Mark Byrnes

Is London's 'Emirates Air-Line' a total or partial waste of money?

London's Tube system will be in heavy use during the Olympics, and the brand new Emirates Air-Line gives riders the alternative of taking a cable car over the Thames. That might come in handy for visitors traveling between the O2 Arena and ExCeL Exhibition Centre during the games, but otherwise, it might not be the wisest use of your transportation dollars.

The project was supposed to be an entirely private-sector investment but ended up costing a little over $93 million, with $56 million of that coming from Dubai-based Emirates Airlines as part of a 10-year sponsorship. A one-way trip runs users $6.70, or $4.98 with an Oyster card.

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While the London Eye provides views of the more spectacular parts of the city, Emirates Air-Line gives riders a less sexy London to gawk at while being moved from one quiet side of the river to the other. If you're into post-industrial land use (we're an admittedly niche audience), it's an interesting view. But the average person will likely pass at the idea (and price) of a second trip once you've gotten over the uniqueness of being transported across a body of water via gondola.

While the Air-Line will make for a more stimulating connection for Olympic commuters than a Jubilee line to Docklands Light Railway (DLR) transfer, it will only save you about five minutes and take more out of your wallet (transferring to it from other lines is not free).

One day after its official debut, I boarded the newest addition to London's public transit infrastructure last Friday:

A short walk from the North Greenwich station and the O2 Arena, users can buy their passes or load up their Oyster cards at the Emirates Greenwich Peninsula. Emirates Airlines staff (or TfL employees dressed in Emirates outfits?) assist users who are trying to figure out how the new line works.

The aviation metaphors are aplenty (this one from the neighboring Tube station).

Here, a sign at the Greenwich Peninsula tells us we'll be traveling at a cruising speed of 8.9 miles per hour.

Each gondola is decorated in scenes from different destinations Emirates Airlines flies to. As I prepared to board mine, an employee said in perfect flight-attendant pitch "enjoy your flight to Africa." I laughed, thinking it was dry British wit, but I looked back at her and realized she is supposed to say this to each boarding passenger.

While a whirl around the London Eye gives you a more traditional view of the city, the scenes on this route are all about how east London has evolved since its industrial might declined. Views of O2 arena (foreground) and Canary Wharf (the cluster of bank towers in the background)...

...to new apartments and commercial buildings tell us the changing story of the 'other side' of London. But it will leave most tourists asking where all the fun stuff is.

Arriving ("reaching your destination" as one of the TfL/Emirates employees would surely say) at Emirates Royal Docks, a more traditional public transit route awaits one block away at the Royal Victoria station across the street. If you really loved the view, you can head back towards the city center by making a round trip, but let's just say most of my fellow riders headed for the DLR station instead.

All images courtesy author.

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