obvious that the demand is or ever will be great for this very specific journey, and the journey does not even really make sense as a stage integrated into any obvious longer journey.  Most importantly, it doesn’t solve the supposed lack of river crossing supply here: the demand is from road vehicles that are fed into the area on the north and south circular routes, and which then have to wait at the Woolwich Ferry bottleneck, or navigate their way to the Blackwall Tunnels.  Either more road crossing supply is needed — and a bridge near Woolwich has long been on highways department wishlists — or demand on these roads needs to be cut.  And the under-served demand here is for longer distance movement of people and goods — things that the Boris Cable Car can’t help with (but which the new DLR, East London Line, and Crossrail crossings might, a little bit).

The second reason that the cable car so perfectly represents the mayor’s transport policy is that when he first adopted the idea, he promised that it would be entirely privately funded, cost the taxpayer nothing, and be open in time for the Olympics.  A private developer would build and operate it, making their investment back with fares, etc.  But of course the estimate for construction soon jumped from £25 million to £40 million, and, given the capacity and average level of demand for the crossing, it had no chance of ever making a worthwhile investment opportunity.  Then people started talking about more realistic timeframes.  Even before the idea was dropped, the mayor had started spending taxpayers’ money.  The mayor has now promised several times that transport projects would be privately funded — the best he could do was Barclays’ fraction (less than a fifth, if I remember correctly) of the bike hire cost.

Like the bike hire scheme, the Boris Cable Car is a delightful idea but it’s not a significant transport solution.  These projects give the impression of making brilliant revolutionary changes without actually having to do so, and without actually solving the everyday transport problems that make millions of people miserable.  It’s a conspicuous and media-friendly big engineering distraction while London’s existing transport infrastructure — like the East London river crossings at Woolwich, Blackwall, Greenwich, Rotherhithe, and on the Jubilee Line — are left closed for days.

It’s only a shame that it was dropped (and surely it will be quietly forgotten now that it can’t be cited in the re-election campaign) for such a ludicrous reason — the campaign against City Airport expansion (which is a good cause) pointed out that the cable car intruded into the airport’s “crash zone” and could therefore be hit by a crashing plane.  Like the mayor himself, his cable car would have been flamboyant, albeit, not widely useful.

Weekly War Bulletin, 1 Jan

A rollover bulletin…

Apparently some people had holiday journeys disrupted by snow?  The civil servants are having fun suggesting technical solutions to the third-rail problem — some more expensive than others.  (Not that the overhead-electric east coast route did any better: the lines came down under the weight of ice; I have vague memories of being told that the line was built with a larger than recommended distance between gantries to save money, in the knowledge that this would mean the cables would fall down more readily.)  Guess it’ll be another fares hike to pay for that, if it ever happens, then.  Can’t have anyone suggesting that we should instead be investing in arranging our lives and economy in a less mobility-reliant way.  Meanwhile, from his bunker, the mayor boasted about London’s resilient transport network even as it predictably ground to a halt.

The weather turned out to be awfully convenient for SouthEastern, who, having called an emergency and cancelled their trains, had the snow days struck from their performance records and subsequently just happened to meet their targets by the tiniest sliver, thus avoiding compensating season ticket holders.

Philip Hammond’s Department for Transport don’t care about the thousands of known dangerous drivers on the roads.  Our judges seem to think that it’s their job to facilitate the truck driver training careers of convicted road-rage attackers.  And the police seem to think that pushing somebody under an oncoming vehicle is fine if they’re a cyclist.  That’s The War On The Motorist, that is.  Just compare the authorities’ actions to those in The War On Drugs.

And the latest reform of road safety initiatives mean that you will no-longer get fined if you only go 10%+9mph over the limit — because what harm could you possibly do at 41 in a built-up area?  As one Daily Mail reader points out, this is “yet another money-gouging racket at the motorist’s expense”.

The Western Extension Zone is no more: Boris promised to obey the people’s will, and 41% of people wanted the WEZ to go, so the numerically challenged mayor (elected by the will of 24.1% of the electorate) obeyed.  The removal of the WEZ, and loss of its £55m revenue, will be funded by the £60m raised by another bus fare hike.

It’s time for those fares increases.  Up to £5,000 season tickets on some routes — though frankly, if you find yourself in the situation where you need to do a £5,000 commute, I think you might be doing something wrong.  Predictions are for a shift from rail to private car,

Fuel duty and VAT also go up this week, though, so it’s still a good time to leave the car behind.  The Express are desperately trying to stir up the resistance.  The Institute of Advanced Motorists is suggesting that, gasp, Motorists might be forced to drive at responsible speeds in order to save fuel, while RMI beg us please won’t somebody think of the petrol stations?

Fake ban on cycling to be enforced by fake police on the South Bank.

Government to publish data on where most people are recklessly breaking the law they are having greatest success at bleeding the poor innocent hard done-by Motorist dry. (c) All Newspapers.

Awww.  Poor Motorists can’t even terrorise sick people by taking short-cuts through hospital car parks without getting hassle some jobsworth.  It’s The War On The Motorist, I tell you.

Absurd solution of the week: Maria Eagle thinks we should pay Motorists not to break the law.  I think there is great potential here for basing all of post-New Labour’s manifesto on this concept.

Speaking of absurd transport solutions, last Bulletin we noted that the absurd Royal Docks cable car would not be entirely privately funded as Boris had originally promised.  Now our suspicions have been confirmed: upon further investigation, estimated costs jump from £25m to £40m, and there is no chance of being built before the mayor’s Olympic deadline.

Could we please drop this folly now and divert the money to keeping our existing river crossings open?  Greenwich Tunnel, the nearest existing crossing (excluding tubes and the motor-only Blackwall Tunnel), is plagued by unscheduled closures due to maintenance problems, with the council and contractors providing a customer service that they surely learnt from SouthEastern.

People got to travel on the tube for free last night, courtesy of a loans company that charges 2,689% interest.  When grilled by LBC, Boris called it extortion, as he happily took the money that they had obtained by extortion.

Humankind has reached the stage where it has developed computers that can be aware of the emotional state of the people using them.  What noble purpose should we find for this technology?  Satnavs that don’t upset their poor sensitive drivers, of course.  Somebody get one for this guy.

Following the earlier news that ELL passenger numbers have risen fast, and the recent introduction of the full timetable, Ian Brown — the man who organised London Overground and had great visions for the public takeover of all suburban rail in London under TfL — is honoured.

Tory campaigners are trying to distract from Boris Johnson’s failure to resolve the problems that unions are striking over by accusing the unions of calling strikes merely to make the mayor look bad.

That Oxford coach that turned over on the motorway? A drunk passenger done it.

The police have been visiting the people selling stolen bikes at Brick Lane.

Careful now.  Cabbies have learned dozens of new ways to kill you.

More plans for congestion relief at Bank.

New York consider adding bicycle training to their driving test.

This “news” is written by “Ian Onions”, which is a delightful combination of syllables.